Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership

pexels-photo-1339845.jpeg

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I took a bit of time at the beginning of the year to check in on which posts have been the most interesting to readers of Purpose in Leadership the past five years (2014-2018). Two main observations stand out as I consider the Top 10 from this season.

First, the discussion I offer on what the differences are between groups and teams is by far the most viewed post.  This post was viewed well over 5 times more than any other post on the blog in this time period. Understanding the importance of groups and teams, and how they differ, is so important for organizational leaders. I’m glad others have found this helpful.

Second, there continues to be significant interest in the intersection between leadership and communication. Two of the top five posts focus on the types and levels of leadership communication. I often say to students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.” Others seem to get this as well—effective communication is essential to effective leadership practice.

So here are the Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership. I hope some of these will be an encouragement to you as you reflect on your own leadership practice.

#1.    Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

#2.    5 Types of Leadership Communication

#3.    9 Effective Leadership Practices

#4.    Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

#5.    7 Levels of Leadership Communication

#6.    Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

#7.    Tolstoy on Leadership

#8.    Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

#9.    Let Your Life Speak — How to Understand Your Vocational Call

#10.  37 Barriers to Change

If you found one of these particularly helpful, please share your thoughts below.

Leadership Communication: Reflections on Dr. King’s Example

mlk memorial_thad zajdowicz

Photo Credit: MLK Memorial, by Thad Zajdowicz, Flickr

Last week I noted how leadership communication has been a topic of significant interest among Purpose in Leadership readers. Leaders who care about their message must learn the art and practice of effective leadership communication.

While there are there many positive examples of leadership communicators in history, one of the most powerful visionary communicators of the twentieth century was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In an upcoming book that will be published this summer, I take some time to unpack leadership communication practices by looking at the example of Dr. King.

Dr. King was clear on his core message. He also was able to draw on this core message when needed, and speak about what mattered most to him in an extemporaneous manner. While he delivered as many as 450 speeches a year at some points, King was able to return to his core message in powerful ways.

Dr. King also knew how to blend both powerful logic and compelling passion that engaged hearts and minds alike. Using a rhetorical pattern of repetition in communication known as anaphora, King engaged his audiences in both memorable and moving ways. Though certainly not limited to Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, consider the use of anaphora in this speech: “One hundred years later,” “Now is the time,” “We can never be satisfied,” “With this faith,” “Let freedom ring,” and, of course, “I have a dream.” Such repetition helped to bring King’s compelling message to a place of memorability.

Dr. King also used visionary and imaginative language as a key communication tool. Consider such powerful language such as: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” and “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Dr. King’s language awoke the imagination of his hearers to “see” through his visionary word pictures.

Also embedded in these and other speeches by King is the power of vision and word pictures. As King cast a vision for equality and justice to diverse audiences, he intentionally used language that was visual in nature. His language awoke the imagination to “see” this arc of the moral universe. His language awoke the imagination to “see” freedom ringing across the United States from the Northeast, to the West Coast, to the Deep South. His language awoke the imagination to “see” sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. His language awoke the imagination to “see” little black boys and black girls joining hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers

Here’s a glimpse of how we wrap up this section reflecting on Dr. King as an effective leadership communicator in our forthcoming book:

This is the power of leaders using visionary language. Through their language, leaders help people to see and envision what a preferred future can look like. King used visionary language and rhetorical devices—his language engaged the whole person. King used personal authenticity—people knew he was an owner rather than a renter of the vision he was casting. And King used a message that was clear and focused—people knew what King stood for and how they could join him in this vital work of moving toward equality and justice.

While such a powerful model of communication is not something many, or any, can fully replicate, King’s model of communicating with clarity should inspire current and aspiring leaders. Be clear on your message. Embody your message with personal authenticity. And learn tools of language and speech that can bring your message to life.

As you think about the intersection of leadership and communication, what observations and insights do you have? Take a moment to share your thoughts below.

Communicating with Clarity (Leadership Practice 7)

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The third grouping of servant leadership practices in the model emphasizes clear communication and the supporting of individuals toward outcomes for which they are accountable. This third cluster of servant leadership practices is focused on helping followers navigate toward effectiveness and include the following: (1) communicating with clarity, (2) supporting and resourcing, and (3) providing accountability. This week we take on Leadership Practice 7 — Communicating with Clarity

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of clear communication in the practice of leadership. Although all effective communicators are not necessarily leaders, all effective leaders must be effective communicators.

