Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty

Joy, Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Generational Poverty

Generational poverty is a real issue in our world. While many people experience individual poverty in their lives due to the loss of a job or another tragedy, generational poverty emphasizes patterns where two or more generations continue in poverty within the family structure. Generational poverty is often characterized and reinforced by such causes as limited educational opportunities, poor health or ongoing battle with disease, and an inability to access resources such as land, finances, and information in the pursuit of a sustainable living.

Leaders are certainly not the only answer to addressing such issues and breaking the cycle of poverty, but leaders are important partners along the way. I’m passionate about training leaders, so I’m particularly drawn toward the conversation of empowering leaders to think intentionally about their role in this vital conversation.

From Nonprofits to Business

Engaging generational poverty is not only a topic for nonprofits, governments, NGOs. It is also a topic worth the engagement of leaders from multiple sectors. Many companies are moving toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in an effort to play a part. One global example I’ve especially appreciated comes from the Indian-based Tata Group whose founder believed: “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder, but is, in fact, the very purpose of its existence.”

Local Models

Some of the best models I’ve observed are not in large-scale corporate CSR initiatives or multinational NGOs. I certainly value large-scale efforts, but sometimes the models that are most helpful for learning are the smaller and local examples.

So what are effective models for helping to break the cycle of generational poverty?

Here are two I’ll highlight:

A Few Blocks Away…

A few blocks away from where I live, I’ve had the opportunity to see Urban Ventures play a role in breaking the cycle of generational poverty in Minneapolis. Leaders from Urban Ventures often say they do three things in an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty—jobs, families, and education. They orient their programs around job training, support of families, and support of children in their educational development. Through these targeted three areas, Urban Ventures is providing a proactive strategy around which partner organizations like businesses, foundations, churches, and other community groups may come together and break this cycle locally.

To Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti

Generational poverty shows itself internationally as well, often in more stark forms. I have the privilege of working on the board of HCDF (Haiti Christian Development Fund), and through this connection have a front row seat to one of the best models of community development I’ve seen. Inspired by and started out from the community development work of John M. Perkins (founder of the Christian Community Development Association), HCDF launched in 1982 to bring its model of community development to the Fond-des-Blancs region of southern Haiti.

Agricultural Project

HCDF Agricultural Project

With a passion to break the cycle of poverty in Haiti, HCDF has a 30 year history of working to develop and empower the people of Fond-des-Blancs. Through their approach to K-12 education, church-planting, micro-lending, agricultural initiatives, and intentional leadership development, the Fond-des-Blancs community is experiencing transformation.

WP_20140612_007

What Can I Do?”

So what can you do to help address generational poverty?

First, look around you for organizations like Urban Ventures and HCDF who are actively engaged in holistic models of addressing generational poverty. Partner with these local groups.

L’Exode School

L’Exode School

Second, look beyond your context and be a part of global solutions. HCDF is a powerful example of community development done well. Would you consider a donation to the agricultural, educational, or leadership development work of HCDF as you look to your year end giving? If so, please go to HCDF.org where you may donate online and join me in supporting this important work.

Assessing Leadership — The Purpose in Leadership Inventory

Researching, Steve Hanna, Flickr

Photo Credit: Researching, by Steve Hanna, Flickr

The inaugural edition of the journal Servant Leadership: Theory and Practice came out at the end of August. I’m grateful to have an article included in the August 2014 issue of the journal. My article is focused on the development and initial testing of what I’m calling The Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

In this brief post, I’m providing a link to the full article followed by a brief overview of what leadership variables are measured by the instrument.

The Development and Initial Testing of the Purpose in Leadership Inventory:
A Tool for Assessing Leader Goal-Orientation, Follower-Focus, and Purpose-in-Leadership

Why Was the PLI Created?

The Purpose in Leadership Inventory (PLI) was created for two audiences.

Leadership Researchers: First, the PLI is designed for researchers in the field of leadership studies. Developing new instruments to measure leadership variables is one of the keys to ongoing advancement of the field. As the field of leadership studies has grown throughout the last century, noticeable shifts are occurring. The PLI is designed to capture some of these shifts, and help researchers understand which leadership factors are associated with effectiveness in diverse organizational contexts.

Leadership Practitioners: Second, the PLI is designed for engaged leadership practitioners who desire to study the place of goal-orientation, follower-focus, and purpose-in-leadership within their organizations and leadership practice. Diverse leaders approach leadership differently. The PLI allows leaders to gain insight into how followers perceive their leadership around these vital variables.

What Does the PLI Measure?

As mentioned above, the PLI measure three core leadership variables. These are:

  • Goal Orientation
  • Follower Focus
  • Purpose in Leadership

The first two capture variables highlighted in a previous post: People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People. A focus on accomplishing goals and getting things done is important for leaders. Equally import is a focus on caring for followers. Goal orientation and follower focus are the first two variables measured by the PLI.

