As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too, and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged. People with social courage are extroverted in issuing invitations but introverted in conversation— willing to listen 70 percent of the time. They build not just contacts but actual friendships by engaging people on multiple levels. People who can capture amorphous trends with a clarifying label also have enormous worth. Karl Popper observed that there are clock problems and cloud problems. Clock problems can be divided into parts, but cloud problems are indivisible emergent systems. A culture problem is a cloud, so is a personality, an era and a social environment. We can all think of many other skills that are especially valuable right now: Making nonhuman things intuitive to humans. This is what Steve Jobs did. Purpose provision. Many people go through life overwhelmed by options, afraid of closing off opportunities. But a few have fully cultivated moral passions and can help others choose the one thing they should dedicate themselves to. Opposability. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” For some reason, I am continually running across people who believe this is the ability their employees and bosses need right now. Cross-class expertise. In a world dividing along class, ethic and economic grounds some people are culturally multilingual. They can operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider. One gets the impression we’re confronted by a giant cultural lag. The economy emphasizes a new generation of skills, but our vocabulary describes the set required 30 years ago. Lord, if somebody could just identify the skills it takes to give a good briefing these days, that feat alone would deserve the Nobel Prize. (David Brooks, NYTimes Mar. 17, 2015)
Coaching for Executive Presence and the Value of Coaching Supervision
The most recent research to come out on the Executive Coaching industry in the U.S. (Underhill and McAnally, 2013) is very clear. The #1 reason for hiring a coach is Leadership Development, and #2, to develop Executive Presence. However, both categories frequently show up on peer ratings of senior-level executives. This would suggest: 1) that people know what they want from coaching, and 2) that the measurements of other people’s assessment of those characteristics or behaviors should help us to ‘coach’ them toward higher ratings in those categories. A discussion of these assumptions alone could be very enlightening, but for the purpose of this paper, I would like to focus on how coaching supervision can be helpful in working through our undeveloped parts of self, as coaches, when client needs exceed our own experience.
First, how do we coach a client who comes to us for Leadership Development? One of the most common and effective ways of addressing this question in business coaching is the use of psychological and feedback surveys. Harvard Business Review, some years back, defined the basic leadership skills as “knowing yourself, managing yourself, and understanding your impact on others.” Usually the “knowing yourself” is covered by some personality or interpersonal-style instrument to increase awareness of differences and sameness among people. How well you know yourself becomes clear when comparing your self-ratings on leadership competencies to others’ ratings. How consistently do you overrate or underrate yourself? How well you “manage yourself”, and your “impact on others” can be illuminated by the ratings and comments on a 360 feedback instrument, as well as subsequent conversations with peers and colleagues. As a coach it is relatively easy to focus on the ratings of others, their self-ratings, then help the client define where they or others would ‘like’ them to be, and then develop an action plan. Do you, the coach, need to have actually ‘led’ a group or project or an organisation in order to help a client do that? Probably not. As long as you minimise your own assumptions, values, and interpretations, it is a pretty straightforward process. We eventually come to the provocative question, however, of “How can I, as a coach, help my client develop in a way that I haven’t experienced or developed in myself, and especially when the process is unclear?”
I think the question comes even more to the fore when you are working with executives who come to coaching for reason #2, developing Executive Presence. (The research report says that “This is a new category and relatively undefined in the industry.”) So what is that presence, anyway? Can we define it? Can we learn it or develop it? Have you ever experienced it in others? If you have, it might not have been in business or in an executive, either. Just what is Executive Presence? And how, if at all, is it any different from presence as experienced in any one individual, including yourself?
The executive 360 instrument called Executive Dimensions, used at the Center for Creative Leadership (Greensboro, NC), has a category of ratings called Executive Presence and the items are:
- Communicates confidence and steadiness
- Projects confidence and poise
- Adapts to new situations
- Commands attention and respect
- Accepts setbacks with grace
This definition intuitively fits my experience of leaders I’ve worked with who happen to have that quality of Executive Presence. My own list would emphasise: confidence with humility, resilience and calm demeanor in times of stress, and a mindful presence. When I think of Executive Presence, I recognize that it isn’t conveyed through the words people use, or the clothes they wear, but mostly is recognised by others through their body language, tone of voice, and a personal quality which is interpreted as confidence, poise, respectfulness, generous acceptance, humility, calm, and mindfulness. [There was a quote recently about the new nominee for U.S. Atty. General, Loretta Lynch; “She really is the soul of grace under pressure.”] It is a hard quality to measure but we know it when we experience it.
