Trump, Tea Leaves and Tragedy: What Makes a Good Leader?

I think it was Reuben, played by Elliott Gould, in the movie Oceans Twelve who said, “Didn’t you see the signs? I saw the signs.” He wasn’t talking about forecasting the future via crystal balls or tea leaves. He was saying, because of the nature of things, common sense suggests, X, Y and Z could be coming, and he was right.

See, everyone was happily living their lives, when bam! All of a sudden, the crew was on notice. The heat was coming down hard a la Terry Benedict, a very pissed off hotel mogul played by Andy Garcia, who’d positively identified Danny and his boys as the people who robbed his casino. He made it perfectly clear that he required them to return every dime – with interest – and fast. With the exception of our beloved Reuben – and Livingston, who was saving all kinds of cash by living at home with his parents – they were not ready.

The US is not ready. Worse, we’re not moving as fast as we should be moving to get ready to deal with COVID-19.

Things are starting to get bad here. The coronavirus was more of a slow and spotty boil at first, as we looked with relative disinterest at what was happening in other countries. But now things are rolling merrily along as the number of reported new cases seems to double by the day.

Sadly, I don’t think we’ve hit the worst of it yet, and even sadder, I think there are still people who aren’t taking this global pandemic seriously. Or, worse, there are people who have priorities that do not seem to feature American lives at or near the top of the list.

I’m no pundit. I’m not a doctor. I considered being a nurse for like, maybe 30 seconds before I remembered that I hate hospitals, germs, touching people and basically everything about the whole scenario. But I have been a leader, and I’ve had people tell me that I was a good one. They could have been lying, but right or wrong, now we need leadership.

There are four traits in particular that would be ideal. Leaders are:

Humble. Humility has so many benefits. But one of the most important ones right now is, humility facilitates relationship building. Great leaders know how to build and sustain relationships with other leaders, with employees, constituents, stakeholders. And when they are humble and a relationship goes bad, as they occasionally do, that humility can make it a lot easier and faster to recover, rebuild, and to share resources and information.

Well-informed. Leaders should listen. They should learn. They should make an effort to say things that are fact-based, and where possible, have been proven. You won’t know everything all the time. Things change. Sometimes you’re operating from a completely new or limited data set. But when the facts are disproved, good leaders aren’t afraid to correct themselves. Especially when the consequences around misinformation are, you know, in the life or death range.

Great leaders observe other industries, countries, businesses, and learn from their success. They also learn from their mistakes. South Korea, China, they’ve already gone through the worst of the coronavirus and come out on the other side. They did not come out unscathed, but they do have workable strategies, tactics and ideas that other countries likely should consider.

It’s like when someone tells you, “learn from my mistakes.” But to do that you have to be willing. You also have to be listening, observing, absorbing the lesson and all of the pain, angst, loss and BS that went with it. We don’t have to experience every hardship personally in order to learn how to avoid them, do we?

I’ve missed a lot of signs in my life and in my career. I should have started my blog a good three years before I did. I should have started my YouTube channel a good seven, eight or even nine years before I did. And those things were in my industry. That was my job, to identify trends and predict what would stick and have an impact. But I was busy working in my niche, and not knowing any better at the time, I pivoted too slowly.

Being slow to change, to adapt, is dangerous. It can be dangerous for your personal and professional success, for a company or business’ survival, and now it’s endangering our lives.

Rational. Good leaders are not quick to push the panic button or point the finger. What’s the cat’s out of the bag, what’s the point? Then it’s time to find a solution before it scratches the hell out of someone. Good leaders are more inclined to soothe and calm an agitated populace, workforce or audience, rather than inflame them with nonsense that makes you question the real agenda.

Being a leader is not easy. There are often lots of things to consider. Choices, answers, decisions are not always clear cut or easy to make. You can’t always do what the heart wants. You have to consider the collective, the future, sustainability, recovery. Hard concessions or sacrifices may have to be made. But a good leader will never make you wonder if he or she cares.

Great communicators. I communicate for a living. I think about tone, delivery, message, word choice, potential underlying audience assumptions, back story, context, posture, clothing color, headlines, imagery, any and every thing that could influence how someone absorbs information.

Perfection is not necessary, although one should be as polished and prepared as humanly possible when delivering a verbal or written missive. Authenticity and consistency, however, these are more important when you have to persuade or inform an audience.

Not everyone will always like what you have to say. Some people will disagree and distort your message just to do it. It’s why the word troll is so popular these days. But when the rubber meets the road, people need to be able to trust you. Otherwise your reputation as a leader, your effectiveness, your ability to succeed, they’re all comprised.

Oi! I’m tired, and I’m low key trying not to worry and/or panic. I look forward to a Friday rolling around when my blood is running hot with creative energy around a non-coronavirus-related topic. I miss that. Was it only a few weeks ago? Things are changing so fast I can barely keep up.

Be well, everyone. Let’s do our best to stay healthy, stay home and pull together. If you are a leader, even if you’re only leading a team of two, be kind, be considerate, and communicate well.

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