CUMMINGS: Leadership means: “be there”

June 2, 2013 

Are you “there” for your children? For your customers? For your fellow workers? In any kind of relationship, there comes a time when total concentration and total commitment is called for. You just have to “be there!”

It might be the annual budget time and your boss needs absolute accuracy. It might be a difficult customer and your fellow worker needs your unqualified support. It might be your spouse accepting a new job who simply needs you to understand. It might be your child who just failed a grade. These are the times that make you a leader.

There are three things to remember if you’re going to “be there” for somebody: You better be there: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Be there physically. Many times, you won’t need to say a word. Think about the Boston bombing or the Oklahoma tornado. How many local leaders just came and sat with the survivors? Words were not necessary. They just sat and nodded and listened. They knew what it meant to “be there.”

But don’t think email will do it. Email was not made for this. When somebody really needs you (and you know when that happens), get up and go to them. Don’t just sit there and whip off an email with a funny face and think that will do it. It won’t. I’ve seen people in the same office who can’t seem to walk down the hall. Come on. Get physical -- eyeball to eyeball, if you really want to “be there.”

Be there emotionally. If it’s a happy occasion, take off your coat and tie, order pizza and have a celebration. It’s OK to be happy at work. And if it’s sad or painful, it’s OK to cry.

People who say: “leave your emotions at home,” are usually talking about your emotions, not theirs. These people (sometimes the bosses) can’t seem to show sadness or happiness when it’s called for, but they have no problem displaying their own dysfunctional emotions.

Beth is a bank executive. I watched her one day. There was a birthday celebration in the break room; when she heard the familiar song, she stomped up from her desk and slammed her door. Another day when she was leaving the office to call on clients, one of her employees broke down and started crying. Beth walked up to the woman, and, in a loud, raspy whisper that was heard throughout the office, said, “Stop crying, Annette, this is not a bedroom.” Beth never learned how to “be there” emotionally.

Be there spiritually. For many people, this means praying. You know, “say a little prayer for me.” But that’s not what I mean. If you are going to “be there” for your fellow employees, for your children, for your spouse, for your friends, you need to trust them. And sometimes this takes a huge leap of faith. That’s what “spiritual” means.

I had a boss once named Frank, who was a financial genius, but he couldn’t read people. He could read any financial set of numbers you gave him and forecast the future return on investments, but he couldn’t select the right people for the right jobs. He hired me to do that, and for 10 years that’s what I did.

Then one day he canceled a decision I had made to hire a salesman. We argued about it and I was willing to concede until he blurted out these words that I will never forget: “What do you know about people?” He didn’t trust me. He was not “there” for me spiritually. If you’re going to be a leader, you need to “be there” physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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