As a child, when I misbehaved, I was sure to receive “The Look” from my father. I have vivid memories of the furrowed eyebrows and pursed lips of The Look. It makes me shudder just to remember it. The Look could cut right through my body and penetrate into my soul. There was nothing comforting about The Look, and, invariably, it signaled impending disciplinary measures. The Look was to be respected, The Look was to be feared, and, above all, The Look was to be avoided.
However, just as I can recall The Look, I also remember the tenderness of my father’s care after he disciplined me. I remember the whispered assurances of his love for me. I remember the warmth of his embrace as he held me in his arms. I remember his tenderness as he gently explained why I had been disciplined and how I could learn from the experience. His was not mean-spirited or severe in his discipline; rather, his loving correction was intended to develop me into a man of character.
Leaders, like my father, must balance toughness and tenderness. My friend, Tim Elmore, describes these leaders as Velvet-Covered Bricks. They are firm and strong on the inside, but soft and pleasant on the outside. In this article, I would like to discuss the qualities of that make a leader into a Velvet-Covered Brick. I am indebted to Tim Elmore for many of the thoughts in this lesson.
TOUGH BUT TENDER
Some leaders are so tough they could chew nails, but their insensitivity prevents them from connecting with their employees. Ignorant of the emotions around them, they rely on authority and scare tactics to earn the allegiance of their team.
Other leaders go the extra mile to earn the admiration of those they lead. They love to be seen as the “good guy,” and they go soft on their team. To protect their popularity, they sacrifice healthy confrontation or neglect holding employees accountable.
A Velvet-Covered Brick leader makes difficult decisions, but at the same time, they act as emotional caretakers to the people their choices affect. They instill discipline, but they also provide encouragement and inspiration.
CONFRONT PROBLEMS BUT CONSIDER PERSPECTIVES
Velvet-Covered Brick leaders are not afraid to deal with conflict in order to iron out an unhealthy situation. By actively addressing problems, they are peacemakers as opposed to peacekeepers. At the same time, such a leader remains open to the perspective of others. Although supremely confident, a wise leader knows the fallibility of his or her judgment, and they turn an attentive ear to those who share differing opinions.
COMMITTED TO RESULTS AND COMMITTED TO RELATIONSHIPS
Leaders with a Velvet-Covered Brick mentality refuse to compromise goals or take the easy road out of tough spots. They relentlessly set the bar high so that the team achieves its potential. Yet, all the while, leaders value people just as much as productivity. They never sacrifice relationships simply to get results
PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL
The Velvet-Covered Brick type of leader maintains an aura of professionalism in the workplace at all times. Such a leader stays poised in the most heated moments and keeps control of his or her emotions. While approachable, they reserve part of themselves (their fears, knowledge, insights) so that they can effectively motivate the team from a place of authority.
At the same time, leaders don’t want to come across as aloof, distant, or plastic. The best leaders are warm, genuinely interested in their teammates, and intentional in understanding what makes each person unique. Additionally, to connect with the team, they may show selectively disclose information about themselves or even let down their emotional guard during a meeting.
TAKE CRITICISM AND SERVE THE CRITIC
Leaders who aspire to be Velvet-Covered Bricks develop thick skin and bypass the desire to retaliate against critics. Instead, they graciously accept criticism and welcome confrontation. Then, they take pains to win over their critics by reaching out them. They go the extra mile to wade through conflict until resolution can be reached.
RESPECTED AND APPROACHABLE
A leader earns respect on the basis of what he or she has done. More often than not, respect is gained on difficult ground. Adverse circumstances test the mettle of a leader and show a leader’s true merit.
For a Velvet-Covered Brick leader, respect is balanced by approachability. An approachable leader has a consistent mood, is quick to forgive, willing to apologize, and shows authenticity. A leader at ease with himself puts others at ease. Secure leaders aren’t constantly seeking validation from others, and, as such they are free to add value to those they lead rather than deriving value from the approval of those around them.
People are drawn to leaders who value them. They will approach a leader who makes them feel encouraged, helps them grow, and treats them honestly.
REVIEWING THE VELVET-COVERED LEADER
Endures Criticism Serves the Critic
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