It’s More Than First Impressions

Recently, I had the opportunity to address the 2010 LEAD Brevard graduating class.

I want to share with you some of the conversation from that evening because we desperately need quality leadership.  “Change” has become the in-vogue term, of late, but we don’t need to change leadership principles that have worked consistently over time.

Someone said to me once, that sometimes you have to know what you’re not – to know who you are.  Here’s what Leadership is NOT.

Impression Management 101

Do not sign up for “Impression Management;” the graduates always fail.  The class teaches individuals to become manipulators instead of influencers; to be arrogant instead of confident; to seek personal power and control instead of empowerment; and to expect others to do what they are not willing to do themselves. These graduates look good, smell good, and talk the best of games, while deftly practicing the art of deceit.

Consider the following two leaders, one who graduated from the class of Impression Management while the other practiced Character-Based Leadership: Hitler and Jesus.

Remember, this is not a religious discussion, but a leadership one.  There has never been any argument as to the leadership capabilities of both men.  Both men led thousands of people with well-documented results.  Now consider two fundamental concepts that drive character based leadership:

1) It is never about you, but it will always be up to you.

2) If you help enough people get what they want, you will always have what you need.

Different Values, Different Results

Hitler practiced the art of “Impression Management” with elaborate efforts to promote and maintain his carefully crafted public persona.  Jesus on the other hand lacked position, political power or appearance appeal, but had great faith in who he was and what his followers could become.

One is fear based and rooted in insecurity, the other is, well, faith based, and comes out of who you are.  Character says you will always have what you NEED, not what you WANT.  In fact many times what we want are just the external affectations that are designed to maintain impressions.  The true leader understands what it means to sacrifice personal gain for the gains of others, mastering the concept of delayed gratification.

Another practice of the impression management leader is “situational ethics.”  This is when your commitment to ethics is determined by the circumstance and therefore subject to changes like the wind.  It is usually rooted in the question, “What is best for me?” not “What is right?”  Abraham Lincoln summed up the challenge of maintaining our values as our circumstances change, when he said, “Anyone can handle adversity, but if you want to see a person’s true character, give them power.”

It’s Not the Critic That Counts

This brings me to my final point.  More times than not, whatever the impression management leader complains about and accuses others of, is usually the very thing they are guilty of – it is that uncanny ability to identify in others what you refuse to see in yourself.

This is why Teddy Roosevelt, in a speech delivered several months after leaving the White House, said the following:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and short-coming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Now is the time for leaders of character to arise, who bring HOPE through proven, time-tested principles.