The third variable is the significant addition to the leadership research stream. This variable is Purpose in Leadership. Purpose in leadership as a variable is based on the work of individuals such as Paul Wong who focus on meaning-centered approaches to leadership and management. These approaches take seriously the leaders’ sense of meaning and purpose.

Why Does this Matter?

The more I engage in leadership research, the more I’m convinced that purpose matters. Leaders who have a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives as leaders add value to their organizations. Such leaders help the members of the community understand that their work and organizational outcomes actually make a difference in the world.

As leader-centered models of the 20th century have been modified by more recent approaches such as transformational and servant leadership, the opportunity to reflect on the deeper meaning and purpose in leadership has emerged. The PLI is a tool to help leadership practitioners and researchers investigate the priority of these leadership variables.

I’m looking forward to seeing the additional research that will emerge through the Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

Where Do You Find Your Identity? — Reflections for Leaders

One Moment in Time: Identity II, Dar'ya Sipyeykina, Flickr

Photo Credit: One Moment in Time: Identity II, Dar’ya Sipyeykina, Flickr

Where do you find your identity as a leader? This is big question.

Does your identity come from what you do? Does it come from the title you possess? Does it come from the position you occupy? Does it come from your relationships? Does it come from present or past accomplishments? Does it come from the reputation of the program or institution you lead? And the list of questions could go on.

Finding a Firm Foundation

One of the books I enjoy coming back to on the topic of leadership is a short book by Henri Nouwen. Entitled In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Nouwen provides his take on where identity is wisely grounded. This work provides perspective for those aiming to lead from a place of Christian conviction. Nouwen writes:

leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance…. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.” (emphasis mine).

When Identity is Too Closely Aligned with our Opinions, Plans, and Performance

This final phrase in the Nouwen quote provides a significant warning for leaders. While it is important to have passion and conviction behind our ideas and opinions, there is also a danger when our “sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.” When this happens, we become quite difficult for others to work with. When this happens, a critique of our ideas quickly gets translated as a critique of us personally. When this happens, it becomes very difficult to receive insight and perspective from others.

A Positive Alternative for Identity

At this point in Nouwen’s comments, he continues on with a healthy alternative. Rather than having our identities defined by our opinions, or programs, or initiatives, Nouwen calls us to look to God as the most stable source of all to find our grounding and identity. He writes:

But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witness without being manipulative.”

A Community Securely Rooted

These are the type of people with whom I want to work. This is the type of person I want to be. I desire to engage in rigorous discussion of unique perspectives and not have questions of my ideas viewed as personal attacks. When we are a people “securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life,” rich and deep community flourishes in such contexts. Having my identity rooted in this place helps me to serve others without overly personalizing my or their opinions and agendas in the process.

People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People

People, Viewminder, Flickr

Photo Credit: People, Viewminder, Flickr

People or Production

In management studies, there is a rich history of work engaging the importance of focus on people and results.

— A Concern for People is characterized by leaders or managers emphasizing and recognizing the needs of followers, and then working to meet followers in these areas of need.

— A Concern for Production or Results is characterized by leaders emphasizing organizational objectives and what the best pathways are for meeting these goals and objectives.

Engaging Leadership Style

The “Ohio State” studies, and the “University of Michigan” studies on these themes were complemented by what is known as Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid. Based on the categories of concern for people and concern for production or results, Blake and Mouton’s categorizes leaders in the following manner:

  • Impoverished (low results/low people)
  • Authority-Compliance (high results/low people)
  • Country-Club (low results/high people)
  • Middle-of-the-Road (med. results/med. People)
  • Team (high results/high people).

People and Production

As leaders, it is easy to feel this tension between a focus on results or a focus on people. Many times, managers and leaders view it as a mutually exclusive decision. Either the focus will be on results, or the focus will be on people.

Thankfully, contemporary models of leadership are emphasizing the priority of both. Both people and production are valuable, and in fact the two serve each other in a healthy organizational system.

Chicken or Egg

But what comes first. Must a leader prioritize one over the other, even though both are valuable? Generally, transformational models of leadership emphasize change and getting things done. These approaches emphasize results along with individualized consideration as a necessary part of the leadership approach. This commitment to organizational goals is seen as the best way to meet the needs of people.

Servant-oriented models of leadership emphasize a commitment to people. These approaches emphasize a commitment to serving the needs of people as primary. This commitment to people is seen as the best way to accomplish organizational goals and objectives.

A Matter of Emphasis

It really comes down to a matter of emphasis. Both people and production are a priority. Both followers and goals are essential. But which is the best way to meet these aims. For the time being, I land on the side of emphasizing people first, and seeing this as the best way to also get things done.

