Real Leadership Is About Controlling the Flow of Crap

Real Leadership Is About Controlling the Flow of Crap
Image credit: Teo Lannie

Shit flows uphill.

As a young boy, this was a saying that was meant to define leadership. It was my understanding that it originated in the Army and meant simply that the processing of complaints and bad news was to "flow" up through the ranks and chain of command and never down. Lower ranking officers complained to their superior, that superior complained to his or hers, and so on up the line. Ranking officers, however, never complained to individuals in his or her service.

The goal of this mantra was to ensure that lower ranking servicemen and servicewomen received nothing more than orders, constructive feedback and praise. It was a system meant to instill confidence and maintain morale. Afterall, who can get motivated when fighting a war you are losing.

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Like the silent and strong generations of the past, nobody embodies this mantra better than my dad, who to this day rarely speaks ill of anyone or anything. The expression of his generation’s dissatisfaction and objection was limited to the passive aggressive utterance, “I’m disappointed,” which was all that was needed to express a grievance and often encourage action to correct.

Today, however, that phrase has been hijacked by a culture of whiners, as we continue to find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of complaining and bad news -- crap -- that rolls uphill, downhill and even sideways.

Nowhere is this more clear than the rise of Donald Trump. As the current Republican front runner for the 2016 election, Trump is doing well not necessarily because he connects on the issues, but rather because he connects on the tone. His aggressive and angry persona reflects better the attitude of his supporters, who seem to be drawn more to active aggression based in frustration, anxiety and fear -- all of which, warranted or not, seem to be perpetuated in a culture that seems to love misery.

And while some are quick to blame an evolving culture that is now full of individuals who avoid personal responsibility, this problem has more to do with instant access to information and a 24-7 news cycle that does not have news to cover 24-7. More important, executives of major media networks understand that drama sells -- even if that drama might be eating away at the moral fabric of our society.

As Les Moonves, executive chairman and CEO of CBS, commented at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco recently, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."

So while physics and gravity continue to prevail when it comes to flow, more than ever, leaders need to step up and deal with the ever rising stream of crap in which we all find ourselves. Here are a few ways we can do so.

1. Accept the crap.

When things get messy -- as crap often does -- good leaders step in and stop the flow, often taking responsibility for problems that don’t even pertain to them. Moreover, great leaders know how to wash off the stench, keep their eyes on the future and avoid getting bogged down in the pursuit of a goal.

Related: Simon Sinek: Effective Leadership Is a Learned Skill, Just Like Any Other

2. Control the crap you can.

Crap seems to be coming at us from all directions, all the time, every day. Leaders know how to sift through the negative information and problems and determine that which they can control and correct. Anything that cannot be controlled or corrected simply gets routed in directions that will not soil and disrupt their mission.

3. Learn to absorb crap.

Misery loves company, and people will always find a reason to complain. Leaders know this is unavoidable and, to some, a much needed outlet -- even if not the most productive. In order to control these situations, leaders need to know when to intervene and listen. More importantly, great leaders have the ability to balance silent empathy with active vigilance and understand when and how to manage a bad situation and turn it into a productive learning experience.

4. Discard crap.

While all crap stinks, there comes a time when it becomes toxic and dangerous. Great leaders understand this and will act accordingly to eliminate those people and situations that could ultimately hurt a team and derail a mission.

5. Instill confidence.

In the end, maintaining a positive attitude and controlling the flow of crap in your organization is all about instilling confidence. And while complainers always seem to gravitate to other complainers, great leaders understand that all of it is energy, in some form, that if corralled and properly channeled can be directed at good outcomes.

Because I believe America is better than the negative and toxic rhetoric that seems to be soiling the political landscape these days -- more so than in years past -- I believe we will rise above the crap and ultimately select a leader that instills confidence and preserves our values.

Of course, the problem is that our choices seem to be a Republic who enjoys the mantle of anger on which he has been placed, and a Democrat who, while getting better, still has a popularity rating that is only trumped by Trump (pardon the pun). Could this be the year we finally see a true third party candidate with a real chance of winning?

Related: CEOs: If You Neglect Yourself, Your People and Your Finances, Your Company Is Doomed

Time will tell, but in the meantime, I am going to prepare my write-in vote for the one person I know has years of experience cutting through the crap and getting people to do the right thing. My dad.

"Cut Through The Crap -- Pappy Gasca 2016."