This ‘presence’ that clients want to develop is an emotional and physical energy that resonates with, stabilises, and influences others. If your client comes to you to develop Executive Presence, even with clearly defined factors on peer ratings as a guide, how can you coach someone to have more ‘soul of grace under pressure’ as perceived by others? Doing a Google search on Executive Presence, you find very little written, and what there is, refers to appropriate dress, authoritative tone of voice, how you physically carry yourself, etc. In other words, it’s the outside-in perspective– i.e., if you act present, you don’t necessarily have to be present.
Then consider the questions that this challenge raises: How do you, as a coach, help a client address psychological factors like anxiety, lack of self-confidence, intolerance, rigidity, etc., that he or she might experience as emotional impediments to presence in times of stress or pressure? And how does culture play into effective and appropriate Executive Presence, be it national culture, team culture, or organisational culture? Is presence a universal trait? What the client may be seeking in building Executive Presence becomes a quagmire of questions, assumptions, experience, personality, blind spots, and projections (of yours as a coach, and theirs as well).
I think this is where the role of a coaching supervisor could be quite helpful, if not essential. It underscores the need for working together to learn about ourselves, especially where the focus is on a quality that is hard to measure, hard to define, sometimes undeveloped in ourselves as coaches, and yet can be a common or underlying focus of our work. It isn’t hard to imagine a situation in which the client needs to develop a quality or skill that the coach doesn’t have personally and maybe the supervisor doesn’t either. We are all walking through the garden of Executive Presence blindfolded, and making our own assumptions about what that means but finding applications all around us. (I’ve worked in indigenous cultures where this trait was described as “chiefly leadership” and the experience of what that felt like was taught by practicing a “majestic” posture/stance, even for children. Amy Cuddy has a terrific Ted talk about body posture changing your inner experience of power and confidence and consequently your ‘presence’; and the ‘Dog Whisperer’ teaches the value of a calm and assertive presence with unruly dogs.) But this mutual, and parallel, process is exactly where creativity and opportunity can bloom. Clients who have developed Executive Presence are shown to have a greater probability of being promoted to higher levels of leadership, and my intuition tells me that coaches who have developed Executive Presence have more success with, and demand from, hi-level executives.
I am convinced that Executive Presence, at its core, is a quality of mindfulness and centeredness, rather than a behavior, that involves some disengaging or detaching of oneself emotionally in highly charged experiences, yet being mindful of the people. This energy can feel quiet, watchful, and even a bit boring to you, if you are accustomed to a hyperkinetic work culture pushing a ‘sense of urgency.’ But to others it can be calming and stabilising and be seen as confident leadership, which has great influence and power in situations that are complex, confusing, and chaotic. This is the ‘executive’ aspect of Executive Presence—your impact on others, as perceived by others. Presence is an individual quality. Executive Presence is that quality of mindfulness, as perceived by others in the workplace, that communicates confidence and calm and can provoke a certain deference or respect: “The soul of grace under pressure.”
Herein lies our own potential for growth in this profession; we are constantly learning about ourselves through our work. At least that is true if we can remain open to our own biases, restricted comfort zones, personality preferences, and limited experience. As coaches and supervisors, reflecting on our un-illumined or unpolished facets of self, together, allows both of us to continue to develop our inner supervisor and our inner coach, thus building competence in our outer supervisor and our outer coach. Whether we work through the body (embodiment approaches), through the mind (contemplative practice), through psychology and behavior (Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy CBT), or by reflecting on our work with others, it is actually this inside-out, parallel process, that we engage in together, that ultimately brings the greatest value to our clients who are coming to us for reason #2, the wish to develop Executive Presence.
Underhill, B. and McAnally K., Executive Coaching Industry Research; CoachSource, 2013.
Chapter 9 of Brendon Burchard’s “The Millionaire Messenger” contains the Manifesto for making a difference and a fortune sharing your advice. Here is the outline of that chapter:
There is an industry out there of people who are considered ‘experts,’ who market and sell their expertise: they are writers, consultants, coaches, advisors, thinkers, etc.