Thankfully, there is a growing body or research helping us understand this relationship between goal-orientation and follower-focus.

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Pursue both. Leaders who value and develop their people will have a solid community ready to meet organizational goals. Leaders who work with their community to get things done will have healthy organizations that provide stability for their people. Both are a priority, so lead well toward both of these ends.

C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

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How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!

Servant Leadership and #GLS14

Jesus Washing Feet, Fulbourn St. Vigor, Steve Day, Flickr

Photo Credit: Jesus Washing Feet, Fulbourn St. Vigor, Steve Day, Flickr

The 2014 Global Leadership Summit, put on by the Willow Creek Association, is taking place yesterday and today (August 14-15). Although I’m not present at the conference, I’m following key trending insights, particularly on Twitter (#GLS14).

Leadership and the Introvert

There are several takeaways from Day One. Bill Hybels shared key lessons in his opening session. Susan Cain’s reminder of the presence and importance of introverts in our organizations was also a welcome addition to the public leadership discourse.

Susan Cain called us to “remember that one-third of your workforce is probably introverted,” that “most introverts are deeply passionate about a few things,” and that “they are leaders because they were passionate first.”

Patrick Lencioni on Servant Leadership

While the reports coming out throughout the first day were many, I especially appreciated the themes Patrick Lencioni addressed. Here are a few key tweets from Lencioni session:

  • “Leaders sacrifice themselves for the good of others.”
  • “If we’re doing it for ourselves, we’re going to leave a trail of tears behind.”
  • “If you’re not interested in developing yourself, don’t be a leader.”
  • “The best reason for someone to become a leader is to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.”
  • “Most people don’t really want to change the world, thy want to become known as the person who changed the world.”
  • “I’m tired of hearing about servant leadership because I don’t think there’s any other kind of leadership.”
  • “Servant leadership is the only leadership. All else is economics.”

Servant Leadership for the Good of Others

I’m passionate about servant leadership. Though I would not express this quite the same as Lencioni (I like hearing more about servant leadership!), the point is well-taken. Leadership at its core is about service. It is about valuing others. It is about focusing on their needs. It is about sacrificing for their good of those we lead.

Servant Leadership Next Steps

While this post is just a quick highlight of some of the servant leadership themes raised at #GLS14, some may wish to dig a bit deeper. Here is one of my journal articles on the topic, providing both a biblical and research-based frame for engaging servant leadership. Servant leadership is not only an ethical approach to leadership—it is also effective!

Enjoy the article, and enjoy Day 2 of #GLS14

The Priority of Potential — Spotting Talent for our Organizations

Potential!, Miles Goodhew, Flickr

Photo Credit: Potential!, by Miles Goodhew, Flickr

In a previous post I highlighted 8 Core Leadership Abilities. In the same HBR article, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz engages the important theme of how to spot talent in the 21st century.

A History of Talent Searching

Over the centuries and years, diverse approaches have emerged for identifying leadership and managerial talent. Fernández-Aráoz identifies this progression around four movements:

Focus on Physical Attributes — Those who were fittest, healthiest, and strongest.

Focus on Intelligence and Experience — Those who were the most intelligent, most experienced, and those with the best past performance.

Focus on Testing for Competencies— Those who possess the right set of characteristics and skills associated with predicted job performance.

Focus on Potential  — Those who are ready to engage the VUCA environment of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

Why Potential

In the VUCA world of increased volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, there are new demands on prospective talent. Fernández-Aráoz discusses the factors of globalization, demographic shifts, and challenges to the talent development pipeline. The talent development pipeline is significantly stretched due to increased competition in this changing environment of the 21st century. These factors are forcing organizations to focus on identifying potential (not just track-records of success), and then developing and retaining this talent in the years ahead.

What to Look for When Looking for Potential

So, how is potential spotted? What qualities are the hallmarks of such potential? Fernández-Aráoz identifies the following hallmarks for spotting talent and potential in the 21st century:

Motivation — “…a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals.”

Curiosity — “…a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change.”

Insight — “…the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.”

Engagement — “…a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.”

Determination — “…the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity.”

How to Develop those with Potential

Because spotting potential is quickly becoming the new norm, developing this potential talent in our organizations is becoming the highest priority. How are motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination built upon so that individuals with potential translate into individuals with performance?

Fernández-Aráoz identifies the priority of stretch development. On this point Fernández-Aráoz notes, “when it comes to developing executives for future leadership assignments, we’re constantly striving to find the optimal level of discomfort in the next role or project, because that’s where the most learning happens.” Finding stretching assignments, where those with potential don’t immediately have all the answers, is one of the chief pathways in moving individuals from potential to performance.

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How are you identifying potential around you? How are you developing this potential into performance?

