Monday, 1 November 2010

New leaders: People of Character

by Tom Heuerman, Ph.D.

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New Leaders Serve

The leader consciously chooses humble service to a great purpose over greed and selfishness. The servant.s every action is congruent with the purpose and highest values of the whole -- even at personal cost. Making a difference matters -- not making a buck or a false impression.

Society teaches us to compete and to gain advantage over others for personal gain. Cynicism pervades our enterprises because many in organizations will do anything to gain that advantage: lie, cheat, steal, denigrate others, and manipulate without guilt or shame. These people do not serve or lead. The time is past for such self-absorbed villains.

Those who choose service and sacrifice over selfishness make this courageous choice because they care about things outside of themselves. Instead of thinking of themselves only, the servant-leader seeks to satisfy higher needs in themselves and in followers.

Leader and follower share the search for meaning, the quest for a legacy, and the desire to make a worthy contribution to life. The servant and those served form a symbiotic relationship and grow together to fulfill their potential. Servant-leaders are compassionate and understand that one has to love people to lead them.

The servant leader understands that it.s people, not machines, who meet competitive challenges and that the business exists to provide meaningful work and opportunities to learn and grow for employees as well as to provide a product or service for customers and financial returns for investors.

How do we know the real servant-leader in a world of cynicism, deception, and slick self-promotion? No sure way to know exists. We must observe the impacts people have on others over time to determine the true servant-leaders. True leaders help others be the best they can be. Trust your heart. If what you hear from those with power conflicts with your heart, reject their words.

New Leaders Teach.

In times of rapid change we all must learn, and all are teachers and learners. The leader knows that re-education must come before sustainable change and teaches what he or she needs to learn. The teacher translates the vision, values, and purpose of the organization to everyday operations and demonstrates a model for the leadership behavior desired in the particular enterprise. In the process of teaching, the teacher learns.

Everyone always learns. In a fearful, mediocre, and addictive organization (a mechanistic organization) people, unfortunately, learn to blame, comply, conform, and to keep their heads down. People learn to be busy, helpless, and powerless. They learn to be defensive, confused, and cynical. They learn to be irresponsible victims. They learn to be abusive, inauthentic, and cowardly. We created this organizational culture, and we can change it.

This adaptive behavior changes when leaders commit to change how they lead the organization and then take determined action. Resilient people will risk again if they have hope for a more authentic and value-driven workplace to which they can contribute their gifts.

To become a "learning organization" is not a mechanical quick fix. Becoming a learning organization is an organic, self-transcending, transformation of the essence of the enterprise. The teacher understands the prevalence of mediocre organizations and sets high standards, is a tough grader, and stresses personal accountability for learning. Time, rewards, and resources are allocated for self-directed learning aligned with the vision and strategy of the enterprise.

In tough economic times we need to get smarter, more creative, and try new things. We need to learn new skills and develop new talents. Economic recession provides a catalyst for higher levels of learning and performance -- not for cutting the training budget.

Economic recession also presents an opportunity to eliminate high-level management positions (overhead) and to invest in the self-management of front-line workers who know what is wrong with the organization and know how to fix it, if given the opportunity.

Those lowest in the organization have the most to lose by learning. As organizations "open up" and people participate freely, some of those at higher levels on the organizational chart feel threatened and embarrassed by the knowledge and intelligence of those at lower levels on the organizational chart and may punish them -- just like bullies in grade school. The teacher watches for this and sends those executives to the principal.s office.

The love of learning has been driven from many people by our institutions, beginning with our schools. Many people don.t believe in themselves as learners. The teacher within the leader ignites the intense desire to learn in others through the leader.s own authenticity as a learner and as a teacher. Great leaders are great learners and great teachers.

New Leaders Facilitate Others.

The leader guides people through emotional transitions and helps potential and possibility emerge across organizational boundaries. The leader creates conditions where people share information, form trusting relationships, and take time to think. The leader nurtures this process of self-organization.

A good facilitator gets "within" the group or organization and guides it where the group wants to go congruent with the vision, values, and purpose of the enterprise. The leader asks the question, "what wants to emerge here?" and "what am I trying to do here?"

The leader understands that the process of change is much more than the surface physical change that takes place: the move of the office, the new boss, the reorganization. The leader realizes that the most important dynamic is the underlying emotional transition of identity that accompanies change. The leader understands the grieving process and helps others express their loss of identity, and the loss of the familiar. The leader knows this loss is expressed differently by diverse people, but the loss must be expressed if identity is to change.