It is a big shift to think of these people as part of an ‘industry’ and for them to see themselves as part of an ‘industry’ that contributes to and learns from others in their industry
- “I’ve since come to believe that you can take any business or industry in the world that does not collaborate well or share best practices, and improve its earning potential by a factor of ten, in 18 months or less, simply by helping it do so.”
The shift is subtle but is profound. Here are the resets:
- From Silos to Sharing
o People are disconnected, don’t share best practices, are “solopreneurs”, work from home and alone and no regular contact with their peers
o The industry ends up reinventing itself because people don’t share their ‘secrets’ of success; they fear one another
o i.e. This industry of ‘experts’ can’t see itself
o It is organized by silos (writers to writers, speakers to speakers, coaches to coaches) so ie. Coaches don’t know how to monetize their knowledge through books, for example
o The old guard in an industry aren’t preparing those coming up in that industry; we don’t share collective wisdom
- Renewed Focus on Innovation and Distinction
o Be a content creator
- People can copy you or ‘steal’ from you but ultimately you are always creating new content anyway
- Better Branding
o Make your websites, products, and programs ‘look better’; creative, customized and colorful
o Interactive: video driven blogs with comments
o People should enjoy and be proud of being part of your community (online or otherwise)
o Host seminars in upscale venues with quality materials
- “Unfortunately, crappy looking products are like a ripple in the pond and affect the entire aesthetic of who we are.” We have been pinned with a cheap reputation.
- Hire good AV people, nicely printed and bound seminar materials, good lighting: details matter.
- Transition from Sales Communication to Value Communication
o Combine them – offer free resources; information; promote someone else
o Develop a promotional calendar for how and when you add value and make sales (not spur of the moment, oh I’ll send out a newsletter this week)
o Advise others of when you will be promoting something
o Value means providing content – does it teach others? Would I be able to do something new or important after seeing it?
- Achieving Customer Service Excellence
o Respond on the same day you receive a call or email
o Make trial, return, and refund policies clear in your videos or check out pages and terms and conditions.
o However, many of your new customers will never have heard of you; there isn’t much info. out there about personalities, and brands so people approach with caution and skepticism
o Probably due to distraction and limited resources when you run small business from home
- Honor More, Expect More
o Don’t be condescending or harsh-talking, boot camp talk
o You aren’t speaking/writing to losers who have lost all control of their life J (Dr. Phil’s “What were you thinking?”)
o Assume people are doing their best, are capable, and pretty tuned in, and our peers; honor your clients/audience
- Expect more out of your clients/customers
ú In implementing our ideas, advice, strategies, etc; set up expectations, challenges or follow up programs with your clients
ú Say you only want serious coaches/clients/customers and you expect them to take action
ú Hold them to an elevated standard of excellence; “I have high standards and I expect you to”
ú Give them checklists, sample, and resources needed to take action
In summary (of Chapter 9, Millionaire Mindset)
- “There is a lot of that is right in this industry. Our work changes people’s lives for the better and that is extraordinary. Our community is the most creative, brilliant, thoughtful, and caring, of any I have witnessed. I would happily challenge anyone to find another industry that has helped as many people live Fuller, richer, happier, and more meaningful lives.”
Here are 4 very different techniques for being mindful and staying present in moments of stress or emotional turmoil, yet amazingly similar below the surface:
Based on the technique to adopt when you are literally on fire!
1 Stop 2 Drop 3 Roll
reacting to the your irritation and with the emotion and
stupid stuff anger stay in the present moment
(Awareness) (Manage yourself) (Be mindful)
Dr. Melva Green, “Breathing Room” —learning to let go of material things
2 Listen – to your emotions with compassion for yourself
3 Intend – remind yourself of your intention; what you are trying to do
4 Clear the energy – let go with grace and gratitude
Cynthia Bourgault, “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,” the Welcoming Prayer ; from the Christian Contemplative Prayer process
1 Stop – when you are aware of the thoughts but before the emotion rises
2 Focus and sink in – ‘ride’ the building emotional and physical energy in your body
3 Welcome it all, saying: Welcome pain, welcome anger, etc. Don’t let it chase you out of your ‘presence’
4 Let go (surrender as an inner practice, not an outer practice) saying: I let go of my anger or I give my anger to God. And I let go of my desire to change the situation.
