Guest Post

Why is Nerve a Critical Component of Leadership?

by Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader
11/25/2009

When leaders want to achieve extraordinary results — in good or bad times — they must address two aspects of strategy. First, they must develop a clear game plan for where they want their organization to be, and how to get there. Second, they must create an environment of authentic communication, ownership and accountability inside which the plan can be implemented.

The only way employees will commit to a bold plan is if they believe their leaders have the nerve to do what it takes to make it happen. Most leaders are ignorant of this critical fact. They believe that all they need to do is a good job of communicating the plan, demand compliance, and tie rewards to its achievement; with these in place, people will naturally fall in line. Nothing is further from the truth.

If people doubt their leader's nerve, they will be cautious, keep ideas, suggestions and problems hidden, and appear to be on board. When asked, they will say the right things. But in their hearts, they will be frustrated and disengaged.

Far too often we've seen leaders declare a bold, ambitious strategy, only to achieve little traction when they failed to deal with the key issues necessary to achieve the bold future.

These key issues are often related to senior managers who were not behaving consistently with the organization's stated values, and the lack of holding these individuals to account sent a message to employees that the boldness of the strategy was hot air. Cynicism reigned, and the strategy was little more than a slide deck.

Leaders must have the nerve to face reality, including admitting mistakes, or owning up to places they or their predecessors fell short. Without that, people doubt leaders' credibility, sincerity and competence. As a result, they will go through the motions but will not wholeheartedly join in.

Managers who can only stomach positive conversations will have no time for the difficult, messy territory of complaints and worries that must be addressed before people are willing to engage in anything else.

In today's difficult economic environment, nerve is more critical than ever. To hear and address people's skepticism, doubts, fears or uncertainties requires courage. To infuse hope and confidence in the face of seemingly endless gloom and doom requires a strong backbone. Nerve is what allows leaders to inspire and energize people when many are feeling uncertain or anxious.

Nerve distinguishes real leaders from managers, administrators and bureaucrats.

Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader are founding partners of Quantum Performance Inc., a strategy consulting firm specializing in total alignment and engagement. With offices in Toronto and New Jersey, they are co-authors with Alan Weiss of The Power of Strategic Commitment. Clients include Capital One, Chubb Canada, Cisco Systems, Cushman & Wakefield, Guinness, Intuit, Prudential, Thomson Reuters and The United Way.

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