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Liar, liar, pants on fire!! Words often slung in the playground at our classmates who we thought had violated our trust. Even from an early age, humans are often adept at knowing who to trust and who not to. Who is worth shouting an ice block at the school canteen and who is not. Who is worth being a loyal friend to and sticking up for their honour in the playground when gossip abounds, and who is not. Do you know who you can really trust?Same applies to your leadership in adulthood. You can have everything else going for you, but if you don’t have real substance, you will undermine yourself and undermine your leadership potential.
Who do you know that is a person of substance? What character traits do they have?
In 2002, I wrote the book, “The Dream Is Everything”, and in the chapter “Keep Your Integrity Intact”, I discussed this important leadership trait: substance.
To become a person of influence – a true leader – you must first become a person of substance. A substance is something you can touch, taste, feel or smell; it’s something real and firm. In the same way, a person of substance has a depth and realness about him or her.
What do you need to be more real about? What do you need to be more transparent about? What do you need to be more honest about?
Whenever there’s a question about what a person of substance may have done or not done, said or not said, asked for or not asked for, people can fall back upon what they know of the person’s character. ‘Hey, that doesn’t sound great, but I know so-and-so, he wouldn’t be in that ….”. Having that sort of reputation – substance – in people’s minds may save you from many problems that have their source in rumour.
Being a person with substance will also mean you are less likely to overreact when your peers or team challenge you. People with substance can handle being questioned because they know there’ll be only the appearance of smoke, but no fire. They’ don’t mind being asked – and even challenged- about their attitudes or behaviour, because they have nothing to hide.
Do you know someone who’s definitely hiding something from you that is affecting your trust in them?
By contrast, when you have an ‘artful dodger’ with things to hide, too much of your energy goes into scheming and covering up. Time spent covering over potential scandals may mean your leadership could be undermined and weakened, as the trust your team has in you, is tarnished.
Of course, when you are a substance-less person there tends to be a lot of smoke around, for the good reason that there is a fire out there. Take the Clinton presidency as an example (1993 – 2001). Bill Clinton was an Arkansas lawyer and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University who went on to achieve the extraordinary feat of rolling an incumbent president who had just won a war. In his role as President of the United States of America he was, essentially, CEO of one of the largest nations on earth. The budgets and expense accounts were huge. Clinton had everything going for him – charm, wit, good looks, oratory skills – but many people believed he lacked substance. (Now to be fair, Clinton may have been unlucky – he may in fact be an example of perception not being reality. I am not really in a position to know either way).
Who do you know who lacks substance, which effects their leadership credibility and authenticity?
So what went wrong with the fairy tale? The Clinton presidency (as far as we can see from the outside) was hijacked by lurid scandals, constant accusations of indecency and lingering rumours of business malfeasance. For most of his presidency he was under investigation for some scam or dodgy deal (all of which, to be fair, he credited to his enemies).
Whether Clinton was guilty of anything or not is beside the point, lets be clear about something: a lack of substance on your or my part will bite us every time. Even when we get to our dream/leadership goal – as Clinton did – it will never be as good as it could have been. So make a commitment to invest in your integrity, and to be a person of substance!
When it is all said and done, the biggest mistake you or I can make is to deviate from the pathway of honesty and transparency.
Are you a person of substance?