Leadership: A Commitment to Learning

Learning by Anne Davis, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Learning by Anne Davis, on Flickr

The Cry for Leadership…

In an essay entitled “The Cry for Leadership,” John Gardner notes the following:

“Most men and women go through their lives using no more than a fraction—usually a rather small fraction—of the potentialities within them. The reservoir of unused human talent and energy is vast, and learning to tap that reservoir more effectively is one of the exciting tasks ahead for humankind.”

As someone who is at a mid-career point in my life, leadership, and work, such observations press the question of whether I will:

(1) simply rest on the skills/knowledge I’ve already developed (using the fraction Gardner notes), or will I

(2) aim to continue learning in the second half of my life and professional service of others?

Such a question motivates me as a practitioner-learner. In service of others, I want to commit myself to ongoing learning. Leadership = A Commitment to Learning. If I am committed to the servant leadership values I hold, this commitment leads me to a path of life-long learning. A commitment to leadership translates into a commitment to learning.

As a leader, how are you committing yourself to learning in service  of others?

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.

10 HBR Must Reads: THE ESSENTIALS

I’ve become a fan of HBR’s 10 Must Reads series. This series provides an efficient way to access key HBR articles on a variety of subjects such as teams, strategy, and change management.

Perhaps the best volume for getting started is their “The Essentials” volume. It is entitled HBR’s 10 Must Reads: The Essentials and provides what they say is “an introduction to the most enduring ideas on management from Harvard Business Review.”

Here’s an over of the10 articles in The Essentials for HBR’s 10 Must Reads. I’m putting in bold my favorites from this list:

  1. “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change,” by Clayton M. Christensen & Michael Overdorf, (orchestrating innovation within established organizations)
  2. “Competing on Analytics,” by Thomas H. Davenport, (using analytics to determine how to keep your customers loyal)
  3. “Managing Oneself,” by Peter F. Drucker (managing your career by evaluating your own strengths and weaknesses)
  4. “What Makes a Leader?” by Daniel Goleman, (using emotional intelligence to maximize performance)
  5. “Putting the Balanced Scorecard to Work,” by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton (measuring your company’s strategy with the Balanced Scorecard)
  6. “Innovation: The Classic Traps,” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (avoiding common mistakes when pushing innovation forward)
  7. “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” by John P. Kotter (leading change through eight steps)
  8. “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt (understanding who your customers are and what they really want)
  9. “What Is Strategy?” by Michael E. Porter (creating competitive advantage and distinguishing your company from rivals)
  10. “The Core Competence of the Corporation,” by C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel (identifying the unique, integrated systems that support your strategy)

Check out this resource when you get a chance!

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

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.

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