Pema Chodron, “Comfortable with Uncertainty,” the Buddhist approach to mindfulness
1 Start where you are, between acting out and repressing; aware
2 Notice your thoughts and the texture of the emotion under the thinking; breathe it in with every breath, don’t resist
3 Contemplate the emotion; look fear in the face, work with your shadow stuff; recognize that this is a fear we all face and breathe out compassion and light and space to yourself and to all of humanity (Tonglen Meditation)
4 Stay where you are, between acting out and repressing
It seems humanity is learning a new (?) consciousness; as long as we all bury our fear and aggression and consequently project it outward onto the world, we will continue to live in a world of fear and aggression. What ever we defend against in life, is what we draw to us… wherever you look, there you are!
If you’ve noticed, there is a lot of talk about mindfulness these days with articles on the internet and talks on youtube. At this point in time, my understanding of what it is and how we can apply it is as follows. (My next post will be 4 brief techniques for becoming more mindful.)
It is important to recognize that consciousness is very new to human development and we don’t really understand it or ourselves very well at this point. We are learning about ourselves as we evolve and at this point in time we are becoming aware of how our mind, brain, body and emotions function as an integral whole.
First: What is the difference between awareness and mindfulness? Awareness is noticing–the observer self (witness) taps you on the shoulder. Mindfulness is what you do next, or rather ‘how’ you do it. i.e. Awareness– I’m talking a lot right now and feeling excited. Mindful doing – I will stop talking. I’ll ask them a question and get them involved. Mindful inquiry — I wonder why I’m feeling I need to convince them? [I don’t necessarily have an answer.] Mindful doing— I bring myself into the present moment and stay open to what is happening.
It is the mindful internal inquiry that is the key to our personal growth and the key to our suffering; the reminder of our tender hearts that we all share and all try so hard to protect. It also is directly related to our levels of awareness; the more we are open to learning about our inner landscape (our own shadow), the more conscious we become and the more finely tuned our awareness of others and our ability to resonate with them.
[Originally posted in 2003, I should update this another 10 years!]
Twenty Years in Leadership Development: Rumination with a View
My first exposure to leadership development came in 1980 as a participant in a leadership development program in Mexico City. I was 38 years old and the mother of two young children and had never worked in business so I was quite anxious about even participating, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. The entire staff and program were coming from the United States to check out the potential market for this five-day training program in a non-U.S. environment, and I was offered a scholarship (for gender balance, primarily). It was heavy on psychological assessment and staff attention and with a development focus which was all quite cutting-edge at the time, even in the United States! It was very innovative to consider the results of psychological instruments to be the property of the person taking the test and to use those results for the development and learning of the participant. (Even in countries very psychologically and therapeutically savvy like Argentina, the idea of taking a test to help you know yourself and others – assessment for development – was still quite unheard of even in the early ’90s.) This leadership development program continues to be quite successful and is run all over the world even today.
What I learned about myself, my potential, my strengths and my impact led directly from that first week-long adventure to my participation on the staff the next year, and from there to a graduate degree in psychology and in short order to the demanding “road warrior” life of a leadership trainer. It was the first clear vision and focus that I had found for my desire to know and to help and to influence and still fill my thirst for adventure — and a very satisfying ride it has been!
Ultimately, I spent those first 12 years traveling around Latin America and training in Spanish, which wasn’t even on my radar in ’80 but was already a reality by ’83! Over the next 22 years I helped build that consulting business in Mexico, managed the same program for 10 years in Texas, continued training at the senior executive level in the States, ultimately helped adapt that program for Europe, and am currently on a team to develop and train an Asian/Polynesian/Western leadership program in Hawaii. That one adventure into the unknown that cost me so much sleep in fear and anticipation was the window of opportunity into my life’s mission. (I still struggle with an appropriate vision for my own possibilities; the potentialities for others seem so much clearer, somehow!)