Effective Leadership Requires Effective Communication

In previous posts, I highlighted 5 Types of Leadership Communication and 7 Levels of Leadership Communication. As noted in these posts, leaders must attend to factors such as verbal and nonverbal modes of communication as well as diverse levels of communication from intrapersonal to organizational.

Sometimes leaders speak through their words. Sometimes leaders speak with their actions (or inaction). The question is whether or not the leader is being intentional in these various types and levels of their communication. Being intentional with effective communication practice will help leaders effectively guide their followers and teams.

Communication Basics for Leaders

As we consider how to help followers navigate toward effectiveness, the seventh effective servant leadership practice in this model is Communicating with Clarity. This leadership practice is about effectively communicating plans and goals for the organization, and research participants note several critical features of effective communication in the leadership role.

Key communication features noted by research participants included the following:

  • Honesty
  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Clarity
  • Listening
  • Timeliness
  • Confidence without arrogance
  • Conciseness
  • Regularity and appropriately repetitious
  • Congruence of verbal and nonverbal messages
  • Use of a diverse set of communication media
  • Use of word pictures
  • Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
  • Avoiding emotionally laden and volatile communication overtones

Leaders: Communicate Often — Communicate Well

Leaders who learn to communicate effectively in a variety of contexts and through a variety of communication pathways are helping followers and their organizations navigate toward effectiveness. How are you doing on this front as a leader? What step can you take in the coming workweek to be more proactive in your communication approach with followers and teams?

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014

2014 was my first year entering the blogging world on the writing end. This new year marks my 15th year teaching in higher education, and this blog has been a great place for me to share some of the core lessons learned over the years. Blogging is a helpful pathway for sharing insights in a brief and accessible format. I have enjoyed learning a bit about blogging this first year, sharing reflections on leadership, and connecting with a many new people through this format.

As I look back on my first year of blogging, here is a list of the Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014. Feel free to take a look at these posts that drew the most attention from Purpose in Leadership readers.

Top 5 Posts from 2014

  1. 37 Barriers to Change 

    Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

    Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

  2. 7 Levels of Leadership Communication

    Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

    Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

  3. Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

    Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

    Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

  4. Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

    by Arya Aiai, Flickr

    by Arya Aiai, Flickr

  5. 6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision

    mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

    mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

Thanks for taking an interest in the Purpose in Leadership blog, and I hope some of the blog posts in 2014 were helpful to you.

Blessings to you as we press into 2015 together!

– Justin A. Irving, Ph.D.

37 Barriers to Change

Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations. Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

Hindrances to Change

I’m teaching a graduate course on organizational leadership this semester. Yesterday, our lecture focused on barriers to change. From change theorists like Kurt Lewin on to others today, it is argued that change may only take place if the driving forces working toward change are greater than the restraining forces working to maintain the status quo.

In light of such perspective on change, leaders must be aware of the significant forces, barriers, and hindrances working against change.

I see hindrances or barriers to change grouping around four primary domains:

  1. Intrapersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to individuals
  2. Interpersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to the interpersonal relationships between individuals
  3. Team & Organizational Dynamics: barriers related to team and organizational systems and structures
  4. Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics: barriers related to the larger context within which organizations are embedded

In order to better understand the restraining forces at work against change, I present these 37 barriers to change grouped around the four above noted domains.

Intrapersonal Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Personally)
  • Risk Adverse
  • Complacency
  • Fear of Increased Responsibilities
  • Unwillingness to Experience the Discomfort of Change
  • Threat to Personal Values & Perspectives
  • Comfort with what is Familiar (peace before progress)
  • Suspicion of New Ideas
  • Focus on Self-Interest
  • Concerns for Job-Security

Interpersonal Dynamics

  • Lack of Trust
  • Resenting Interference of Others
  • Threat to Status in Community
  • Feared Loss of Power
  • Feared Loss of Positive Personal Relationships
  • Insular Approach to New/External Ideas
  • Feeling Excluded & Left Out
  • Poor Communication

Team & Organizational Dynamics

  • Focus on Past Success and Innovation
  • Social and Structural Self-Preservation
  • Institutional Focus over Focus on Purpose
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Feasible
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Necessary
  • Rule of a Change-Adverse Minority
  • Lack of Leader Vision & Leader Direction
  • High Cost (economic and human resources)
  • Failures Treated as Problems in the Organization Culture
  • Misalignment of Resources
  • Lack of Sponsorship by Senior Leadership
  • Lack of Training on How to Approach Change
  • Organizational Culture that Is Adverse to Change

Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Organizationally)
  • Economically Uncertain Environment
  • Fear of Unknown Environmental Realities
  • Concerns for Organizational Competition
  • Lack of Socio-Cultural Awareness
  • Not Considering the Needs/Wants/Aspirations of Environment or Society when Approaching Change

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Change is a reality in our world. Leaders who grow in their awareness of the barriers and restraining forces working against change will be better positioned to find solutions and carve out a positive change pathway for their community. In your organization, what barriers to change are most pronounced and how is your community working to find a productive pathway forward?

Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Photo: In the middle of nowhere, Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

FORESIGHT

Larry Spears argues that foresight is one of Robert K. Greenleaf’s core characteristics of servant leaders. Of foresight, Spears notes:

Closely related to conceptualization, the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easy to identify. One knows it when one sees it. Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.”

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE FOCUS OF FORESIGHT

This thread of learning from the past, observing the present, and anticipating the likely consequences of decisions on the future is critical. Focusing on only one of these areas can lead to leadership blind spots. Using and embracing all of them brings holistic perspective to leadership.

Past: The past is full of lessons, but it is not where we live. We must look to the past. We must listen to the past. We musts learn from the past. But, we must not live in the past. We must not only celebrate the past glory days of our organizations and communities.

Present: We must be present in the moment we’ve received, fully engaging the lives and mission we’ve been given as individuals and as organizations. At the same time, we must not be short-sighted and only live for the moment.

Future: Similarly, we must look to the future in light of the lessons of the past and present. We must anticipate and make course corrections based on likely outcomes and anticipated scenarios. But, we must not only look to the future. We can be so future-oriented that we miss the people and opportunities that are right in front of us. We must not live in the future, but rather look to the future for insights that inform the present.

STRATEGIC FORESIGHT

Although all organizational members benefit from looking at the past, present, and future, leaders in particular have this as part of their core job responsibilities. Leaders must learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Foresight is not about looking into a crystal ball to see the future. Foresight is about actively learning. It is about playing out future possibilities and scenarios in our minds based on the past and present knowledge we have of our organizations and world. It is about identifying with clarity what will be the likely future outcomes of decisions we make in the present.

FORESIGHT FOR TODAY

In other words, although foresight is looking to the future, foresight serves the present. Leaders look to likely future possibilities based on diverse possible decisions and scenarios, and then they return to the present to guide present-day decision making in light of this future-looking foresight activity.

As you look at the past, present, and possible futures in your organization, what narrative threads and patterns emerge? What lessons do these threads point to for your community? As you look to the future and anticipate likely outcomes of decisions, what decisions need to be made in the present to serve your organization in light of these desired outcomes?

Engage your leadership with foresight, guiding your present based on lessons from the past and foreseeing likely outcomes in your organizational future.

Visionary Change with a Plan: Remembering the Importance of Effective Management in the Change Process

Change, SomeDriftwood, Flickr

Photo Credit: Change, SomeDriftwood, Flickr

Change agendas often fail due to good visions that lack a thoughtful plan. I observed this in some of my previous work with smaller nonprofits. In these contexts, leadership energy was devoted to generating new ideas and visions for the future but there was not sufficient managerial energy devoted to plans that would support the enactment of vision.

Doing things Right

Peter Drucker noted that management is doing things right while leadership is doing the right things. Although leadership is focused on doing the right thing and casting appropriate visions for change, it is often management that focuses on doing things right. Change initiatives that are launched but not sustained often fail due to lack of effective planning and lack of doing things the right way.

Consistent with Drucker’s observations, John Kotter highlights the central functions of leaders and managers. Leaders focus on setting direction, aligning people, and motivating people. In contrast to this, managers plan and budget, organize and staff, and control and problem solve. Successful change efforts are not focused on only one of these lists, but rather both. Successful change efforts are not focused on leadership or management, but rather effective leadership and effective management.

Change Initiation and Change Implementation

Since leadership tendencies of setting direction often initiate change agendas, it is easy for change failure to occur in the absence of management. Without leadership, change fails due to lack of initiation. Without management, change fails due to lack of implementation.

What change vision are you pursuing as a community? Are you pursuing both effective initiation and implementation? How are you pursuing the change visions with a plan?