Scandal, turf wars, political intrigue. Those were the subjects of the conversation two weeks ago between me and two American colleagues now living in Amsterdam. The presidential elections recently over, the Petraeus scandal now breaking, the BBC reeling from a scandal of its own, the US peering over the edge of a financial cliff, and The Voice just surpassing X Factor in the ratings, we had no shortage of topics to wrangle over. Nevertheless, our topic? Knitting – and the knitters who knit. Yep. You read right.
Believe it or not, there is as much territory guarding, gossip and ethical conundrum in the world of knitting as there is anywhere else. Sitting on the edge of my seat in our friend’s Amsterdam heritage home built in 1685, I was both stunned and entertained to learn that the knitting world was not unlike any other corporation or organization. The common thread? People. People with their own extraordinary talents, agendas, frailties, and ambitions – and the challenges associated with navigating through confusing legal and professional expectations without losing face or position – drive our government, our companies, and our cultures.
Working increasingly with global business partners in a myriad of industries, I am struck by how similar we all really are once you peel back the obvious external differences (areas of interest, language, etc.). A huge overgeneralization almost certainly, but still I continue to observe in every instance that regardless of whether it’s the judges on X Factor, the head of the CIA or the BBC, or even knitting innovators (who are absolutely not supposed to plagiarize the designs of others), we all want to respect the people that lead us and that lead our esteemed enterprises, whatever they are.
In fact, having personally worked with nearly 1,000 managers this year alone in Belgium, England, Germany, and the U.S., I noticed some common threads – themes shared even amongst my sister knitters. Based on these experiences, I offer a prescription for professional and ethical leadership to all of those who aspire to lead:
- Show up. The worst leaders are the ones who hide out when times are tough.
- Tell the truth. Even when the truth is really hard. Especially when the truth is hard.
- Beware the rationalization. If you find yourself justifying your actions, then you should know what everyone else already knows – you’re trying to convince yourself of something you know isn’t right.
- Stretch. Bring your own ingenuity and insight to the challenges of the day and, when you do rely on the others . . .
- Give credit where it is due. Be generous; honor the contributions of others.
- Be willing to be uncomfortable. Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage. As many fallen leaders can attest, if they will, it was when they got too comfortable that they made irreparable mistakes.
- Don’t go it alone. We all need help. Get the best help that you can — from fearless people who will tell you when you are about to go too far.
- Never forget that every one of us is replaceable. You are special. I know you are special. At the same time, we all need to realize that the need for leaders is so great that we will never be without them – no matter how wonderful a leader you are. Everyone is replaceable. Don’t believe your own hype. To lead, you need to prove yourself worthy every day. . . . just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger or . . . well, you get the idea.
- Reveal yourself. People want to know what you value; they want to understand your thought process; they want to anticipate how you are likely to react. It is already an unpredictable world that we all live in and the last thing we need from our leaders is more uncertainty and secrets. Let us know what you are thinking. And finally . . .
- Show you care. Regardless the industry, position or nationality, I consistently hear from employees and managers alike that leaders need to demonstrate genuine respect and empathy for individuals and their unique circumstances. We need our leaders to not only make hard decisions, but to also feel for the people affected by them.