Trust results, not applause
Q:Today Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is riding high, judging from his press clippings, while a year ago the same pundits wondered if he'd be forced to step down. Many leaders face these wild swings of perception: one moment a genius, the next a dolt. Should leaders pay attention to their own popularity - or lack of it?
Leadership is not about popularity; quite the opposite. To demonstrate great leadership, you must make difficult decisions and take action in a situation where the answers are not easy and where you will alienate part of your constituency. Abe Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, FDR and the New Deal, Harry Truman and Israeli statehood are some powerful examples.
The best leaders do not act alone -- they have a team of trusted advisors who can offer wise counsel, challenge their thinking and balance their views. It is critical for leaders to identify the appropriate set of mentors and advisors to consult for feedback along the way so that they can focus and execute without being distracted by popular opinion and talking heads on TV.
Leaders must be relentlessly focused on RESULTS above all else. If a leader can measure his performance against a set of goals or objectives, then his actions will stand the test of time. And as Harry Truman taught us, the buck stops here -- leaders must be accountable for the results they deliver. Too often, leaders evade accountability and resist providing transparency into the knowledge they had and the decisions they made. The testimony of Robert Rubin and "Chuck" Prince regarding the failure of Citigroup is an example of trying to restore personal reputations at the expense of the institution they led and its shareholders.
Geithner needs to maintain a trusted circle of advisors and ensure he has the support of the president for his actions. He needs to continue to be clear about what he is going to do, what he has done and the measurement of the results, regardless of public opinion. Leading the U.S. economy out of a crisis in partnership with the Federal Reserve, FDIC, SEC, Wall Street and other institutions is not like being a contestant on American Idol -- thank goodness.
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