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.

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.

Manage with Realism — Lead with Optimism

Hope_Darren-Tunnicliff

Photo Credit: Hope, by Darren Tunnicliff, Fllickr

Hope…

People and organizations thrive on hope and optimism. Hope helps to orient people toward the future and inspire hearts and minds to action. Optimists choose to see the proverbial half glass full, and look for opportunities with a spirit of positivity.

Regarding optimism, Winston Churchill noted: “For myself, I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Similarly, Churchill declared: “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”

Biblical authors also point to the power of hope noting that because of the love of God “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).

Hope is powerful. It holds a vital place in the life of organizations and the work of leadership. But hope alone is not enough. Hope and optimism must be blended with realism for leaders and managers.

One of my guiding leadership principles is this: Manage with Realism—Lead with Optimism.

Manage with Realism

Pessimism is exhausting. Always seeing the glass half empty and only looking at problems drains life from people and organizations.

But realism is an alternative that need not be pessimistic. Organizations benefit from managerial attention to details. Engagement with detail is best carried out from a place of realism—engagement with real strengths, real weaknesses, real opportunities, and real threats (…a “SWOT” analysis with realism). Healthy leaders and managers do not avoid reality, they face it. Healthy leaders and managers need to manage with realism.

Lead with Optimism

The story does not end with facing reality and managing with realism. Leaders and managers also need to inspire hope and optimism in the hearts and minds of people. Leaders and managers need to manage with realism and lead with optimism.

Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” Managing with realism is not the end of the story. Leaders help their people see light in the darkness and hope in the midst of reality by leading with optimism.

As Helen Keller noted, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” and “nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” To inspire our people toward achievement, leaders must inspire with hope and optimism.

______________

Rather viewing realism and optimism as being at odds, organizational success depends upon leaders and managers attending to both. How are you doing on these fronts? How is your organization doing? Are you managing with realism and leading with optimism?

 

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

photo

One of the favorite lessons I’ve picked up studying leadership and management from the thinking of Peter Drucker is this:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress!

While not necessarily a direct quote from him (at least I don’t know where it is), I picked this particular lesson up from a documentary on his life. Those close with him reported that he often challenging their practice around these themes:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress…. Are you being busy, but not productive?

This “Druckerian” insight holds a place in my office physically, and a place in my thinking frequently. In our lives and work it is easy to stay busy. In my American context, life is full, busy, and constantly in motion. If motion is the measure that matters, then things are great here!

More than Motion

But motion really is not what matters most in the flow and practice of leadership.

Organizations do not simply need leaders who look busy. Organizations do not need leaders who are simply constantly in motion. In contrast to this, organizations need leaders that help their communities make progress toward vital organizational goals. Organizations need leaders who are being productive, making progress, and are advancing what matters most to the community they serve.

These are simple questions, but ones that brings significant focus to my life and leadership.

  • Am I confusing motion with progress?”
  • Am I being busy, but not being productive?”

Our communities do not ultimately need busy executives. Our communities need leaders who are are guiding our organizations and making progress toward goals that matter. I encourage you to join me in applying this Druckerian wisdom in your day-to-day work, life, and leadership. Don’t confuse motion with progress!

6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision

mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

Photo Credit: mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

In a previous post, I highlighted the importance of Leading from the Front with Vision. Focusing on why vision matters, Burt Nanus provides a list of characteristics of organizations with and without vision. Here is a summary of these characteristics:

Organizations with Vision

Organizations without Vision

  • Opportunity-Driven
  • Focused on Change
  • Progressing toward Goals
  • Oriented Strategically
  • Focused on Long-Term Results
  • Proactive
  • Problem-Driven
  • Focused on Stability
  • Focused on Past Performance
  • Oriented Tactically
  • Focused on Short-Term Results
  • Reactive

An orientation toward change, pursuing opportunities, working toward goals, focusing strategically, paying attention to long-term interests, and being proactive tend to go along with visionary focus.

Based on these characteristics, are you embedded in an organization with or without vision? If you are leader, are you guiding your organization with vision?

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?

Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

Leadership vs. Management, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Leadership vs. Management, on Flickr

Leading from the front requires leading with vision!

Engaging the question, “Why does vision matter?” Burt Nanus offers the following reflection:

Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead form the front. Effective leaders don’t push or production their followers. They don’t boss them around or manipulate them. They are out front showing the way. The vision allows leaders to inspire, attract, align, and energize their followers—to empower them by encouraging them to become part of a common enterprise dedicated to achieving the vision.”

In this brief post I encourage you to consider whether you’re leading from the front or whether you’re leading from behind. Are you calling people to an inspiring vision of what can be, or are you pushing and prodding followers to do what they really are not committed to already?

Vision helps to motivate followers intrinsically rather than extrinsically. Vision helps to lead from the front!