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Nothing Good Happens in a Vacuum of Leadership

by Leslie G. Ungar

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Nothing Good Happens in a Vacuum of Leadership
Five Steps to Lead through Presence

Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist and US foreign policy critic, ranks as the most quoted living thinker. Marx and Lenin rank as the most often quoted individuals in history. Lincoln may be the most quoted president in history, followed closely by FDR, and JFK. However, one of my favorite sayings is my own. Or at least I believe it is my own: nothing good happens in a vacuum of leadership.

Much has been written about leadership: what makes an effective leader? The questions I am addressing in this article are: when and why does a leader need to be present?

Our journey must first take us to the definitions of the key words involved: Presence, Vacuum, and Leadership. The word presence was first used in popular English literature sometime before 1010. However, Webster’s online dictionary covers in more depth a studio album by Led Zeppelin entitled Presence, than it defines the word presence in any other implementation.

Presence is simply defined as the act of being present. In our every day lives, we do not define, discuss, or develop the word presence.

A vacuum is defined as the absence of matter in a volume of space. The definition of vacuum is applied in several areas: aerospace, literature, mechanical engineering, and mining. There is no application of the word in business, leadership, or politics.

A vacuum in leadership may be the most dangerous vacuum of all because it has long lasting consequences. Hitler came to power when there was a vacuum of leadership in Germany; Ahmadinejad has come to power in the absence of leadership in Iran.

The word leadership l was first used in English literature in 1517. We have used the word leadership in every decade, and yet what do we mean?

The European Union defines leadership as a term . . . generally applied to qualities and forces existing within an organization (usually centered in the top executives) which motivate, guide and direct individuals.   

So what happens when there is a vacuum of motivation, guidance, and direction? From a communication perspective, nothing good. Just as water fills a vacuum, some one or some thing will fill in where there is an absence of leadership.

As a lame duck President, Bush created a communication vacuum of economic leadership when the financial perfect storm hit in September. The stock market kept plummeting and plummeting and plummeting. Juxtapose this approach with Obama’s actions when he became president-elect. Obama had no authority to do anything other than talk. Every day the week of Thanksgiving he held a news conference to talk about his vision or announce an appointment. The stock market went up each of these days.

Five Rules to Lead through Presence

1. Sell the Vision
What’s your vision, your biggest picture of the future of your company? You need to both communicate and create buy-in for this vision. How will someone, a department, a company, one person, be better off for having bought in to this vision? Figure that out, and then sell this vision at every opportunity.

Effective leaders today are strategic in thought and word. The strategy, or the what, has more value in today’s world than the tactical which is the how. Step into that vacuum and first tell and then sell your vision for the future.

2. Be Visible
Everyday ask yourself, How can I be more visible? Can you walk a plant floor, or stop in at a meeting? Swoop down from your 30,000-foot perch and be visible and be vocal. Ask a specific question, and then you can return to your higher perch. On a daily basis, figure out how you can inject yourself by being more visible.

3. Follow the “Even Though” Rule
The “even though” rule says that nothing that follows the words “even though” changes what came before these two words. You might be tempted to say, ”Do I have to be present even though I have bad news?” The answer is YES. Nothing that you could say changes the fact that you need to be visible. You might ask, “Do these rules apply even though we are a smaller company, or even though we are a family owned company?” The words “even though” do not change any of these basic tenets of leadership.

4. Protect Your Message
You have a great plan, a vision, even an answer to your company’s current challenges. That is nice, but not enough. You need to protect this message. If you had a Rolex or a Cartier watch, you would protect it: You would not leave it in the parking lot or let it sit out in the rain. Your message has value and you protect it by communicating this message in a way that allows you and your company to move forward.   

Challenging times require bold leaders who can use communication to protect their message and move their company boldly toward the future.

5.  Speak with Clarity
Webster’s Online Dictionary defines clarity as the quality or state of being clear. How do you benchmark clarity? Here is a practical way to test your Clarity IQ. Can you answer in the time it takes to walk to walk across a room? Really, try this exercise. Stand Up. Then walk and answer in the time it takes to walk across a room. The room may be small or large, but if you answer in the time it takes to walk across a football field, that is not clarity.
Nothing good happens in a vacuum of leadership. Step up and be visible in communicating your vision.

Our passion is to improve the world, one leader at a time. Leslie G. Ungar, president of Electric Impulse Communications, Inc., coach, speaker, and strategist. In our work we Transform Ordinary Leaders to Extraordinary. Your group would benefit from hearing me in person or you can sign up for my monthly newsletter at | blog

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