Leadership is a funny thing sometimes.
We, as a society, crave it. When it’s a leader that we tire of or mistrust, we collectively throw our hands up and become unbearably enraged at nothing, unable to understand facts, directions and are unwilling to listen to each other. But when asked to lead ourselves in any situation, we sometimes collectively blush, turn to one side and put our hands up in a “No, no, not me”, laughing type of way. Someone then gets up to lead and inevitably the peanut gallery starts up in the corner whispering in three’s and fours, “Well, she can’t lead she’s a whore!” or a male saying, ” That guy, he’s a horse’s ass, he couldn’t lead water down a drain. And he’s a whore, I am jealous.”
I’ve been a leader of an organization now for the past 15 years and if I am being honest, 15 of those years have been ripe with hand wringing. The first 10 years were about finding my expertise and getting people to believe in this thing I was offering because I was an “expert”. Let’s start with that because without expertise and one more thing, there is no leadership. Or so I thought.
I remember being a scholar in a small business coaching program sponsored by Goldman Sach’s called “10,000 Small Businesses” in 2016. First, my name is not synonymous with scholar. When I was in school, it was more of a place to eat lunch, make friends and daydream. This guy wasn’t on the fast track to college and wasn’t a Mr Smarty Pants Do Goody Gooder. I was accepted into the 10k program on achievements in business and we were each awarded the name “scholars”. I rode in the first day of class as an expert on horseback to Laguardia College on a cold January day in Long Island City Queens and, as a scholarly expert, dismounted off the horse in a off-putting scholarly way, threw my long braided hair back and attached Mr Ed to a railing nearest the 7 train. (Wouldn’t this be a sight to see).
Anyway, I took my scholarly self and my king’s ransom of no-knowledge up to the 7th floor where the first day of class was. Hereto, furthermore and other King’s-type words herein, an associate scholar of the same business ilk used the word “credibility” in a overly long, arduous, blowhard answer to what the word business means to him and it struck me like a slap in the face. I don’t remember a single thing he said but I immediately googled “credibility”.
Credddbibi (backspace backspace backspace backspace) I typed in my phone misspelling the words. If I had all the time back in my life from my two stupid thumbs misspelling words on my phone.
Crebibilititytyy. How do I spell it?
Google tells me, “did you mean CREDIBILITY?” Then Google says “I say you did, here are the results anyway. Get new thumbs!”
Credibility: the quality of being trusted and believed in.
A warm fuzzy feeling hits the back of my head and buzzes down to my appendix.
The room’s discussion blacked out to just me thinking aloud in my head.
What a great word to describe the journey I’ve been on in business and in life (these words echo in my mind). I didn’t see myself as a leader yet because I didn’t believe in my expert-ness and had been seeking out this so-called credibility my WHOLE life. To be known for something and to be sought out for it because YOU are the chosen one. The one to lead the peasants to the land of Evermore on this quest, Sir Idiot. Dost thou take thy?
The whole room is black now with just a spotlight on me. From the cradle to the casket, we are seeking credibility in what we do and how we do it. I can really only speak for myself in the sense that I am not a sociologist and, quite frankly don’t want to do research. I tried it in the beginning of my post-bloggery and it was exhausting. I think from the highest tier of society to the lowest tier we all seek credibility whether we know it or not. Well, maybe the more affluent seek it while the less inherent it; pasted on their backs like a scarlet letter.
I sat there in the 10k classroom, “King Scholar”, in my cape of lies. I came out of my daydream as the black faded and the spotlight went away.
What the heck am I doing here?
Like most daydreams, it’s like my ears shut off and the classroom went away. All I could think of was the thing in my mind at that moment. And that was the issue in school as a kid. My mind wandered and it was tough to control. No matter how perilous the situation was, the inner voice took charge and was always pushing the buttons in my brain to shut down.
Fade in: “But sir, he is failing biology” says a man as he looks up from blinking lights in a Star Wars like uniform working for the Galactic Emperor on a substantial part of the ship with lots of blinking lights… which in the 1970’s meant “this is computer stuff!”. More blinking and beeping the better. People walking in the background holding papers with nothing in it. A pair of people talking in the distance. Lots of workers looking at blinking lights on the numerous consoles.
The man, wearing a hat with a short brim looks up at an older man with a face chiseled out of stone that made mirrors cry. In a British accent he sneered in harsh baritone, “That is not relevant right now.” Ominous music plays in the distance.
