#9 … Top Posts from 2015 — Remembering A Life Well-Lived

 

C. Mervin Russell

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015 [link]. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #9 post from 2015 was …

A Life Well-Lived:
Remembering My Grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell

My grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell, passed away at 93 years of age in January of 2015. On the heels of our family’s memorial service remember Grandpa’s life, I wanted to take some time to think about what his life meant to me and so many others.

These reflections led me to reflect on a passage from the Bible in Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith
.”

Grandpa Russell’s life was indeed a life well-lived. Grandpa’s life was a gift to me. And, based on the number of individuals that took time to engage with this post, there are many others who were blessed by him as well — both directly and indirectly.

I invite you to join me, one year later, in reflecting again on a life well lived, and then considering how his life may be an example for us in the days ahead.

Here’s a link to the Purpose in Leadership #9 post from 2015:

A Life Well-Lived:
Remembering My Grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell

BUSY = The Enemy of Strategic Leadership

Strategy, Stefan Erschwendner, Flickr

Strategy, Stefan Erschwendner, Flickr

Leaders vs. Managers

The work of managers and leaders is different (See my previous post on key distinctions of leadership and management here). In larger organizations, some roles have the luxury of focusing on one or the other. Increasingly, organizations are looking to individuals to fulfill both roles within the same position.

Individuals are being ask to consider both giving direction (a leadership function) to their team and organizational unit and also guiding processes with efficiency of execution (a managerial function). Drawing on John Kotter and others, here are some key difference between leadership and management.

Leadership is about Doing the Right Thing by:

  • Direction Setting
  • Aligning
  • Motivating

Management is about Doing Things Right by:

  • Planning and Budgeting
  • Organizing and Staffing
  • Controlling and Problem-Solving

Vision, Strategy, & Goals

Both “Doing the Right Thing” (leadership effectiveness) and “Doing Things Right” (managerial efficiency) are vital in organizations. While both of these activities require time and attention, and busyness can be the enemy of both healthy leadership and management, perpetual busyness is especially the enemy of the leadership function of direction setting.

Time is required for setting direction as a strategic leader. It requires time to think. It requires time to reflect.

Healthy organizational vision, organizational strategy, and organizational goals come best to those who pull back from busyness for intentional time to think and reflect.

Identifying the Right Strategy

The issue is not whether or not your organization has a strategy. The issue is whether or not you have the right strategy. Leaders must continually be asking whether or not they are focused on the right things for their organization.

While strategic questions may be asked in seasons of busyness, thoughtful answers to these questions often only come when enough mental bandwidth is freed up in the life of leaders. Strategic insights come most often when there is intentional space to think and reflect.

Hard Work vs. Busy Work

Certainly hard work is core to successful organizations. Organizations thrive when talented members pull together with conscientious, attentive, and coordinated work.

But hard work and busy work are not the same thing. Busy work is not necessarily the hard work that your organization needs. As I share in another post, make sure that you Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress (see related post here). It is possible to be busy and not be effective.

The Work of Leaders = Time for Thought and Reflection

So what is the Hard Work to which leaders must devote their time?

One answer to this is to engage in the work of thought and reflection. This seems simple, but actually there are many factors that often work against this strategic priority for leader time management. Demanding schedules, organizational fires that need to be addressed, requests for time and attention, and just general busyness can work against this “simple” leadership agenda. In response to such demands, it is all too easy for leaders choose busy work over hard work.

Over time, in the face of such realities organizations often create a work climate that validates busy. This validation is rooted in the belief that busy = hard work, and that hard work = organizational performance. While it sometimes works this way, often we are making assumptions that are not accurate.

Sometimes working smarter rather than just working harder requires a different pace—a pace that provides space for the leadership work of thought and reflection. So how are you making time for this vital work of strategic leadership?

Making Time for the Work of Strategic Leadership

Leaders must make time for the work of strategic leadership. This is especially important because the cultures of our organizations are often working against finding this time. It doesn’t just happen—leaders must make time for this vital work.

Some of the most effective public leaders have made time for this work. Warren Buffett is known for insisting on time to just sit and think almost every day. Bill Gates was known for taking a full week off twice a year in order to think and reflect about the strategic needs of Microsoft.

