Leadership … the Tale of Two Bricks

Leadership: Diplomacy vs. Subtle-as-a-Brick Clumsiness

A young, successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.

The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister…please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.” With tears dripping down his face, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair, and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.

It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message: “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!

GREAT POINT!  And a point that every leader has to remember.  Do people have to throw a brick at you to get your attention?  Or do they feel like you’re truly tuned in to their needs and care about those needs?  It’s one of the secrets of “The Leadership Payoff,” one of my most popular keynotes and seminars.

To avoid a brick experience with your coworkers, and even your family members, you need to master the fine art of diplomacy.

As one of my Australian colleagues, John Milne, asks, “Have you ever experienced a leader or a manager who was as subtle as a brick? Their communication style is clumsy, tactless, overpowering or negative. They lack the subtlety and finesse needed in delicate, sensitive or complex situations.”  Obviously, no one wants to be led by a person such as that.

“In contrast,” Milne continues, “leaders with the deft hand of diplomacy have prevented wars, saved lives and resolved disputes.”

Here are a few diplomacy prerequisites and skills you need to embrace.

1.  Take time to build relationships.

People would much rather communicate with people they know and like.  But if you’re “too busy” to spend time with your coworkers and build relationships with them, it will be much more difficult to resolve issues when they come up.

Start looking at time with your coworkers as an investment, not an expense.

2.  Be real.

Be authentic.  One of the most prominent leaders in the world today, with the skill of diplomacy, is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  She is not a showy, charismatic leader, yet she has repeatedly won the confidence and trust of her people in election after election. She is comfortable in her no nonsense, common sense style of leadership in Germany and the European Union … because that’s who she is.

Could the same thing be said about you?  That you’re real?  That you’re the same person with your boss, coworkers, customers, friends, and family?  Or do you put on different faces so people begin to wonder who you really are?

3.  Build a trustworthy character.

While it’s true that people are more willing to work with people they know and like, it’s even more true that they’re much more willing to negotiate with people they trust and respect.  So you can’t leave your character and integrity to chance.

It’s another one of the secrets I reveal in my book, “The Payoff Principle:  Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work.” You can get your copy by clicking here.

You see, character is building a reputation as an individual who can be counted on, who is consistent, and who cares for others, without any strings attached.  And yes, you can build your character.

I’ve found these practices to be especially helpful:

  • Show others how much you care before you try to show them how much you know.
  • Take an interest in others and keep updates on their interests.
  • When you commit yourself to doing something, make sure you do it.
  • Keep your language at G, PG, or PG 13 level.
  • Be honest.  If you can’t share everything, make sure whatever you do share is honest and true.
  • Go the extra mile to correct wrongs.

As author Julia Loggins says, “Teaching is not always about passing on what you know; it is about passing on who you are.”  I believe the same thing can and should be said of leadership.

4.  Get all the facts first.

You can’t be diplomatic if you tend to react rather than respond.  And so, for any issue that comes before you, study the issue carefully and fully … first. Tap into the formal and informal networks that will give you up-to-date information. Try to understand your ever-changing physical, political, relational, technological, and/or financial environments at work.

I give my students a simple sentence to memorize.  “Withhold evaluation until comprehension is complete.”

5.  Project your belief in a positive outcome.

Rudy Guiliani, the mayor of New York, handled the 9/11 disaster brilliantly because he projected a positive image. Because he knew a key truth.  As he said, “Pessimistic leaders always fail.”

Continuing his comments, Guiliani said, “In a crisis you have to be optimistic and ignite hope in others.  Shortly after September 11, I said the spirit of the city would be stronger.  At the time, I didn’t know that for certain.  In the back of my mind, I had doubts.  I had to shove them out and not listen to those doubts.  If you let fear, worry, and doubt overcome you, you will lose the battle.”

With these five tools, you can avoid the clumsy-as-a-brick behavior and be a leader of diplomacy.


How can you go about getting the facts before you respond to a situation?