Close up of his face as stone teeth whispers, “Stickball”
The sitting man, concerned about biology, concerned about summer school, turned to the stone man, “but sir”
“SILENCE!” the stone eyes shouted through stone teeth. The room once a flitter with bustling feet, blinking lights and words was now hushed as something fell over it. Like when a nun in full nun costume walks into a room of screaming kids in catholic school; just the sight of her was a horror story.
Stone chin continued: “Stickball” He had an insane glimmer in his eye as he looked at nothing straight ahead. He quickly looked down at the man at the desk with a glare that made the man’s balls shrink. In a movie-whisper, stone lips said: “stickbaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllll”
The man, frightened for his life, turned sheepishly towards the blinking lights and stick shift-like 70’s controls and pushed a red button. The “No biology, dream of stickball” button. And so, the adolescent child dreams of stickball in his biology class and fails the next test.
Yes, this is my brain. No, it’s not good.
But I’ve survived this long. I’ve had this conviction to be this way my whole life. Scholar or no scholar, this guy be a-dreamin’!
But seriously, credibility is important. As a parent, you can’t have authority without the little people taking you seriously. Like my dad, who was a figure of authority but over time got lazy with it. The “I am going to count to three!” stuff? I would invariably be somewhere in the apartment cutting the heads off my sisters dolls with a knife and she was obviously upset. He didn’t care so much about the dolls and my sister but how it was such an inconvenience to him that he had to stop watching TV. Laying on the couch, twirling his hair with a finger he would yell, “Now stop it now, ok? Ima count to 3”
In the beginning, you didn’t let him get to three. After my parents divorced and this wasn’t as important to him, “I’m gonna count to three. 1, 2…
2 annd 1/2
2 and 3/4
2 and 7/8th
Finally we would stop after 2 and 9/16th. Then, I would begin again 2 minutes later with the “sawing of the heads”.
In school, credibility is important as a teacher. You want people to believe when you say you will do something- you do it. And that you know what you are doing. This is why I failed Biology in High School. Not because I didn’t deserve it, I probably did. Because that teacher was such a raging jerk, she had to do it or no one would take her seriously. She promised she would and delivered. Her dark forces had prevailed. Her credibility restored. She was the dark lord of cow eyeballs and mitochondria.
Landlords, have their own sort of credibility too. Pay rent or you don’t have a place to live. Can you trust that to be reality? Well, don’t pay and find out what happens!
It’s the believability portion of credibility that is important and is all knowing. There’s no integrity for the future scholar in biology whilst failing but the wisdom that the failing scholar gains from the lesson is invaluable. Landlords aren’t trustworthy or reliable but if you don’t pay your rent, they will come after you- after all, remember the lease you signed? If I don’t enforce the rules, there is no credibility!
For me, I had no credibility when I first started out in business. I was a well-intentioned, underperforming, dream-fed young man looking for his thing. What I perceived that which was holding me back was my lack of a formal education. What was pushing me forward was my yearning for specific, specialized knowledge. In fact, a saying that I made up, was this “primary aim” from a business course after I started Real Brave was:
In the silence of my mind lies the blueprint and inner peace is my hearts desire for greater specialized knowledge.
Did credibility come from specialized knowledge which then would lead me via horseback to the land of Leadership? I left Laguardia college and the cold winter air and got back on my horse. I galloped up Queens Blvd to the bridge and this thought never left my mind. It was my quest to find out. After all, what does a long haired, borderline-educated musician from Queens with huge ambition have to lose? I needed the thing that proved my worthiness. I wanted to become something greater than anything I could see around me and needed to find out. Horseback riding hurts, ouch.
I think I gained credibility around the time I started leading coincidentally. When I mean leading, it’s more of a state of grace. I look at leadership in some organizations and some people, men and woman alike, they lead with an iron first. That leadership is about being strict, it’s about rules, my way or the highway, do it or die no matter if its devoid of facts or a path. As a rule follower, I get this. I am a rule follower to the point of distraction. If I don’t follow the rules in the middle of following all the rules and its subsets of rules, I ask myself, “am I following the rules? Let me check.” Wash, repeat.
Whether you are part of any organization or not, we all understand the idea of the boss. I actually had someone say this to me once, “Don’t forget- I am the boss.” This happened in a conversation about nothing, by the way. I had to look for the cameras to see if I am being pranked. I laughed incredulously, “what does that have to do-“
He beamed, “I am the boss!” and stomped away like a 400 pound baby. This is leadership too. Just leadership- misunderstood, reconstructed to a person’s belief. “If I am this way and mean it, they will do”. I have seen a lot of this and we all have, right? I quit a job once to a boss that ran a Chrysler dealership and as I was leaving I yelled across the showroom floor, “Hey Lenny, how’s that rash doing?”
