Have you ever heard the saying, “Never let them see you sweat?” That slogan became part of American culture in 1984 through a TV commercial for an antiperspirant. It quickly entered the public lexicon, invoking images of a supremely confident professional, self-assured, and unflappable regardless of circumstances. Sweating can be seen as a sign of nervousness or fear. And to many these are indications of weakness. “Never let them see you sweat,” has become a motto and mantra for superstar leaders whose dominance flows from an carefully cultivated aura of invulnerability. Apparently fearlessness is a virtue real leaders are thought to possess. But can a person without fear really be brave? Isn’t courage the ability to act as necessary in spite of fear?
I recently wrote about Upside Down leadership being a dynamic feedback loop between leader and followers, fueled by love and respect. Together deciding to act for the good of the other and treating each other well in recognition of the divine spark in each human being produce mutual trust. Teamwork is trust activated so we can pull together to accomplish our shared goals. However, this is only the beginning of a discussion about leadership. The spirit of Upside Down Leadership needs bones and flesh to become active in the world. The bones are what a leader must BE, what a leader must KNOW, and what a leader must DO. The flesh consists of the personalities of leaders and followers, their individual stories and motivations, and the situations in which they interact.
The first thing a leader must be is a Person of Character. He or she must maintain integrity (say what she means, mean what she says, and do the right things for the right reasons), be humble, and serve a higher purpose. Being Authentic comes in a close second. In more popular language, the leader needs to be “real.” That means not pretending to be somebody you are not, not putting on airs. It means being true yourself and even letting them see you sweat so they can know that you are facing your fears, screwing up you courage, and doing what needs to be done. Those watching will appreciate you more, and you will gain credibility.
One of the the things that the leader must DO is lead by example. Casting a compelling vision isn’t enough to keep people moving in the face of adversity. If you want your folks to be ready to walk through fire to accomplish the common goal, then you go first — and let them see you do it. Put your stuff (your own career, your time, your safety, or even your life) on the line for them, and you will have not only their trust but their loyalty as well — and they will walk through fire for you