Why I Blog: Fostering Healthy Leadership

Be the Change, Feggy Art, Flickr

Photo Credit: Be the Change, Feggy Art, Flickr

“Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”
– James MacGregor Burns

James MacGregor Burns’ quote resonates with most of our experiences. We see leadership occurring all around us, but rarely take time to reflect in a systematic way on what makes this leadership helpful or unhelpful—effective or ineffective. Further complicating our observations, at times we see people leading well who have no formal positions of leadership within our organizations, and at other times we see people in positions of leadership who really are not providing the necessary leadership direction for our organizations as we move into the future.

Lingering Questions

And so we come back to Burns’ comments: Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth. But must it be this way? Is leadership simply a mysterious reality? Is it something that we simply know when it is going well or poorly, but will never really understand what makes it work? Or might we be able to provide some basic descriptions of the form and shape of good, helpful, and effective leadership? Might we be able to get at some minimum factors that characterize both what helpful leaders and leadership look like?

Leadership Can Be Learned

Part of my vocational calling is providing thoughtful responses to such questions. I believe leadership can be described and studied. I believe it can be learned. Not every person is wired to be a capital “L” Leader. However, just about everyone embedded in an organization, group, or family can grow in and learn how to positively influence and guide the people around them.

This is the heart behind why I’ve started blogging at purposeinleadership.com. Although I’ve been observing leaders in action most of my life, I’ve spent the last 15 years in focused study on the topic through various degree programs, organizational roles, research agendas, and teaching opportunities. I want to start sharing some of these lessons learned with a wider audience.

A Passion for Ridding the World of Bad Leadership

Harvard Business Review’s editorial mission is “to rid the world of bad management.” I have a similar passion in the area of leadership. Though I won’t be able to personally rid the world of bad leadership, I’d love to make a dent in this ambitious agenda. I want to spread a message…

  • …that leadership is more about serving others than being served,
  • …that people are the priority even in profit-driven sectors,
  • …that leaders need to create organizations and societies that are not only productive, but also are fit for human beings,
  • …that purpose in leadership is of central importance,
  • …that leadership is vital in organizations that create value for those they serve,
  • …that people will endure great hardship and sacrifice when they believe in what they are doing and feel their work and leadership has meaning and purpose,
  • …that leaders have a God-given responsibility to care for the people they lead,
  • …that core leadership characteristics and behaviors can be described,
  • …that leadership is vital in working toward human flourishing in organizations and societies.

Thanks for Joining Me in this Pursuit

Although I don’t believe that everything rises or falls on leadership, I do believe that the pursuit of effective and healthy models of leadership is a first-order priority in our day.

Thanks for joining me on this journey toward good, helpful, and effective leadership. Our organizations and the people we serve as leaders deserve our very best!

Power to the People — Leaders and the Ethical Use of Power

Vuisten (fists) - Power, by Bolwidt on Flickr

Photo Credit: Vuisten (fists) – Power, by Bolwidt, Flickr

Power to the People

The public exercise of power is often disliked, mistrusted, or undermined in our society. Roots of this suspicion of power are deep, but this suspicion is often grounded in the exercise of positional power that is not founded upon personal power. It is distasteful to see people occupying positions of power without also embodying the personal credibility to support and enact this power effectively. In contrast to resistance that is often the result of excessive use of positional power, personal power helps to develop followers and their commitment to organizational goals.

Asking the Right Questions

In terms of when and how power can be used most effectively and more acceptably, I would point to the importance of the ethical use of power. On this point Richard Daft identifies key questions leaders need to ask. Some of these questions ask whether the action and use of power…

  • …is consistent with the organization’s goals,
  • …respects the rights of individuals,
  • …meets standards of equity and fairness, and
  • …is consistent with how one would behalf if the action would affect them personally.

These guidelines for ethical action help in thinking through how power is being utilized. To engage power effectively, acceptably, and ethically, leader’s need to be comfortable that the answers to such questions are focused on the good of others and the organization rather than simply serving themselves as leaders.

A Commitment to Serving Others

On this point, I appreciate the emphasis of people like Robert K. Greenleaf who write on the theme of servant leadership. Greenleaf emphasized that the servant leader was to be servant first. In other words, Greenleaf emphasized that the most acceptable or beneficial leader for a community is the one who at their core is a servant, and who then expresses this servant-oriented heart through a leadership role. Greenleaf emphasized that true power rested with followers who recognize a servant-oriented person and then attribute personal power to them. From this personal power, the servant-leader may then lead effectively and ethically.

In my view, this is the best place from which to use power—using it from a place that recognizes the best power is that which has been freely granted to the leader by the personal trust of followers.

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What do you think of Greenleaf’s point? How do you see leaders using power ethically and responsibly?