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.

_______________________________

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

Macro Change through Micro Improvements

Sunny Pebbles, Laura Thorne, Flickr

Photo Credit: Sunny Pebbles, by Laura Thorne, Flickr

I read an interesting article in The Economist recently. It is entitled Little Things that Mean A Lot, and the author argues that businesses should aim for lots of small wins that add up to something big.

New Routes to Organizational Success

The article focused primarily on the role of analyzing large pools of data in order to identify opportunities for incremental improvement. One illustration came from UPS. In America, there are some 60,000 UPS vans that drive 100 plus miles each day. If through data analysis UPS can find ways to reduce driving by 1 mile per day for each van, it is estimated that the company would save close to $50 million in fuel and related costs each year.

Although most of us are not looking for $50 million in small wins for our organizations, the new market realities in our world are calling for most organizations (for profit and nonprofit alike) to look for both big and small opportunities. Most of the “big wins” have already been identified since the beginning of the Great Recession. It is now time for organizations to up their game in finding the “small wins.”

Building a Mountain with Pebbles

One of the quotes in the article expresses the need in this manner: “It is about building a mountain with pebbles.” While most of us would simply prefer to find the mountain, the new realities of our world often translate to using a both-and approach to organizational improvements.  We need to have an explorer mindset, looking for new mountains of opportunity. We also need to have the mindset of the statistician, looking for macro opportunities within the micro dimensions of business and organizational life.

Explorers and Statisticians

How are you pursuing big-wins through small opportunities? How are you maintaining the entrepreneurial mindset of the explorer, while also seeing the details as the researcher or statistician would? This requires us to partner well with others on this journey. This requires us to build our teams with a diversity of expertise so that we can pursue growth and opportunity on both fronts.

Enjoy the journey, and keep your eyes open for macro change through micro improvements.

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.

______________________________

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

Cease Striving — Calling Leaders to Rest

Rest Here, Esther Simpson, Flickr

Photo Credit: Rest Here, by Esther Simpson, Flickr

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” – Ps. 46:10

Getting Things Done

As leaders, we tend to be achievers. We tend toward making things happen… toward work… toward activity… toward doing… toward performance… toward striving.

Of course, these characteristics have some very positive dimensions to them. Things tend to get done. Teams tend to perform. Organizations tend to run well. But can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to this leadership tendency?

Too Much of a Good Thing…Cease Striving

For Christian leaders, it is important to remember that leadership does not just happen by human effort and work. The reality of God’s existence changes the leadership equation for our lives as leaders and for our organizations. Christians believe in a God who does not simply sit back and watch His people work. Rather, Christians believe in a God who not only watches, but He is also engaged in the work itself.

The verse quoted above calls us to be still, to cease striving, and to know that God is God (Ps. 46:10). We are called to trust that God is at work even when we are not. We are called to trust that God is in control even when we feel we are not. We are call to take the attention off of ourselves and our striving, and transfer that attention to God who is actively engaged in our lives, organizations, and world.

He Gives to His Beloved Even as They Sleep

Beyond Psalm 46, there are many other passages in the Bible that remind us as leaders that striving is not always the answer. Sometimes the answer is resting rather than striving, because God is at work even when we are not.

One of my favorite passages on this point is Psalm 127:2…

It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep
.”

What a powerful reality. God gives to us, even when we sleep. God works while we rest.

Some versions translate the end of this verse as “he grants sleep to those he loves.” The reality is both concepts are true and powerful. He gives us sleep. He gives to us and our communities while we sleep.

Resting in the One Who Works

As leaders who work hard during the day, we should take time to “cease striving” and to rest. We should cease our work and go to sleep in peace knowing that:

  1. God grants sleep to his beloved, and
  2. Even in our sleep, God is still working on behalf of those who are resting in Him.

Good Theology = Good Rest

What powerful theology for those in need of rest. As leaders, we need to be able to shut down and rest. We need to be shut down and spend time with friends and family. We need to be able to shut down and sleep.

Leaders who believe the entire story of leadership success is written by their own effort will struggle to find the rest and restoration they and their people need. As we trust that God is at work, even when we are not, then the rest we need as leaders will be found by relying on the one who graciously works on our behalf.

Are you finding your rest in the Lord? Are you waiting on the one who is able to work for you? Are you finding refreshment by resting in the one who gives to His people even while they sleep?

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!

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?

Chaos, Creativity, and Connectedness: Learning to Embrace the New Organizational Story

From Chaos to Order, Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr

Photo Credit: From Chaos to Order, Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr

I enjoyed reading Margaret Wheatley’s book Finding our Way: Leadership for Uncertain Time recently. Wheatley discusses at length the important shift from old stories to new.