It is from this perspective that I decided to summarize what I’ve learned and lived in the evolution of leadership theory and practice and where I think the learning is pointing at this very precarious moment in history, when the need for enlightened leadership has never been greater. This isn’t an academic treatise or survey of the literature or an objectiveanalysis. It is intended to be more of a personal view that comes from working on the edge between theory and reality; between ideas and implementation; between talk and action – a Midwestern American perspective that ultimately became more global over time. One of the advantages of being in the classroom continually with leaders from a variety of organizations and industries and cultures is that the theory butts up against practice and reality all day, every day. I’ll talk briefly about the larger question of how leadership is different from management, then address the individual leader, leading others and leading in different contexts.
Setting the Stage: Are Leaders Born or Made? In the early ’80s, when introducing the topic of leadership to a new groupof, usually, middle-level managers, we could always plan on at least an hour of heated discussion of the differences between leadership and management and whether leaders were “born” or “made.” The leadership/management discussion continues to evolve to this day, but the issue of whether leadership is inherited or developed has become moot; it is, yes, either one. (Leadership, Burns ’78)
However in those years in Latin America, the issue of your family name, your university, your connections, your color and your wealth were extremely important in determining your expectations in life; position power was the influence of choice, and still is in some parts of the world. Consequently, I’ve been particularly intrigued by the rise of Alejandro “El Cholo” Toledo in Peru in recent years (and currently president). The former shoeshine boy and first Amerindian president ran for office saying the president should “look like they do,” referring to the general population. However, if you look deeper, he rose from poverty to study economic development at Stanford, got a Ph.D. at Harvard, and was a World Bank official; married a French-born Jewish woman he met at Stanford who is an expert in indigenous culture and speaks even better Quechua than he does! Here is the perfect combination of someone with the image of being “self made” but with the credentials that usually accompany wealth and privilege. Unfortunately, his struggle to stabilize his country has been no less difficult than for his predecessors. I remember calling a Hispanic businessman in Texas (the owner of a local car dealership) to offer him a scholarship for a leadership program. He assumed I was calling him to ask him to teach the program. The attitude at times was “Why would I want to learn that? I am one!” [The unexpressed thought that went with that was, “Why would I want to empower and develop people who work for me?”] But historically, the assumption that position or lineage makes you aleader was the most common. In Asia it was referred to as “divine birth” or “the Mandate of Heaven.”
But after World War II, once research began delving into the traits or characteristics of leaders (who they are) and what leaders “do,” it became clear that many of our traits and behaviors can be developed and learned. (On Leadership, Bennis, ’89; Learning as a Way of Being, Vaill, ’96; Lessons of Experience, McCall, ’88; Learning to Lead, Conger, ’92)
More setting the stage: What is the difference between leadership and management?
“Management is prose, leadership is poetry.” Richard Nixon
“Leadership is the inability to stand there and watch things go to hell!” Anonymous
The leadership and management question has evolved a bit differently. At one point it was understood that to “lead” came from the Greek word for foot and to “manage” came from the word for hand – hence the difference between stepping out in front to lead and hands-on management. Later, we referred to management as being a more technical, present-focused and structured activity and leadership being more intuitive, future-focused and big-picture. The increasingly chaotic world we live and work in has led to another definition, by Kotter (’02), of leading being coping with change and managing as coping with complexity. This seems to be the most current perspective, but those of us in the field generally agree that, as the song goes, “you can’t have one without the other.” You could even say that one problem Ken Lay had at Enron was that he left the complexity to the CFO and didn’t understand what was going on at that level in the organization while he led the big-systems change process. The ability to shift perspectives and roles surfaces as a critical ability of effective leaders. What tends to happen is that at different levels of responsibility, the two roles ebb and flow. The inability to make that shift is a critical factor in derailment – lacking vision or micromanaging, for example, can be fatal to a career at higher levels.
One thing we can say in summary: whether we are talking about leading, managing, being born or made, the context of leadership in the early ’80s was most commonly assumed to be business, adult and male. We will see how this changes as the Third Millennium approaches.
The Individual Leader: Personality traits, characteristics, styles and types of leaders
“A quiet, reticent, neat-appearing officer. Industrious, tenacious, diffident,
careful, and neat. I do not wish to have this officer as a member of my
command at any time.”
