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 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 with those around you?
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 will often 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 of substance will also mean you’re 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’re 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 and your focus is taken off from where it should be. Once trust is broken, it can take a long time to be restored.
Who do you know who lacks substance, which affects their leadership credibility and authenticity?
Of course, when you are a substance-less person there tends to be a lot of smoke around, for the good reason that there’s a fire out there. Take the Clinton US 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, the 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).
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. Let’s be clear about something: a lack of substance on your or my part will bite us every time and cause a great deal of unnecessary stress and worry and take our eye off the ball. It could even lead to more unwise decisions to cover over the discovered untruth, but what it will most importantly do is damage our reputation and our influence with those around us.
Even when we get to our dream/leadership goal – as Clinton did – it will never be as good as it could have been.
So can I encourage you, as I do myself, to be a person of substance, even when it looks easier not to?
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?