Long walks, humility and other secrets of leadership

Leadership consultant Bill Treasurer once led a high-diving team that put on exhibitions. To get the results he wanted, he routinely bullied the divers on his team. That changed when one diver called out Treasuer’s bruising style. “If you keep talking down to us,” the diver told Treasurer, “I’ll walk.”   This was the wake-up […]

Long walks, humility and other secrets of leadership

Leadership consultant Bill Treasurer once led a high-diving team that put on exhibitions. To get the results he wanted, he routinely bullied the divers on his team.

That changed when one diver called out Treasuer’s bruising style. “If you keep talking down to us,” the diver told Treasurer, “I’ll walk.”

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This was the wake-up call Treasurer needed to transform from being a bad leader to being a good one. Treasurer, the author of A Leadership Kick in the Ass, talked to getAbstract about his philosophy.

getAbstract: What daily rituals do you have in place to ensure that you are at peak performance?

Treasurer: One almost-daily ritual I have is walking. Usually around midday, I’ll take a nice long walk. Some people like to set out on a walk with the goal of solving some problem during the walk. Not me. I prefer to let the walk dictate the terms. There’s something about being outside in the elements that gets me back to what’s “real” and centering. I may start the walk stressed and grumpy, but I never finish that way. Taking a long walk always, and I mean ALWAYS, puts me in a state of gratitude.

I once heard an interview with James Taylor, the renowned singer-songwriter. He said that the value of long walks is that it allows you to have “long thoughts.” In today’s technology-obsessed age, we skim the surface of everything instantaneously. It’s important to get away from that stuff each day. For me, a long walk in the fresh air helps me do that. It keeps me sane.

getAbstract: Great leaders seem to have lots of charisma. Can you learn and develop charisma?

Treasurer: Charisma can be useful to leadership because it is the quality that can inspire devotion in others. That said, some pretty bad leaders across the ages also possessed charisma, and inspired blind loyalty.

All leaders have to communicate persuasively, but not all leaders have to be charismatic to do so. My advice is to find the forms of expression that suit your natural personality. Some people are powerful and persuasive writers, but not great presenters. If that describes you, write more! Other people are great presenting to groups, but lousy writers. If that describes you, speak more! You get the idea. The important thing isn’t how charismatic you are, it’s how passionate you are and the mechanism by which you communicate that passion.

getAbstract: What about cultural differences? Many working cultures outside of US still having a kind of “old fashioned” leadership culture.

Treasurer: This is actually a hard question to answer. It presumes that the “new way” is preferred to the “old way.” If you’re new, you’ll think your way is better. If you’re old fashioned, you’ll think your way is best.

There are definitely cultural differences when it comes to leadership. Some monarchy-based cultures prefer chain-of-command, and strong authority figures. You find this in patriarchal societies too. In other cultures, older people are revered for their wisdom, and people defer to the elders.

In the United States and Australia, our countries were born out of rebellion and overthrowing tyrannical leaders. In places like this, being naturally skeptical of people in leadership positions is in our DNA. Questioning authority figures comes more naturally for us.

What matters most, perhaps, is where do you fit? Which type of leadership culture is more congruent with your own desires, aspirations, and natural gifts? You may have to leave the safe but stifling shores of your homeland if the culture isn’t suited to your spirit!

getAbstract: Can leadership be learned or is it natural?

Treasurer: The answer is yes! It is natural and it is learned. Some people are definitely born with natural, innate leadership abilities. But even those people will need to develop and refine their skills.

I’m a practitioner of leadership development, so my opinions in this regard are decidedly biased. I’ve worked with, and coached, many, many leaders over the course of over two decades. Every single leader I’ve ever worked with had to work on something to be a better leader. Even experienced CEOs don’t “graduate” out of leadership learning. Leaders are constantly learning, progressing and evolving.

getAbstract: For leaders who have been humbled, what are the first steps in making the shift to being a better leader?

Treasurer: The first step is being crystal clear about your own contribution to whatever knocked you down. You’ve got to get past the pointing-fingers stage. If you’re stuck in blaming others for whatever injustice you feel you received, you won’t be able to make a shift. The shift is moving away from “I was wronged” to “I was wrong.” In other words:

The first step requires owning your part. That’s called accountability!

getAbstract: How can leadership be improved in remote environments?

Treasurer: If you’re asking how can you lead remotely, here’s my answer: It takes hard work!

If you’re leading a group through teleconferencing or videoconferencing, it’s really challenging. You’ll have a lot less frequency of interaction. You’ll miss out on the small and informal interactions that bumping into the hallways provides in the home office.

My advice is to make sure that at least once a year you gather the team for an actual face-to-face meeting. And if your company is too cheap to sponsor that, then you’ll have to make due with hosting a virtual teambuilding event.

getAbstract: What’s the greatest leadership pitfall?

Treasurer: Hubris. The idea that you are more important or “better” than other people. Pride comes before the fall. Icarus flew too close to the sun before his wings melted.

getAbstract: What advice do you give someone who has a chance to become a leader but is afraid to try?

Treasurer: Start small. Lead in your neighborhood or church or community volunteer organization. Practice leading where the consequences for failure are less severe. While you’re doing that, notice the leaders around you. Observe why people follow them. What do they say? How do they carry themselves?

Take leaders you admire to lunch. Ask them how they became a leader. Ask them about the leaders who made all the difference in their own lives. Ask them what they had to learn “the hard way” and what they’d do differently.

Leadership starts with interest. If you’re not interested in the topic of leadership, you’ll never be a good leader. So get interested by reading the biographies of leaders you admire, observing the leaders around you, and taking on small leadership roles yourself!

About Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is founder of Giant Leap Consulting. Treasurer is widely recognized as pioneer in the new organizational development practice of “courage-building,” and is author of Courage Goes to Work (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008), an internationally bestselling book about how to build workforce courage. Bill’s newest book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, introduces “condent humility” as the highest behavioral aspiration of a leader. Famed leadership guru Ken Blanchard calls it “a wake-up call for leaders at every level,” and esteemed leadership researcher Jim Kouzes call it “one of the most unique and valuable books you’ll read all year.”

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