Reductions and Closings - The Leadership Quality of Being Serious

In this time of pandemic, we have been experiencing business reductions and closings. In the last few days, it has occurred to me that the quality of leadership that I have overlooked may be the most essential quality required of an effective leader. I cannot describe the quality with one word, but wanting to begin to describe the quality, I will call it the quality of being serious. This has nothing to do with having or not having a sense of humor – in fact having a sense of humor may enhance the quality.

The quality of being serious invokes a process involving preparation in the form of thought, communication, and execution while paying attention to the results of the effort to accomplish well thought out (and often revised) goals. This structure produces consistency and integrity to expressed purposes.

The opposite of this process would be that often referred to as “playing games” or being manipulative. That leadership attribute produces inconsistency and a lack of integrity.

Business leaders implementing a group decision-making process by that process also create a strong group ready to execute planning because of the involvement in decision-making vests the members of the group in the effort. This is true even if the decisions made are not the same as an individual member of the group would have made. Effective execution depends on this vesting or alignment of the group to accomplish the acts required to make progress to meet a goal. The alignment is there if the members feel their opinions were considered in the decision-making process. Another strong factor in this necessary alignment is the belief of the group in the credibility of the goal. This credibility is created by the seriousness of the leadership of the group.

If leadership has thought about and stated goals that are reasonable and adopted after agreement of the decision-making group, those goals will be accepted as credible – the product of good decisions and constant revision of goals. A serious leadership process will not only produce credible goals, but it will also revise those goals on an ongoing basis to maintain the credibility and reasonableness of those goals. Notwithstanding revision to experience, the overall aspect of the serious leadership process will be consistency.

If leadership merely restates what it thinks will be accepted by the group to manipulate the group to take certain actions, those goals will come to be seen as not credible, hypocritical, and manipulative. That process is manipulative leadership. Manipulative leadership will produce inconsistency and the goals stated will come to be viewed as incredible or unreasonable. Eventually, this leadership will be unsuccessful.

Hypocrisy is indeed a deeply embedded human trait and reflects the opposite of credibility. While it is easy to be careless and hypocritical, it is difficult to be consistent without effort. That effort is the epitome of seriousness. Seriousness involves thought through a group decision-making process to create goals that will be seen to be reasonable and acceptable and the creation of effort to accomplish those goals while that effort is being monitored in such a way that the goals can be revised to remain reasonable. This preparation, effort, and attention results in a process which avoids hypocrisy and aligns those involved in the business in reaching goals.

One aspect of seriousness is to avoid stating that which is blatantly false. One example is the business leader who gushes in front of a group involved in the business that the interest of employees is the primary focus of the business. As the words leave the lips of the leader, there are few employees hearing who will believe those words – no matter how much some may appreciate the obviously incredible sentiment. Instead, it is reasonable and credible to say that the primary goal of the business activity is to be profitable and that profitability is beneficial to all involved with the business. The well being of all members of the business is a serious responsibility of business leaders.

Private business owners are having to reduce or close their business activities. There is no easy way to do this. The effect is devastating on employees as well as owners. These actions are being taken for the most part so that there may be another effort at another time to continue business activity. The same qualities of leadership that built the businesses that are now scaling back or closing will create new goals – new ways of making money – that will employ people. Most business leaders would like to bring back employees with new ways for both to prosper. It is important to communicate this intention, and it is enough to say just that.

We look to leadership to determine new goals and new ways of working together that will cause owners and employees to prosper in a different economic environment. My faith in serious leadership tells me that serious leaders will reduce and close businesses as appropriate to preserve capital and the potential of the businesses to survive or start up again. Serious leaders will find new ways to prosper in a different economy which will be more aware of the contributions of the employees as well as the owners in the profitability of businesses. The serious business leader through preparation and integrity will implement group decision making and align those in the business to make greater accomplishments bring to us all a renewed and vibrant economy.