January 30, 2012 | Barb Carr

Career Development: Stay True To Yourself by "Captain George" A. Burk

“Leadership is all about unlocking the potential in others.”
Carly Fiorna, Hewlett-Packard CEO

There are too many so called “leaders” who act and sound artificial, “phony” when they interact with their staff, friends and even customers. When you demonstrate, through thought, word and deed that you’re an authentic human being and leader who really cares about your employees and the organization, the chances are great that you’ll get your employees, friends, and yes, your family’s best efforts. Simply stated, you must walk the talk, not talk the talk.  Here are a few tips:

Adhere to your core principles. In my 50 plus years experiences as a military officer, civilian employee, speaker, author, burn survivor and son, I’ve learned that’s the best and most effective way to lead. You must have credibility with your employees, family, friends, clients and your audience. The greatest people and leaders I’ve known said what they meant and meant what they said. They were unambiguous about their dreams, passions, goals and core principles. They were consistent in their beliefs and never wavered; they were trusted and trustworthy.

Everyone inside him has a piece of good news … that you don’t know how great you can be (or) what you can accomplish.”
Anne Frank, diarist

Money, power and fame are a two-edged sword. They can ‘buy’ access to persons, places and things you might not otherwise have and enjoy. But, as with most things in life, they often come with a price. Money, power and fame can’t buy you health, happiness, integrity, peace, respect, true friends or authenticity.  When you place most of your values in them, people are often thrust-off the foundation of the core values that helped them get to the ‘top.’ We’re born with free will and life is all about choices. Therefore, choose the right path—to remain true and authentic to you first, then others.

High ethics and religious principles form the basis for success and happiness in every area of life.” John Templeton, investor

It starts at the top. When leaders are authentic, that often leads to trust. A Maritz Research poll in 2011 showed that just 7% of U.S. workers viewed leadership’s actions as consistent with their words. “We need our people to be engaged, trusted, leaders,” said Lynn Lieber, a San Francisco-based employment lawyer and legal advisor to compliance training advisor Workplace Answers. “You see companies like Apple where people had huge amounts of trust in their leaders.”

“Passionate leadership won’t succeed if contradictory signals are sent out.”  Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder

Establish panels. Bill George former CEO of medical device maker Medtronic calls them True North Groups.  They’re small groups of people who know each other well enough to offer objective and honest opinions. They act as a sounding board for each member. “The people trust each other and are willing to be open,” George said.  His group helped him realize he had drifted away from his core values when he was in line to become CEO at Honeywell International.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after awhile he gets to know something.”  Wilson Misner, playwright

Focus inward. George said leaders must be introspective about how they function and operate. He meditates twice a day. You can write a journal or talk to someone close to you. Or, do all three. Think about who you are…really; where you’re going; how you’ll get there; who’ll be on your team. The process you choose can give you time to reflect on how your core values affect the decisions you make,     

“If you go, go, go all the time, you’re not real grounded” he said.

Demonstrate that you care. Employees, friends and family will see you and think of you as genuine if you prove by words and actions that you care about their well-being. Write thank you notes to your staff, friends and hosts. It’s probably the most important and well-received praise they can receive. Thank you notes are a lost art. We’ve become too reliant on technology. When you take the time to write a note, address it, seal it, put postage on it and deliver it to the Post Office that sends a subtle, but important message that you do care.  Thank you notes are another way that you should do business.  Teach it and demonstrate it in the home, it will transfer to the office.

“I don’t let my mouth say anything my head can’t stand.”  Louis Armstrong, musician

Spread the wealth. Not only financial rewards but praise and credit when and where it’s due. Steve Jobs did it with his resignation from Apple’s CEO in August 2011.

Know your people.  You can’t do this by sitting in your corner office and hiding (or the perception you’re hiding) from reality.  Get out and walk around. This is a way to help you understand the issues your employees face and allows you to get to know them better. Creating an authentic workplace is a challenge if you sit in the corner office.  CEO Howard Schulz walks in to his Starbucks stores unannounced to see how things are going. The TV program “Undercover Boss” has the same result. Sometimes you really need to get into the trenches with the people who do the ‘dirty work’ every day.

Create the rules. Establish a Code of Conduct that lists the core values and behaviors that are expected. Follow through with them and make certain no one, regardless of their position, is exempt.  There may be some who will test the Code of Conduct and invent all sorts of excuses as to why they shouldn’t be held accountable.  In my long career, I’ve heard them all! Their inventiveness is extraordinary; if only they’d put as much effort in trying to follow the Code of Conduct as they did trying to tap dance around it.  Provide training on the Code that’s specific to you organization and talk about it when issues of conduct arise.  That can also impress an outside agency if problems do occur. You show that you act in good faith, and that is reflected in everything you do. A Code of Conduct is also useful in personal situations. It’s not a sometimes thing or to use when needed thing; like breaking the glass when a fire breaks-out. To be effective, a Code of Conduct must be part of who you are and seamless from your personal life to the workplace. You can’t be a phony and a say you Code of Conduct. It just doesn’t work!

“Are you green and growing or ripe and rotting?”  Ray Kroc, former McDonald’s CEO

Be honest and dependable. Take responsibility for yourself, your life and your job.


This article was reprinted with permission from “Captain George” A. Burk, USAF (Ret).  Visit his website for information about this keynote speaker, trainer and author:   www.georgeburk.com

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