Over the past two months, I've watched the eye of Hurricane Sandy pass over my home, brushed snow off my car, and enjoyed a balmy sunny day sitting on my front porch. Lately, it seems as though Mother Nature changes her mood almost as frequently as does my feisty 6-year-old daughter. What does this have to do with leadership? I'll get to that... I promise.
Last year, I happened to ask my older sister what on earth the difference was between "partly cloudy" and "partly sunny." Really, aren't they the same? During this riveting conversation (yes, that is sarcasm you are sensing), she joked that she would describe me as "mostly sunny with a chance of severe thunderstorms." Nice.
It's trendy lately to talk about personal brands and how people perceive you. In my view, people experience your brand much the way they experience the weather. Are you mostly sunny or mostly cloudy? Frosty? Mild? Hazy? Warm? Believe me, just as people associate specific climates with specific locations, they have assigned one to you. How do you want your weather report to read?
As a leader, I often wonder how people perceive me. I guess "mostly sunny with a chance of severe thunderstorms" isn't the worst outlook, right? I mean, what's wrong with a bit of productive paranoia? No leader is perfect, but there are certainly some that (pardon the pun) are harder to weather than others. I'll give you two examples.
We all know this one -- the leader who leaves a wake of destruction wherever he or she goes. Think about it: Just as with the real deal, there is often a flurry of activity in anticipation of the hurricane's arrival. People protect their assets as best they can for fear of the potential damage. Some stay and bravely face the storm (though this can prove an unfortunate choice), while others move to safer grounds to avoid the dangerous encounter. Both groups may feel anxious, frustrated, and helpless before, during, and after the hurricane hits. Some people never fully recover from the damage done -- assets are lost and confidence shattered. The strong souls rebuild and persevere, feeling stronger and more prepared to handle the next hurricane who will come.
The Sweet, Sunny Day
The opposite of a Hurricane is the leader who has a constant smile on her face and sees only the good in people and in life. Picture this leader as one of the fairy-tale princesses in the movies you may have watched as a child. You know the scene: A girl skips through the forest humming a dreadfully high-pitched song, as birds sit on her shoulder chirping along and young forest critters follow, looking up at her lovingly. Just as in real life, these princesses tend to be a bit naïve and to fall prey to some "bad guy." In real life, such leaders exist throughout corporate America, and no, they don't have to be women. Although they don't cause the angst of their hurricane peers, they also don't ignite much of anything in their employees. With overly optimistic views, they tend to overlook opportunity areas for their employees, and even when they do recognize them, their strong need for harmony inhibits them from giving the tough feedback that someone needs to learn and grow. Bottom line is that leaders with overly sunny outlooks are great to temporarily lift your spirits -- like a good, sunny vacation. But to really grow, you have to learn to weather some storms.
I've reflected quite a bit and can't find a weather pattern that best describes a perfect leader. I imagine that just as in real life, it's good to mix it up depending on the need; that is, to use situational leadership. After all, sometimes a good lightning bolt may be exactly what someone needs!
I'd love to hear from you. With what weather pattern would people associate you? What types of leaders have you experienced in the past and how did they impact your own development? Is there a perfect leadership climate?