SEPTEMBER 11: Thought Leader - Being a leader means being yourself

Having the title "leader" doesn't make you one. As we saw in the 9/11 aftermath, leadership is communicated from within. Being yourself isn't only enough, it's exceptionally powerful.

Having the title "leader" doesn't make you one. As we saw in the 9/11 aftermath, leadership is communicated from within. Being yourself isn't only enough, it's exceptionally powerful.

Following the attacks, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Donald Rumsfeld communicated leadership.

President Bush did not.

Leadership and trust is communicated through our voice tone, words, and body language. When all are consistent, we feel we can trust a person - even if we dislike them.

For example, recall how Giuliani consistently and powerfully communicates leadership after 9/11. He does so by being himself - staying true to his passion for the city and its people, his abrasiveness, and his occasional vulnerability. The man knows who he is. We know who he is. As such, we trust him, even if we don't all like him.

Giuliani walks through the streets on 9/11, as buildings and human beings are falling all around him, telling others which path to follow out of the area, telling those not in the area to stay out and why, calling on all emergency personnel to come to the aid of the city.

He demonstrates his "New Yorkness" in his baseball cap, as he confidently stands before mikes and cameras. Though exhausted, in shock, and grieving, he breathes easily. His lieutenants surround him as he's asked by reporters, "How long will we look for survivors?"

He thinks on his feet, takes full breaths, and says, "I don't know. At least two weeks. We're dealing with New Yorkers here."

In that simple statement, he shows the world what New Yorkers are all about. That we're tough, feisty, persistent. That we don't give up. At the same time, he reminds us to be tough, feisty, and persistent. He is one of us and we are each he.

To the free world, it's as powerful a display of strength and passionate leadership as JFK's speech declaring with confidence, "Ich bin ein Berliner," or as Churchill's declaration, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."

Rudy builds a sense of inclusion, oneness, and rapport as he shares the world stage and spotlight with his team, his lieutenants, the governor, political friends and foes alike. He tells the world that we are not alone, that he is not managing this world crisis alone, showing us that he is tapping into the shared knowledge, experience, and credentials of these tough, resilient "New Yorkers." It takes a big leader to demonstrate that this is a time to stand together in order to defeat a much greater opponent.

Personal vendettas and jealousies take a back seat.

Meanwhile, Bush is nowhere in sight. And during these first hours, literally no one in our federal government is visible.

Freud says that, "The lips conceal, but the body reveals. Truth oozes out of every pore."

When we finally see Bush, he's clearly reeling from what appears to be his own personal vulnerability, which he's trying desperately to hide from us as if someone told him to "be strong and lead the troops." He is perspiring. His mouth is tight. His breathing is tight to nonexistent.

His overall body language communicates that he's in shock, that he appears (whether true or not) to be thinking of himself, that he's reeling from the blow struck to America, the fact that someone wants him dead, and that the White House was nearly totally wiped out.

His words are detached from the feelings he's showing us. They are fighting each other. He chooses poor words ("crusade"). His communication is consistently muddied, his cadence is choppy, and his pronunciations are often just plain wrong. What Bush really communicates is that he's not comfortable with who he is. He struggles mightily to reach out to people heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind. He's sending a "shoot 'em up, cowboy" message and what he reveals is impotence and ignorance. His words, his tone of voice, and his body are doing different things.

Though he redeems himself somewhat when he says "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" in the days that follow, I, for one, don't believe these are his words, but rather those that someone else wrote.

Bush's words, tone, and body movement remain inconsistent. It's hard to trust him. He seems disconnected from his true feelings. He's trying to appear strong. That's acting, not leadership.

In contrast, we see Gov. Pataki exhausted, sweaty, frightened, hurting, and silent. However, even though he is weak at this moment, he isn't trying to hide it. Pataki is consistent. In his silence, exhaustion, and sadness, remarkably, he leads. We trust his silence, his anguish, and his choice to let Giuliani lead in this desperate time. Even in silence, he communicates powerfully and we respect him.

The point is that both Pataki and Giuliani show themselves. They don't hide their fear, exhaustion, and vulnerability. They let it all hang out. And, because of that, they both, through vastly different styles, communicate leadership, credibility, and trust.

After 9/11, no one is able to cut through the glare of the cameras like Giuliani with his simple language, honesty, clear voice, truthful responses, praise of others, and acknowledgement of the devastation. By communicating clearly who he is at that moment, he epitomizes credibility and powerful leadership.

In all the leaders I work with, from Johnson & Johnson executives to UNICEF country representatives, I show them that to be the best leaders they can be, they must be wholly and powerfully themselves. If they need a model to follow, just look at Rudy and how he handled 9/11.

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