He was walking across the showroom floor with meaningless papers in his hand with his hair-helmet hairdo and man-cologne. He stopped and looked as if he didn’t hear me.
“You rubbing that ointment in like a told you to?”
Laughs from the 20+ people.
I had my say. Boy, I told him. (Eyeroll) Didn’t have to be that way but sometimes the peasants revolt.
I could go on, but a lot of the leadership I met had no credibility. They were just assholes in a king’s garb. Then there was the leadership I was looking for. I wanted to inspire like some of the other great bosses/ leaders in my day too. Their great quality? They were people we could look up to, they cared a great deal when they spoke to you, they believed in you and most importantly they led their lives in a way that you cared about. They walked the walk and talked the talk. I’m also not saying that you go to work and sleep in a cocoon of comfort and not do your job. Leadership pushes for an environment that inspires and motivates everyone to excel. Yes, do your job and do it well. You are here and you believe in our mission wholeheartedly because it connects deeply to your soul.
Think about the bosses/ leaders that you didn’t like that threw verbal spears off their perch of nonsense. They mostly didn’t believe what they were saying, were being cruel for the sake of being cruel and were only interested in their own well being. This to me is an absence of leadership and credibility. If there is no value system in an organization, a way of being and a point to it, then there is no organization. Values organize leadership and credibility is the creed read from the mountaintop to the kingdom.
Somewhere along the line, some person mistook insistence and pushiness for leadership and other people followed suit for generations (oh the irony). A lot of people in life may know what they are talking about in their industry but all they know about leadership is to use fear to motivate people.
Fear in leadership is the “if you don’t do this the hand will smack”. Fear is the truth by which many people hold on to and when a leader, albeit a boss or other, peddles fear as the method by which they will lead, we all cringe and obey.
Peddling fear is the worst use of leadership by any definition. Leadership isn’t all sunshine, puppy dogs, butterflies, ice cream and rainbows by any means but the aspirational use of language to compel anyone is by far a better use of leadership. Doing as I say and backing it up.
Fear isn’t the leadership I was looking for in my life. To me, there is idealism that meets pragmatism. There is dedication to values and vision. There is the invisible hand that guides everyone and, when necessary, a strict push in a direction. The Kingdom’s People need to be led, not pushed constantly.
People want answers to and to have someone be held accountable. That’s normal.
“Well that’s Jack’s fault, he admitted it”.
Most issues in life stop when someone says, “OK, people! This is my bad, let’s move on.” Then the Kingdom’s people stop for a second, murmor “oh, that’s good- responsibility” and continue to their train ride, potato chips and Hulu. It’s ok to take responsibility. It won’t hurt your credibility if you do.
My horse ride to credibility, holding the torch of my own personal freedom, the ability to lead someone to a higher value system? That comes from the way you lead your life. Rules? They exist and they are the framework for the better good.
Visions that expel fear and invite comfort for a future that bears fruit? That comes from the journey of a thousand mistakes that I hold near and dear to my heart.
Inspiration to move the Kingdom’s people? It was born from accomplishing tough things. From my inception, I have looked at what is impossible and strove for it on horseback.
Strong values? Well ask my mom about that. I inherited strong values and brought them to the workplace.
So, yes, I have the credibility to back up my leadership at my company. I have a history of understanding, compassion and a strict adherence to rules. I understand the plight of the people because of my HIStory (thanks MJ) and have a grip on what makes for a great workplace.
I keep the word credibility scribbled on a card in my wallet. Actually I do this because there are days I cannot remember the word “credibility” and have to search for it to remind my oozing brain what it is so I can use it in conference calls. BUT- when I fall from a knights sword and the police are going through my wallet for clues as to who I am they will either think it’s a clue to a horrific murder mystery they are trying to solve or a clue as to who I am. I am pretty sure I will be charged with murder, though. That’s so me.
…..Alas, if on my journey I stray from the noble quest, I have surrounded myself with people that would remind me on a daily basis “You are going the wrong way” and point me back to the muddy, rock strewn path. Who you surround yourself paints a picture of who your future self will be.
Don’t be afraid to lead. No one will throw rocks. No one will disavow you, but they may push back. We need fearless leaders in this world more than ever so we can rebuild the kingdom, towns, refineries, factories and bars to the days where everything was what it should be. That glimmering palace on a hill, forged deep in the recess of your wandering, aching mind.