Volume 1 Issue 5

Swear in Your Leaders

At the time of this writing both the US and Canada are smack in the middle of elections. Most citizens long to get through this arduous and often wasteful process – longing for the day when it finally terminates at the “Swearing-in Ceremony.”

The anticipation of this event got me thinking.

We take oaths all the time – at weddings to love, honor and obey; in court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; and even in ordinary business conversation as in “I swear to you that stock will easily double by Monday.”

Are these oaths worth anything? Well, it’s not that God has a habit of hurling lightening down on everyone who violates an oath they’ve taken. We’d all be fried by now. We vowed to be with our spouse forever, but over 50% of us backed out of that one only to take the same vow again. I’ve always wondered if there was a chuckle through the church when Elizabeth Taylor or Mickey Rooney vowed and vowed and vowed and vowed.

Who knows how many people lie in their testimony in court – but I guess it’s not a rare occurrence. Doctors take oaths not to do harm but some do. Police take oaths to serve and protect but some don’t. A signature on the tax form is an oath that the person has declared all his income, but who are we kidding? Tax cheating is a $180 billion industry – making it a national sport. It goes on and on.

So why do we do it? It clearly is not a guarantee of any sort.

I think we swear and take oaths because it is our supreme expression of hope. A hope for a world or a situation where truth, justice, goodness, peace, kindness, honoring, love, service, stewardship, community – all that is right – will prevail.

We hope this hope for our families, our religious affiliations, our schools, our governments and our workplaces.

We know full well there will be disappointments – but we cannot be persuaded to abandon our hopes, dreams and expectations. When we are failed and betrayed we gather together and trust again. Even when we have been led to great success by a leader who is now moving on, we hope for an even better day as the new leader moves in.

So while anticipating of all the political vowing to come this year, it dawned on me that we go through a similar process in our corporations. We renew our hope in our leaders all the time – every time someone gets promoted to Team Leader, or we hire a new Division Head, or the President moves on to Board Chairman.

There is no less hope on the part of the people who will be impacted, so why do most of these leadership transitions go without celebration – and without a swearing–in ceremony?

At most there may be a brief mention of a new appointment in the company newsletter under the heading of “On the Move.” At a management meeting we’ve all witnessed the embarrassingly inadequate recognition of a new team member that went something like, “Before we begin, I’d like to welcome Barb to the team. Now here are the numbers on our per-employee expenses…” But neither of these pseudo-recognitions create aerobic excitement do they?

Can it possibly be that people’s hopes for a better work-world are so exhausted that they really expect very little when a new leader emerges? Do people just sit back in spiritual resignation and mutter within themselves – hoping that, at the very least, work will be no more arduous than it was under the last person? Maybe.

No Vow – No Wow!

Got an idea for you. Consider making the promotions, hirings and appointments in your company something to be celebrated. Consider having people who take on the incredible responsibility and privilege of leading others take a literal vow of leadership that strengthens and encourages their followers.

Why not? You have the same hopes for their leadership, don’t you? Since you are investing a great deal of time, energy and money in their leadership potential, it might be worth a little more attention.

Here is how taking “The Oath of Leadership” would work.

Right at the outset of the leader’s new responsibility, organize “The Oath of Leadership” ceremony. Do not let circumstances delay this occasion until the person has been in the job for six months. That would be like saying to the new President or Prime Minister – “Go ahead and take over, we’ll get you to take the oath later when we’re not so busy.”

The swearing-in actually marks the advent of the new leadership. Do it on the first day!

Gather the new leader’s immediate team around you and him or her. The more people who witness this event, the better. And the more senior the position being filled, the more fanfare is needed. You don’t need a marching band or live animals, but a little pomp and circumstance won’t hurt you.

Introduce the person to the witnesses, taking particular care to introduce them as an actual human being, not as a professional resume. Who are they really? What has driven them through life? What hobby or community service brings them the most joy? What amazing thing might they have done with their life? (I still remember the impact when a particularly staid CFO “confessed” to his team that he had actually bungee-jumped on his fortieth birthday. What a difference that little anecdote made to how his team saw him!) Show a slide of what she looked like in the 70’s. A picture of his family (assuming this would be a positive thing to do), her with her first car, or anything else that would bring out the humanness of the person would add life and energy to the occasion. Perhaps even some testimonials from those who have worked for him in the past could be shared.

Now comes the actual oath-taking. Call the new leader forward to stand before his or her immediate team. Have the team stand as well. (I know some of you are starting to get nervous at this point, but if an idea doesn’t stretch you a little bit, it probably isn’t worth trying.)

And yes, have him raise his hand – unless you have a secret company salute in which case, use it. This is an oath for goodness sake. You can’t take an oath just standing there with your hands in your pockets!

Here is how the oath should go. You will need your corporate vision statement and your stated values or principles to make it relevant to your situation.

“I _____________________ accept the leadership of the West Coast Sales Division, and promise to faithfully, enthusiastically and to the best of my ability serve my team and this company in helping our customers and clients experience unparalleled prosperity and security. I will do so by emphasizing purpose, interdependence, innovation and appreciation of diversity in how I relate to my colleagues and those we serve.”

Obviously, where there are italics you write in the Area of Responsibility, the Vision or Mission of your organization, and the key elements of your Value Statements, respectively.

Hopefully the team is enthused about this leadership appointment so, once the oath has been taken, deliver the leader to the team for a round of handshakes, high-fives or whatever you folks do to extend congratulations.

You can add a little more pomp by giving the new leader a specially designated corporate shirt or jacket. Select a quality piece of clothing that is given out only on these occasions. Please do not give him or her the dog sled carving with the inscription describing the view of the last dog. Any figurine will get shoved to the back of the shelf never to be seen again. Forget about the Vince Lombardi poster too. Give them something they will be taking home so it becomes part of their personal life. If they can wear it, it becomes a metaphoric mantel of leadership.

Consider an idea like this at least for every management appointment. Even if she’s a well-known long-term employee just moving across the hall to run another department – do it!

Most organizations are desperate for leadership. Maybe its time for all of us to celebrate this incredible responsibility a little more.