Many of you must have recently either received Whatsapp forwards or viewed the online clips of actions by a few global leaders. From President Macron of France who invited an undocumented immigrant to the presidential Elysee Palace to thank him for his act of bravery in saving a child’s life to the Prime Minister of Netherlands who took a broom and cleaned coffee he spilt in Parliament. Not to forget, how the newly elected Italian Prime Minister arrived in a taxi, paid for it and walked in to meet his country’s President to present his credentials. In another case, the Pope stopped his motorcade and attended to a security guard who fell from a horse in Chile. Likewise, when the Japanese Emperor met with the Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia the austere setting of the room sent a strong signal about the culture of the country.
All these actions weren’t orchestrated or choreographed. There were no PR agencies creating these scenarios for leaders to step in and look good. They were spontaneous and based on instances from everyday life. It sent messages of sincerity, hope, simplicity and humility. None of these messages could have been received well if these leaders weren’t already practicing the values they stood for or demonstrated, in real life. In our age of social media where the spotlight is firmly on leader actions, there is very little chance that any misstep will go unnoticed by the public in general. Humility is the new leadership currency and I blogged about this topic recently. The more humble leaders are, the more authentic they are perceived to be.
What struck me also was how quickly these video clips got the attention of people – some recorded it on their devices, others picked it from new channels and yet all of them found their way to social media. It will be good to note what people wrote when they shared these messages. The sentiments were about the culture, the simplicity of individuals at the highest positions in their countries and how they reacted like normal human beings. Some of the comments compared these leaders to their own local representatives and asked if these acts were ever possible in the current environment.
These episodes have lessons for the workplace, especially for leaders.
1. Every day actions matter more than rehearsed motives: Globally, the opportunities for leaders to impact engagement is immense, although the effectiveness of leadership is suspect. How you react and conduct yourself each day has an impact on how people perceive you – as a professional and a human being. Be it with your staff, your family or people you meet in interactions. Every leader is watched closely and each decision matters. More than ever, how you act is more important than who you say you will do.
2. People prefer people they can relate to: Employees are not a means to the end. Unless leaders realize that power can corrupt and not to surround themselves with ‘yes’ people, they can miss the goal of leadership – to increase ownership and autonomy among staff. For a majority of the workforce, it doesn’t matter which institute the leader studied at or how he or she was fast tracked for promotion. Or where they stay. What they care is how down-to-earth are they, are they good human beings, do they truly listen, can they take mistakes in their stride, can they take unbiased decisions and can they bring about positive change around them.
3. Living the core values builds trust: It is expected that leaders will have a vision and stick to the core values of the organization. Being humane, humble and spontaneous are traits expected of leaders. Even if decisions made are not populist, yet they can create an atmosphere of trust. It also matters how the leader engages with the person at the lowest rung of the organization. In the case of President Macron of France, to invite and recognize an undocumented immigrant when there are already tensions on the subject demonstrates his attitude, flexibility and courage. The decision to invite didn’t take more than a few hours and it showcased the human side of the President. By reviewing the situation, taking ownership and making decisions based on French values – equality, liberty and fraternity, he demonstrated leadership.
4. Influencing doesn’t need big budgets and fanfare: By staying open to opportunities that situations offer, leaders can bring about lasting change in opinions. Simple actions like recognizing people for everyday acts of goodness leaders can convert staff into advocates. Nudging audiences to take positive action is simpler than we think. When the Italian Prime Minister elect took a taxi to meet the President, he sent a message of austerity and simplicity. It also meant that the expectations from others in his team and the country were similar in nature.
Being a leader isn’t easy when there is scrutiny from all quarters. While leaders get too focused on strategic initiatives and geo-political issues it is critical to reflect on values and everyday actions that matter the most for staff.