7 Questions for Leaders Engaging the Work of Strategic Leadership

  1. Are we staying focused on what matters most?
  2. What is changing around us that requires a strategic course correction?
  3. What are we doing that needs to be ended or scaled back?
  4. What are we doing that needs to be continued or scaled up?
  5. What are we doing that needs to be improved or strengthened?
  6. What is missing? What are we not doing that needs to be introduced?
  7. What’s next? What is our next top priority for strategic focus?

Taking Time for the Work of Strategic Leadership

The work of strategic leadership is vital for organizational health and effectiveness. Are you too busy for strategic leadership, or are you making time and setting busyness aside for this essential leadership work?

Find some time in the next month to step back from the busy pace of leadership so that you may engage these 7 questions in the work of strategic leadership.

*************
For additional reading on strategy and leadership see Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Fostering Collaboration (Leadership Practice 3)

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, 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 past two weeks I highlighted the first two practices—Modeling what Matters and Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. This week, we turn to the third practice—Fostering Collaboration.

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Dwight D. Eisenhower is attributed with saying “It is better to have one person working with you than three people working for you.” Such logic is at the heart of collaboration, and effective leaders prioritize fostering collaboration in their teams and organizations. In contrast to overly competitive leadership agendas, this leadership behavior—Fostering Collaboration—highlights the importance of leaders encouraging followers to work together over competing against one another in the organizational environment.

Collaboration and Complexity

Noting the importance of fostering collaboration, one research participant argues that, “solutions to complex problems today often require a collaborative engagement with others, the collective of which will generate the best solution.” Another participant acknowledges that no one person can meet the demands placed on leadership, and thus “collaboration allows a leader to expand the leadership resources brought into the leadership process.”

The Priority of Authentic Collaboration

Providing a key argument for viewing this practice as part of beginning with authentic leaders, one participant in my study noted the danger of collaborative gestures coming across as token invitations for follower participation. When a leader “just wants to appear like he/she is collaborating, but doesn’t really care about input from others,” such inauthentic collaborative gestures become toxic for leader-follower relationships and the broader organizational culture. However, when genuine respect for followers is blended with a listening posture, a suspension of leader predispositions, and a willingness to give credit to others and embrace solutions that come from others, there is great power in leaders working with followers on genuinely collaborative agendas.

Going Far Together

There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Those who want to go far in leadership enterprises recognize the priority of a collaborative environment.

How are you doing at fostering collaboration in your sphere of influence? Do you recognize the priority of working together in order to go far? Take the next step in fostering collaboration in your work as a leader!

————————-

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

————————-

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

Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

Photo Credit: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, by Scott Maxwell, Flickr

“A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself
and his contribution to praise the skills of the others.”
– Norman Shidle

Most people participate in some form of a team or group on a regular basis. This happens through recreation in the realm of sports and clubs. This happens on the job as people come together to get things done within organizations.

Although you likely have been part of both groups and teams in the past, do you understand the difference? What are the key distinctions between a group and a team?

Defining Teams

Larson and LaFasto describe three basic characteristics of teams.

  1. Two or more people
  2. Specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained
  3. Coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective

Independent or Coordinated Effort

Larson and LaFasto’s third point is the key to answering our question.

  • Groups organize around individuals bringing together independent work in light of individual goals.
  • Teams organize around individuals bringing together coordinated work in light of collective goals.

Contrasting Groups and Teams

Groups

Teams

Independent Work

Individual Goals

Individual Accountability

Individual Evaluation

Coordinated Work

Collective Goals

Mutual Accountability

Collective Evaluation

Valuing Both

I highly value teaming done well. However, there is a time and place for both groups and teams.

Groups are generally more helpful for quickly and efficiently getting things done in the context of a temporary working relationship. When individual and independent work can be brought together to advance the individual goals of multiple parties, then a group is an efficient way to work together. Many of the group projects and assignments I’ve completed over the years of my schooling fit into this group model.

Teams are generally more helpful for taking on bigger projects over a longer period of time. When the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective way to work together. Although teaming done well tends to take more time than working as a group, this extra time investment pays off in the quality of the team’s performance.

Speed or Quality

  • Groups are best when the stakes are lower and speed is the key.
  • Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than speed.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

– African proverb

This African proverb sums it up well. Though most of us want to go fast AND far, usually we have to prioritize one over the other. Groups help us go fast. Teams help us go far.

Enjoy the journey of working with others. I’d love to hear your experience of working with groups and teams!

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.

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!