Leadership is certainly important all the time, but it is particularly important during turbulent times. I remember a speaker once saying, “If you are not in challenging times now, then brace yourself, they are on the way.” The point is not to have “stinking thinking,” but to recognize the reality that there are challenging times in life and business. I find that certain leaders bury their head in the sand and just hope things will get better. I like to remind them that hope is not a strategy. While it is not easy, I agree with best-selling author Jim Collins’ view that we need to “confront the brutal facts.” Great leaders acknowledge the challenges before them and proceed ahead anyway. They don’t sugar coat reality, but they also project strength and confidence in challenging times.
Dennis G. (Greg) Garraway, South Mississippi area president for Regions Financial Corporation, shared some real insights on leadership with me on this topic. Garraway, a native of Hattiesburg and a USM graduate, has enjoyed a long and successful career in banking with Regions and its predecessors. He is an active leader in his community serving with the Area Development Foundation, Hattiesburg Rotary Club and the Scouts of Southeast Mississippi. Garraway shared, “I’ve had the opportunity to observe different leadership styles during good and bad times. There are certain attributes that are consistent regardless of times. Some of these include a positive attitude, character, integrity, honesty and responsibility.”
Garraway noted that being a good leader requires personal sacrifice and to be available and visible, particularly in bad times. This is a great point. I have personally seen companies where when trouble came the leader was nowhere to be found. This abandonment of responsibility has a terribly detrimental impact on morale. Garraway said that he learned about real leadership from one of his mentors, Doug Herring. He said, “I watched Doug lead during a difficult time. He always remained ‘even keeled’ and positive. He never created an environment of distrust and was always fair.” Garraway went on to note that Herring always “did what he said, set clear goals, expectations, and held his staff accountable.”
Additionally, Garraway shared that to gain respect, you must be respectful. He pointed out the wisdom that, “if you tell the truth, you never have to back up, and if you make a mistake and are wrong, admit it!” He also has observed that strong leaders are good communicators He noted, “They are decisive and give clear, precise communication.” After he reflected on leaders he has known, Garraway shared that the great leaders he has been around “are all good listeners, and good coaches. They take an interest in you and your success. They are very determined and have a sense of urgency.” Garraway encourages young leaders to learn that they will make mistakes, and that the key is to learn from them. He noted, “Leadership is a continual process and you should always be open-minded.”
The picture that Garraway paints of a great leader is a compelling one. He has certainly lived out these principles in his own life and been a positive influence in his work, family, and civic activities. I particularly appreciated his description of a leader in challenging times who is able to remain focused, calm, and forward thinking. We all will face tough times. The question is what kind of leader will we be?