Are You Able to Lead with Clarity and Calmness?

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

One of the “tweetable” leadership thoughts I like to share often is the following:

Followers need clarity and calmness in challenging times.
Provide authenticity and a non-anxious presence for those you lead.

There is actually a lot of thought, and research, that goes behind this call for clarity, calmness, and a non-anxious presence. Some of this research may be found in an article a colleague and I have published in the academic journal Management Research Review. If you don’t have access to this journal, you may find another discussion of the research directly here through the American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences.

In the face of challenging times, followers need clarity, calmness, authenticity, and a non-anxious presence from their leaders.

What do I mean by this? I’ll use some quick points of contrast to explain.

This Type of Leadership IS NOT About:

  • Leaders “having it all together,”
  • Leaders pretending to have all the answers, or
  • Leaders being overly controlling.

This Type of Leadership IS About:

  • Leaders being calm… engaging with a non-anxious presence,
  • Leaders providing followers with clarity … being clear and authentic with what can be shared, and
  • Leaders guiding with conviction … leading with moral resolve and fortitude.

“Self-Differentiation”

In the study noted above, we found that leader resiliency was associated with a social science construct called self-differentiation. Self-differentiated leaders are able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of what often raises anxiety for others.

The reality is those who lead in the manner described in this post face challenges just like any other leader. The difference is in how they respond.

Responding with Clarity and Calmness

Rather than letting circumstances dictate their demeanor, self-differentiated leaders find a way to recognize the challenging realities and then approach these realities in a calm and non-anxious manner.

I don’t know about you, but I love to work for and follow leaders like this. I also desire to provide such leadership for others as I’m able.

So what about you? Are you able and willing to lead with clarity and calmness? Remember:

Followers need clarity and calmness in challenging times.
Provide authenticity and a non-anxious presence for those you lead!

Easter, The Gospel, & Virtuous Leadership

Peeps, Mike Mozart, Flickr

Peeps, Mike Mozart, Flickr

Easter week is just around the corner as I write this post. At the heart of Easter is the message of the gospel. In this brief post, I’d like to make some connections between the core message of Easter and leadership practice.

Ethics matter for those working in at diverse organizational levels. But ethics especially matter for leaders.

We want to know that what our leaders say is true. We want to see that the actions of our leaders are consistent with what they say as leaders.

General Ethical Approaches

Though certainly an oversimplification of ethical theory, we can argue that there are three primary approaches to ethics:

  • Virtue Ethics
  • Duty Ethics
  • Utilitarian Ethics

Here is a brief overview of these approaches drawn from an article I wrote with a colleague:

  Virtue Ethics Duty Ethics Utilitarian Ethics
Key operational question Who ought I to be? What ought I to do? What brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number?
Definition of Happiness Fulfilling one’s purpose or function Adherence to moral absolutes Maximization of pleasure, absence of pain
Focus Character of the individual Rules and resulting obligations of the individual Outcomes and consequences
  • A utilitarian approach to ethics bases decisions on what brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number.
  • A duty-based approach (or deontological approach) to ethics bases decisions on what one ought to do.
  • A virtue-based approach to ethics bases decisions on who one ought to be.

The Priority of Virtue Ethics

While there are supporting arguments for each of these ethical paths, I find that the most effective form of ethical practice is grounded in virtue-oriented approaches. Why is this?

In times of crisis and ethically challenging circumstances, people will tend to do what is natural to them. They will act in accordance with who they are. Because of this, the most powerful approach to ethics is one that takes seriously the formation of ethical people at a level of virtues and character.

Though we need moral guidance (a deontological and duty-based approach), the capacity to act on this comes from moral fortitude (an ontological and virtue-based approach).

Virtuous leadership requires virtuous leaders. Ethical leadership requires ethical leaders.

Because of this, a foundational question in this discussion is how does one become a virtuous person/leader?

The Gospel and Virtue Ethics

I don’t want to imply that only Christians may be virtuous leaders. Certainly we can all think of Christians we know who have not acted virtuously and those of other non-Christian commitments who do act virtuously.

I do want to emphasize that the Christian gospel provides a powerful answer to the question of how one becomes a virtuous person/leader.

At the heart of Easter is the gospel. The gospel centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross, remembered in the heart of Holy Week, is at the center of the Christian faith. Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for sinful people and to restore wholeness to our broken world. Those who trust in Jesus’ work on their behalf are offered forgiveness for their sins and are welcomed into both God’s family and God’s mission of restoring and healing a broken world. At Easter, we celebrate not only Jesus’ death, but also his being raised to life three days later to demonstrate His power over sin and death.

So How Does this Relate to Virtue-Based Leadership?

The gospel is not about good, moral, or virtuous people offering themselves to God. The gospel is about sinful, immoral, and broken people being made new by Christ’s work in their lives.

We can never be good enough, moral enough, or righteous enough to make ourselves right before God. Only God’s work in us by the gospel can do that.

What does this mean for a Christian approach to virtue ethics?

Rather than seeking to be virtuous in order to make ourselves right before God, in the gospel we yield to the God who is able to make us right before him.

