Why Great Leaders Never Hide

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By Jas Singh

We all make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Sometimes ones that make us feel mega embarrassed. Or the worst ones of all – mistakes that hurt others. Sometimes we are even involved in mistakes that had nothing to do directly with us.

As social creatures often the fear of criticism can become overwhelming. Especially nowadays – we know news travels fast and opinions can be expressed in a click. If we screw up, it can be hard to face the music.

And so we lock ourselves away. We hide. Often disguising our actions with a clever rationalisation – “being too busy” or passing the buck to someone else.

However, often the test of true leadership is being there when it counts most. Whether it is a business crisis, community emergency or fuming client, leaders come forward. They are there when others shy away. They protect others.

Here are some reasons why great leaders never hide.

They put the needs of others first

The main responsibility for any leader is to serve the people that follow them. The greatest leaders throughout time have been those who have given more than they have received. Who have a cause bigger than them.

A great leader will do anything he can to protect his followers. (Provided they have not violated the rights of others off course). When the going gets tough, not only are they prepared to take responsibility – often they volunteer themselves to take it.

Leaders who are great are the first ones to take full responsibility when something goes wrong. If a follower has failed, a successful leader will assume as it is they who have failed. They take the pressure off others and realise that leadership often requires this sacrifice.

Great leaders put others first.

They realise bravery and honesty builds respect

The collapse of the investment banking giant Salomon Brothers in 1987 is perhaps one of the most famous events in the history of Wall Street. Even more memorable however were the actions of one it’s largest shareholders…Warren Buffet.

To summarise, Buffet had invested heavily in the Salomon business but purely as a shareholder. Late in 1987 it started to surface that a couple of rogue traders had acted illegally whilst buying US Treasury investments. The bank had tried to cover things up, but as soon as Buffet heard about what had happened he immediately forced the bank to confess – even though it had an immediate negative impact on the share price and in effect wipe out billions of dollars of his own money. When senior executives resigned and no-one wanted to take responsibility for the calamity, Buffet stood forward as acting Chairman to take the flack. Apologising on behalf the bank and taking full responsibility and penalties.

Yet it was his transparency and honesty which ultimately rescued the bank and allowed the US government to give Salomon some breathing space which prevented a full blown financial crisis. Often cracking under the emotion and strain, he was even reassured by then Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady with the now famous line: “Don’t worry Warren, we’ll get through this”.

Not sure whether most bosses who had nearly pulled down the largest economy in the world would receive such treatment.

Putting yourself forward to take the flack  – especially if it isn’t something directly you were involved with – requires bravery. It takes honesty. It requires us to be self-less, which gains respect and appreciation from others.

Leadership requires bravery.

They realise hiding makes things worse

In some of the most high profile business failures of recent times – Enron, Lehman, WorldCom, (insert your own) – perhaps what’s more amazing than companies of these sizes being wiped out, is how long they managed to keep things hidden. In nearly all cases, senior executives in the company had managed to keep underlying problems hidden for many months – even years.

Hoping that things would just get better. That the market would go the other way. That no-one would find out.

Great leaders realise that hiding from a problem just makes things worse. When things are going badly you have to act. Make big decisions. Take responsibility.

You can only hide for so long.

Conclusion

In many industries, it’s easy to hide in the work place.

When things go wrong, why take the stress if it’s not your problem?

However that is exactly what great leaders do.

Hiring managers can gain much from those people who step forward and take responsibility when the road ahead is tough. Who don’t hide, but volunteer.

Who would you volunteer for?

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