The Old Organizational Story

The old organizational story that Wheatley emphasizes is a mechanistic story in which a desire for predictability and consistency is pursued. Wheatley notes, “We want a story of simple dimensions: People can be viewed as machines and controlled to perform with the same efficiency and predictability.” As efficient as this goal or desire seems, Wheatley notes that there is one major problem with it: “people never behave like machines,” and when we try to have them act like machines we “ignore the deep realities of human existence” and “take the complexity of human life and organize it away.”

The New Organizational Story

In contrast to this old story, Wheatley is calling for a new story that is a tale of life…one where the complexities of human life are embraced and welcomed rather than controlled and managed away. Wheatley notes that, “Life seeks organization, but it uses messes to get there. Organization is a process, not a structure.” When we, as leaders and managers, simply try to mechanistically structure organization, we often work against rather than with the larger patterns of organization at work in the world.

On this point, Wheatley notes, “Self-organizing systems have the capacity to create for themselves the aspects of organization that we thought leaders had to provide. Self-organizing systems create structures and pathways, networks of communication, values and meaning, behaviors and norms.” In such a model, Wheatley is arguing for the importance of both creativity and connectedness in the life of the organization.

Pursuing Creativity and Connectedness

Pursuing creativity and connectedness feels messy and can feel at odds with the need for stability and consistency. This is one of the largest challenges. As leaders and organizations, are we willing to let go of perceived order pursued through mechanistic means in order to find deeper and more authentic order through more organic means?

Organizations and Chaos Theory

Chaos seems to be a threatening concept for many organizational leaders, but Wheatley reminds us that sometimes the deepest order is found in the midst of self-organizing systems that seem quite unorganized. In Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, Wheatley points to realities in our world such as fractal and spiraling structures that manifest deep order from what seems chaotic at first glance. Although seemingly at odds with our desire to pursue organizational structure through mechanistic means, Wheatley challenges us to look for order where we typically see chaos.

Pursuing Meaningfulness—What Matters Most

One final point: I love Wheatley’s emphasis on creativity being found through meaning. “As soon as people become interested in an issue, their creativity is engaged. If we want people to be innovative, leaders must engage them in meaningful issues.” Rather than having to prod and production followers through extrinsic means in the mechanistic model, tapping into what is meaningful allows us to pursue creativity through intrinsic motivation of opportunities that are meaningful in a more organic model.

_______________________

How do you respond to Wheatley’s arguments? Looking to the new story and themes surrounding chaos, creativity, and connectedness can feel uncomfortable at first, but I encourage you to give it time and thought. Sometimes the most power insights come to us in unexpected ways.

Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership

Reflection "I", VisualAge Flickr

Photo Credit: Reflection “I”, VisualAge Flickr

There is one prerequisite for managing the second half of life;
You must begin doing so long before you enter it.”

– Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker brought an insightful voice to management studies in the 20th century. One of my favorite articles by Drucker is a Harvard Business Review piece called “Managing Oneself.”

Drucker argues that there is an explicit connection between excellence in management and the cultivation of understanding of oneself. To extend this, we might argue that effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership. Or, put as a question…

How can I lead others well if I am not first leading myself well?

A commitment to such a question leads to critical self-management questions. Drucker raised the following self-management questions in his article:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. How do I learn?
  4. What are my values?
  5. Where do I belong?
  6. What should I contribute?

Of these questions, I would argue that knowing ones strengths and values is a top priority for leaders.

Attending to Our Strengths

Regarding strengths, Drucker notes, “To do things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself,” and “only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” Understanding strengths allows us to build on the positive dimensions already present in our lives rather than working to improve deficits. On this point Drucker notes, “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” In the pursuit of leadership excellence, building on strengths is a first order priority for those engaged in self-leadership.

Attending to Our Values

But strengths are not the only story. Strengths must be grounded in the things that matter most to us and our communities—our values. On this point, Drucker notes, “What one does well—even very well and successfully—may not fit with one’s value system.” Strengths and skills must be guided by values. Values should form the basis for understanding and applying our strengths. Strengths applied without values can quickly lead to ethical and moral violations in leadership. Strengths applied in congruence with deeply held values provide a basis for our natural talents to serve rather than abuse the communities of which we are part.

Effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership! Are you attending to your strengths? Are you attending to your values?

______________________________

I’d love to hear how you have engaged effective self-management and self-leadership in your life and work!