What’s going on in this picture? What do you see? Look closely and you will see 2,000 pound bales of hay on the plains of Western Kansas being pushed around aimlessly by the wind. It’s hard to believe that the wind can blow those bales of hay across the prairie and across the roads so they end up in an entirely different place.
These wind-blown bales of hay remind me of my early days as a leader. Like most new leaders, I was being pushed and pulled in many different directions. However, it was not the tasks, duties and responsibilities associated with being a leader that were pushing me around. The most powerful and troubling pushing was coming from my followers who were trying to figure out what I believed, what I expected, and what I would accept from them. They all wanted to know where I would draw a hard line, and what I would let pass.
Some leaders get pushed because they want to be popular among their followers. We all want to be liked and to be popular. I see many leaders in business and in public life that work hard to be popular, only to be pushed around.
When we don’t know what we stand for – what we will tolerate and what behaviors we will accept – we can get pushed around by those we lead. We get pushed around by people and by ourselves when we strive for being popular over being respected.
Leaders that go for popularity usually miss out on getting something they desperately need to effectively lead: Respect. I think leaders ought to strive for respect first. But how do you get respect, and how can you risk losing it? The first step is to know what you will expect without compromise, where you will draw a hard line and where you will be flexible.
We all need leaders who draw the line and hold that line consistently every day, not somebody who’s going to waver and be pushed around by the latest trend or the latest belief. The people who look to you for leadership need to know what you expect from them. They need their leader to be in the same place with the same principles every day.
As a leader, your beliefs and your principles will be challenged. How solid are you in those beliefs and in those principles? Have you practiced them? Have you stated them publicly? Or, when you are challenged, do you roll over and end up in an entirely different place?
Just like the hay bales on the plains of Western Kansas, leaders can get pushed around. They get pushed around because they are not sure what they believe or what they should expect and accept of their followers. As leaders, we must know what we stand for. We must know our principles and we must know where we draw the line.
We must practice our principles and beliefs every day so that when the winds get strong and the challenges become tough, we remain founded. That’s what people need: Leaders who have beliefs that are firmly rooted in principle, and who live those beliefs every day.
What do you expect without compromise? Where do you draw the hard line and where will you be flexible?