U.S. Army, Officer Efficiency Reports
Over the last 40 years or so there have been many profiles developed for a successful leader:
- The Charismatic Leader (Tucker ’68, Conger ’88)
- Transactional and Transformational Leader (Bass ’85)
- Visionary Leader (Sashkin ’88, Nanus ’92)
- Narcissistic Leader (Maccoby ’01)
- Heroic Leader or Chiefly Leader (Polynesia), etc.
(One of my personal favorites that I’ve never forgotten and still run into occasionally is Hogan’s “high likeability floater.” High on charm and low on results! On the news this evening [7/24/02] there was actually a discussion about how large companies tended to hire “charismatic” stars for their CEOs in the ’90s and that they might be part of the ethics problems and corporate scandals that companies are facing today.) R. M. Stogdill (’48) was really the grandfather of leadership trait research. He concluded that measures of dominance, extraversion, sociability, ambition or achievement, responsibility, integrity, self-confidence, mood and emotional control, diplomacy, and cooperativeness were positively related to what he called emergent leadership. (These easily cluster into the big-five personality dimensions that were mapped in the late ’80s by modern personality psychologists.)
The GLOBE Research, Wharton ’99, studied the desirability of transformational leadership traits in 65 different cultures: Universally positive traits across cultures were trustworthy, honest, encouraging, positive, intelligent, communicative, dynamic, etc. Universally negative traits across cultures were: loner, irritable, ruthless, dictatorial, asocial. Culturally contingent traits were things like: ambitious, domineering, formal, intuitive, logical, risk taker, etc. In other words, no matter where you are, the people who work with you will probably not like an isolated and autocratic style. The research doesn’t address, however, whether such a style might get good results anyway.
But the striking thing is that the longest list was of the traits that are perceived differently across cultures. Working globally requires a lot of flexibility if you are to be successful in a variety of cultures! Intelligence was another characteristic of leadership that was the object of much research. One conclusion was that it paid to be bright, but not so bright that it could impede communication or lead to arrogance. (I seem to remember that 120 used to be considered a reasonable standard, with 100 being “average.”) Sternberg and Gardner (’93) started talking about multiple intelligences being a better descriptor of what really was required, and by ’95 Goleman published his work on Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Today that has become a critical focus of leadership competencies for both individuals and groups (Primal Leadership, ’02). This capacity can be learned as well and is a primary, intangible asset in a world where relationships count more than ever and teamwork is the key to getting results in a flat, democratic system. EQ consists primarily of self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, intuition and social skills. Optimism is also mentioned as an important characteristic of EQ, and Goleman proposes that leadership sends emotion through an organization like “electricity through a wire,” and consequently optimism is what leaders need to be plugged into. We also know from research that the higher one goes in an organization, the happier people report themselves to be! I guess the larger question is: Do happy people get promoted more often, or are you happier if you get promoted?
The challenge for those “happy” leaders is to bring an optimistic attitude with them to work without becoming Pollyannas in denial of the very real daily challenges that organizations and workers face. Otherwise, every concern that an employee might express begins to look like whining and complaining. Can leadership traits be learned?
During the ’80s, besides identifying and measuring traits or preferences of leaders, we began to realize that the behavior manifested by these preferences could be learned to a certain degree, if it wasn’t already present. As Senge began to talk about the need for learning organizations and open systems (The Fifth Dimension, ’90), there was an awareness of just how much everyone needs to be open to learning and growing in order to work together better and adapt to the rapidly changing world. That learning could be through experience, training, coaching, challenging assignments, honest feedback, etc. (This is the time when the “new” coaching field came into being; organizations were “downsizing,” workers were feeling isolated and responsible for their own careers, the emphasis was on continual learning to stay marketable, and the downsized were looking for ways to use their skills, so many of them became coaches.) Also, the leadership context by the ’90s, with the emphasis on relationships and emotional intelligence, began to focus more on feminine styles of leadership or working with diverse groups. But regardless of how we were “born,” we all needed to be building character and skills for leadership. It seems the list of desired characteristics is almost never-ending! But the inability to adapt one’s behavior to changing circumstances by using different aspects of one’s personality turns out to be a primary derailment factor in leadership. (Self Leadership, Leider ’96)
Changing perspectives on strengths and weaknesses: One note on strengths and weaknesses: There has been an evolution in the last few years from “identify the weakness and fix it” to “identify your strengths and build on them!” (From Deficit-oriented Psychology to Positive Psychology, Arthur Freedman) Another aspect of building on strengths, however, is that a common way of derailing from leadership responsibilities is to overdo strengths, i.e., being independent and a self-starter got you promoted for years but now you can’t work on a team or collaborate when you need to. So how does one build on strengths, which is so compelling, without overdoing those strengths? Having a clear sense of self and the impact you’re having on others can answer that question, and that requires getting a lot of feedback from the people around you. But one assumption that I’ve made over the years is that very few traits or behaviors are always negative. Even abrasiveness and dictatorial behavior have their place, alongside emotional sensitivity. The real question is, do you use them at the right time and right place with the right person and for the common good?