The leader realizes that a time of confusion and wandering is necessary and great creativity is possible if people feel and move through the emotions of transition. This is a frightening time for people, and the leader understands that the lack of clear rules in this space allows creative thoughts to emerge. From this creative place, the leader helps the group test out new beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. This is an ongoing process and, in time, the group incorporates new skills and guides their own process.

The leader is comfortable with emotions -- hers and the group.s. The facilitator can confront, empathize, challenge, and acknowledge. She receives feedback without defensiveness and provides feedback without alienating others. Leaders share their mistakes, shortcomings, and experiences and suspend and hold assumptions out for others to reflect on.

The facilitator keeps minority views alive, avoids premature consensus, and prevents the paralysis often caused by the desire for consensus. The leader functions as a colleague, and she models skills for the group so all can become facilitators of change.

The leader understands that conflict at boundaries is a rich source of creativity. Instead of suppressing the conflict, the leader helps the conflict to surface and assists in the exploration of its potential. The leader gives permission for new thoughts to emerge. As we struggle to learn to think in new ways, the leader pays attention and helps when we get lost, stuck, or slip back to old habits.

The facilitator manages the tension between the vision and the reality of the organization. The leader realizes she must hold the vision when the tension level increases. Instead of lowering the vision, leaders help people manage the tension. Great facilitators guide the process and the emotional life of the enterprise.

The leader seeks wisdom and fundamental truth. The leader has no need to control but rather is content to observe, to let things unfold, to introspect, and to ponder the meaning of something in a mindful way. The goal is to see the whole, to understand, and to influence right action.

The leader brings forth the great "wisdom in the system" and seeks to learn from the people in the most humble positions. She is a continuous learner and eternal traveler into the world of higher knowledge and shares her knowledge with others freely. Leaders understand the importance of meeting the highest needs of people in leading an organization.

The leader -- the poet in residence and the organizational storyteller -- always realizes that we reflect our identities in the stories we tell. Aware of the metaphors of the enterprise, the leader matches metaphors to the situation. Wise leaders inspire, open eyes, provide hope, and embody the spiritual, mystical parts of our lives; they create meaning -- for everyone.

The leader listens, questions, and seeks to be jolted, taught, and guided by others without feeling threatened, needs others but is not overly dependent, judges other persons with affection and discrimination, and possesses the autonomy to be creative without rejecting the external influences that make growth and relevance possible.

George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends in England in the seventeenth century. Early in his ministry, Fox had an insight that led to his decision to depend almost wholly on his own reading of scripture and what God revealed to him directly rather than on the views of contemporary authorities: civil, military, scholarly, or ecclesiastical.

Knowledge gained experimentally guided Fox for the next forty years. Fox.s extraordinary leadership was credited to the gift of knowing experimentally. This ability in Fox allowed new meaning and a superior wisdom to emerge. We need to coach and nurture this capability of knowing experimentally in today's leaders.

Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership, wrote that we do not need more technical knowledge today but strong ethical leaders who will raise moral standards in a time when much of leadership is corrupt and incompetent. These leaders will "know experimentally" what is right and will have the courage to follow that course through the chaos of the age.

The meaning, direction, and inspiration of true leaders come from their powerful vision, deep ethical foundation, and profound sense of purpose. They identify with life itself and understand life.s natural creative process. These leaders form a symbiotic relationship with others and evolve together to a higher consciousness and wisdom. They know experimentally what to do and have the courage to follow that course daily--regardless of what others do, say, or think.

We live in a time of decline and rebirth. The world-view and leadership model that got us here will not take us to our future. We know this is true. The adventuresome leaders for the times in which we live take the inner journey necessary to bring forth a new world. They take this journey with courage and authenticity.

New leaders stand and fight for integrity. Creative artists, these leaders work with the chaos of the times to bring forth new organizational forms. As learners and teachers they translate new insights to operational practices. As facilitators they guide others through transitions. And as philosophers they create vision, purpose, and meaning.

Finally they utilize themselves: their maturity, their judgment, their authenticity, and their courage to lead others to a new future. These men and women possess a glimpse of our potential and move toward it intentionally. The leaders for the times in which we live understand that great leaders emerge from great people -- aware, responsible, and self-evolving. The hope we want for our future lies within each of us. The challenge is for each of us to be all that we can be.

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