“Do as I say, not as I do” or “do as I do, not as I say”. Two of the classic, cynical expressions of leadership philosophy. Neither are flattering of course, yet both are rooted in one of the fundamental truths of leadership…there is saying and there is doing. And thanks to a quick 30 second exchange between Lance and Oprah (that whole “one name only” theory), we are reminded of that reality that confronts all leaders…you are always setting an example. You are always leading.
There was a brief period during last nights interview where the topic of leadership came up, and regardless of what one thinks of the entire Lance/doping/cycling/deceit issue, his statements were a huge reminder and caution to everyone in a leadership role.
“…I was the leader of the team and the leader leads by example. There was never a direct order. That never happened. We were all grown men and made our choices. There were team-mates who didn’t dope.”
“…There was a level of expectation. We expected guys to be fit to be able to compete. I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now. If I do it I’m leading by example so that’s a problem.
“I view one as a verbal directive and that didn’t exist. I take that. The leader of the team, the guy that my team-mates looked up to, I accept that 100%.
What is not important is how believable Lance might be. What is incredibly important is what he said about leadership. His example set the tone. He was very clear in what was expected – the team was 100% committed to ensuing Lance won the Tour de France. He was also very clear in how that would be done – the team would be the most fit. How each individual rider achieved that level of fitness – well…who knows the full truth. And that is the leadership lesson, the message does not have to be spoken to be received.
Leadership is obviously about what you say…the vision you communicate, the positive reinforcement and encouragement, the directing and correcting, and all the other spoken, written and even tweeted parts of the verbal message. “Just get it done”, “We have to reach our goal”, “I can always count on you to make it happen”, “I don’t want to know”, “We have never failed”. Maybe some version has been said to you, maybe you have used some version of the phrases in a harmless attempt to motivate, inspire or convey a sense of urgency. Regardless, there is a message there.
Leadership is also about what you do, the example you set and the environment you create. There is the praise and reward issue…who is being singled out…for good or bad? Are you turning a blind eye to what had to be done for the result to be achieved? Is cutting corners okay when it is busy? Do the ends justify the means? Who are you adding to the team (hiring)? Who is leaving the team, and why? What is the vibe, the environment, the culture?
Leadership is hard. Even when done poorly, it is not easy. The phrase “the burden of leadership” is real. It is real on a host of levels, but one of the very real burdens is that it is a 24/7/365 role. What you say, what you do, how you do it, with whom you surround yourself, those you praise, the behaviours you reward; it all matters and it is all evaluated by others. There is no perfect, all-encompassing, easy answer to how one leads. However, there is no escaping that every aspect of a leaders behaviour and actions, and their message, spoken or implied, are all constantly being evaluated.
So, for the second night in a row, and the second time in my life, I will be purposely tuning in to watch Oprah. Well, going to the website and streaming it. Who would have ever imagined, leadership lessons from Lance and logging onto Oprah.com on a Friday evening. Strange world sometimes…