Another challenge is to also be aware of the “shadow side” of our personalities, or blind spots, and manage those as well. Succumbing to the arrogance, greed or self-interest that at times accompanies the acquisition of power simply shows that the leader hasn’t really done the personal work that is necessary to avoid those traps. Integrity and credibility are very precious commodities in any leader as we can see in this time of corporate scandals. “Infectious greed” is bound to be an occupational hazard in a capitalistic economy based on self-interest, competition and short-term results.
A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being – conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside him or her self, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.
Parker J. Palmer
Leading From Within, ’90
As we wrap up the complex list of human abilities that have a role in effective leadership it becomes very clear that a leader’s first responsibility is to develop him/herself in character and ability over time and then learn to manage all of those “many selves” to bring the most appropriate and effective self to bear on any given situation at any time. (Leading Consciously, Chatterjee ’98) Increase your bandwidth and stay in a liquid state as we used to say in the heyday of the dot-coms! So, as a leader, who am I?
I am Lancelot
In search of the Holy Grail
And finding myself
My personal metaphor for effective self-leadership is the GAP metaphor. Between an action and a reaction is a gap. It is precisely in that gap that we have a conscious opportunity to determine our response from the many that are available – and the more developed and mature we are, the more options we have and the more appropriately we can act for the task at hand. But this takes a certain “inner” balance and awareness and willingness to suspend the habitual, default reaction. (Leadership From the Inside Out, Cashman ’98) For example, I might be leading a meeting of peers when a colleague brusquely disagrees with something I say. I can respond automatically, possibly making a snide remark or aggressive joke, or I can pause and explore what is behind the disagreement, or I might ignore it and choose to discuss it with the person privately and give him/her feedback on the impact the remark had on me. In another culture it might be more appropriate to ignore the remark and ask a peer or colleague of the person what was behind the remark, etc. But that decision is a conscious one, appropriate to the person and the situation/context, and usually has to be made in the moment.
It is my belief that this flexibility and awareness can and should be cultivated in our children. Learning about self and managing self within a group is appropriate to all ages – it’s just the level of complexity and depth of the conversation that changes over time. Our struggle is ageless. Mature leaders and change agents become more effective to the extent that they become more stably aware of all relevant factors and dimensions at play in the complex challenges they face (and as they develop the skills and tools needed to coherently address these multiple realities).
When Fortune Magazine asked people in the “Top 100 Companies to Work For” (’01), what they valued most, it was inspiring leadership; second was a sense of meaning and purpose at work. Now that the new Millennium has arrived, the whole context of leadership has changed; no longer do we think only of adult, business or male models. When we talk of leading and leadership we are referring to any age, any group of people, any gender or culture. Everyone longs for more inspired leadership and more meaning and purpose in their lives.
Father Mother, source of all,
I thank Thee for this island in time, to heal, to be in the company of goodness and joy, to feel your love and to hear the whispers. Thou art with me to polish an unfinished facet of this rough diamond. Many years have passed, but with still so much work to do. Who am I? What is this stinginess in my heart that keeps me from releasing the love that is at my core. Why the fear? It comes from a part of me that has no name, no feelings; mute, small, but persistent. Please release me with the help of your love. Let my heart sing from the depths of my soul; free my passion. Bless me with strength and kindness for myself. We are your children. Thou art great. Bring us into the sunlight; to bloom, to grow and to reflect that light into the shadows of the lives around us.