Saturday, March 31, 2018

Steve Smith - Courageous Leadership Traits Under Tremendous Duress

Steve Smith has already paid the price for his moment of weakness. All leaders face such moments in their lives. It is when the stakes are high that their character is tested. All leaders make wrong decisions - morally, ethically - at some point or the other. Some blow up in their face. Like it did for Bill Clinton. Some escape. But given the fact that they all make some bad calls, what redeems some and what would not redeem some.

In his case, Smith stands neck and shoulders above most people masquerading as leaders today. The way he handled himself after getting caught was exceptional and most leaders can learn from that.

Have the Courage to Own Up and Take Responsibility
That Smith made a bad mistake was clear. His first response was to take up the responsibility - instead of denying it or bullying the youngster or washing his hands off the incident. He quickly took the blame and said that he knew about it and since it happened under his watch he will accept the responsibility. The fact that he owned up shows character - despite all that he would lose including the thing he loved the most. Full points to him.

As opposed to Smith there are many leaders in the world who do not apologise for the things that happened in their watch. Things they actively perpetrated in some cases. They could all be sitting and saying - "hey we did not get caught like Smith yet" - but dude, everyone knows what your moral responsibility was. As head of the organisation it is your moral responsibility - these things happened under your watch. So Sutherland cannot wash his hands off. Nor can any of our Ministers, or Chairmen of companies involved in scams where some small fry is caught. You have to take the blame. You have been given power and authority - and with it comes responsibility. Own up. Take responsibility. That is the true hallmark of a leader. Even as he went down, Smith earned respect because he had the decency to still do the right thing. We make mistakes, and the worst of them can be forgiven. Life is bigger than all these mistakes. But the key is to own up.

Would many leaders do what Smith did? Certainly not. They lie, they will avoid, they will do anything to hang on to power. Look all around you and you can see them on your TV screens, your mobiles.

Have to Courage to Come Out Apologise
Smith then went another step and did what could be the hardest thing for anyone in his position to do. He called a press conference and apologised sincerely for his mistake. Your greatness comes from your humility, your recognition of your humanness and your acceptance of your mistake. As someone in such a responsible position, he had the courage to own up and apologise. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau apologised for the mistakes of his forefathers in the Komagata Maru incident, German Chancellor Willy Brandt apologised for the mistakes of his predecessors by genuflecting to the Polish at Warsaw in front of the Holocaust Memorial. These are tall men, who do not mind being small, shedding their ego for the greater good. I even loved the way Shahrukh Khan apologised for  his behaviour at the MCA ground in the IPL. An apology does not make you smaller, it makes you bigger. It shows your heart is in the right place. It redeems your folly.

How many leaders in the world today would apologise for things they have done, forget about the sins of their forefathers. Instead they blame everyone else, make themselves small and mean by trying to appeal to the perceived small sense in men, so they can gain. Compared to many such leaders in the world, Steve Smith soars high. They could all take a leaf out of his book.

It's Sad, But All Is Not Lost
For Smith, it's sad. One can imagine an act of desperation and a moment of weakness. It's a tough label to live with. But Smith can take pride in the way he handled himself as a leader and a human being after the mistake was found out and he was punished. He is already on the road to recovery. It was heartbreaking to see the young lad break down in genuine penitence. In those tears he has absolved a large part of his error.

What Then Are the Lessons for Leaders
First, be clear about the values your team will espouse and build a common culture around it. Coach Lehmann should have done that. It was obviously loose as the boundaries stretched too far and what was "play hard" became "play to win at any cost". Second, to develop tough love and put any erring thought or word or action of any team member down with a tough hand. You will have rogue team mates and they have to be curtailed quickly and brought into the culture you want to be known for. Third, own up responsibility to whatever happens in the team - after all you have the power and authority for a reason. It will always be known as your team, your leadership. Fourth, show compassion, kindness and love to all your mates, including those who may err in moments of weakness. Give credit to the team when it does well and take the blame when it fails. And lastly, when something awful like this happens, at least have the courage to accept the mistake and apologise and not try to escape. As President, Prime Minister, Minister, Chairman Managing Director you have the authority, trust and responsibility. So take the responsibility and own up.  Clinton did a pathetic job of it. Smith did far better than him and many others like him. People will forgive  your mistakes but not your lies, deceit and cowardice. You can always come back. People have come back after having done much worse.

And Steve Smith, Find Your Bigger Self Soon and Come Back
Steve Smith, you may have done a few things wrong, but you redeemed yourself well. So far.

And like they say, it is the act that must be condemned not the person. Atone for the act. The rest of you is much bigger and better than the act. Find that, trust that and grow that and you will be soon back where you belong.

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