The gospel does not lower the ethical bar. The gospel does not say that sin and unethical leader behavior doesn’t matter. Rather, the gospel gives us a pathway for changing us from the inside out. The gospel gives us a hopeful path on which we can start to see change. The gospel gives us a credible answer to the question of how one may become a virtuous person/leader.

The answer is not in our own virtuous behavior, but rather in looking to the God of Easter who is able to do in us what we are not able to do ourselves.

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.

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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?

 

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!

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!

Tolstoy on Leadership

Leo Tolstoy, Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Leo Tolstoy, Wikipedia

I recently came across again an interesting essay by Tolstoy in The Leaders Companion by Wren. Tolstoy’s treatment of rulers and generals as historys slaves started the journey and caught my attention. The following excerpt of Tolstoy seems to capture the heart of the argument he makes:

In historic events, the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself. every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity.”

Tolstoys Challenge to Leader Autonomy

In terms of my response to this, on the one hand I want to quickly dismiss this as an overly deterministic view of leaders embedded in history. On the other hand, when I sit with this a bit longer, I find it helpful to consider Tolstoy’s challenge to look beyond the leader as individual to the larger system of which the leader is part.

Factors beyond the Leader

There are not only leaders—the “great men” to which Tolstoy refers—there are also followers. On this point of followers Tolstoy writes, “It was necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real powershould consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals [the great men], and should have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and complex causes.”

In addition to leaders and followers, as Tolstoy alludes, there are “an infinite number of diverse and complex causes” that make up the organizational, societal, and global contexts within which situations of historic magnitude are carried out. Leaders are not islands unto themselves—they are surrounded by followers and wider systems that influence them whether they recognize this influence or not.

The Limits of Autonomy for Prominent Leaders

Although I do not immediately like the overly deterministic interpretation of history, Tolstoy’s challenge is an important one to consider. His primary argument is that those of higher social standing—and those of more prominent leadership responsibility like the Napoleons and Alexanders of history—have limited personal determination that may be exerted outside of the “predestination and inevitability” of their actions.

Public Leadership in Historical Perspective

This goes against the grain of contemporary notions of leaders setting their own course. However, it is accurate to acknowledge that when a leader has a substantially broad scope of leadership responsibility, there are exponentially more factors that influence the decision making processes of that leader. Many of these factors are outside of the leader’s own personal wishes and determination. As Tolstoy notes, even when leaders appear to “act of their own will,” the reality may often be that leader decisions become involuntary “in an historical sense.”

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What do you think of Tolstoy’s argument about public and historic leaders? Do individuals actually lose some freedom, autonomy, and self-determination when they assume large-scale and global leadership responsibilities? Have you observed this as you read about large-scale and/or historic leadership?

8 Core Leadership Abilities

Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

Photo Credit: Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz identifies 8 abilities that the best leaders possess. Here is the list, along with a brief description and summary of each item on the list.

  1. Strategic Orientation: The capacity to engage in broad, complex analytical and conceptual thinking.” The new realities surrounding organizations demand that leaders have a capacity to engage in strategic thinking in the face of complexity.  Are you thinking about your organizational realities through a strategic lens?
  2. Market Insight: A strong understanding of the market and how it affects the business.” Along with increased complexity, the world is more connected to our organizations than ever before. Are you paying attention to the environment surrounding your organization and how this environment will shape the way your organization goes about its work?
  3. Results Orientation: A commitment to demonstrably improving key business metrics.” Increases in complexity and connectivity in our world translate into increased competition. This increased competition necessitates that leaders pay attention to performance for the things that matter to your community. Are you measuring what matters most to your organization?
  4. Customer Impact: A passion for serving the customer.” In-grown organizations will struggle to thrive in the changing economy. Who do you serve as an organization? Do you have a passion for providing the best possible service for these individuals and communities?
  5. Collaboration and Influence: An ability to work effectively with peers or partners, including those not in the line of command.” Leadership in today’s organizations is not simply about individuals getting individual work accomplished. Complex problems require complex solutions that are often worked out in collaboration. Do you possess a collaborative orientation?
  6. Organizational Development: A drive to improve the company by attracting and developing top talent.” Finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent is a substantial need in the coming years. Factors such as globalization and demographic shifts are making this need more pronounced. How are you leading your organization in a path of intentional leadership development?
  7. Team Leadership: Success in focusing, aligning, and building effective groups.” As noted above related to collaboration, it is no longer about individuals accomplishing individual outcomes. Organizations today require effective groups or teams working together to accomplish increasingly complex outcomes. Are you developing your capacity as a team player?
  8. Change Leadership: The capacity to transform and align an organization around a new goal.” Our changing world translates into dynamic and changing organizations. How are you developing your change leadership capacity? As a community this will be essential as you lean into these organizational and environment transitions?

As the world around us changes, a capacity to adapt to new environments is critical. As you consider these 8 Core Leadership Abilities, what are your strengths? What are your growth edges? Are you committed both to developing yourself and those around you to meet the demands of leadership today?