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!

Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation (Leadership Practice 2)

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective 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.

Last week I highlighted the first practice—Modeling what Matters. This week, we turn to the second practice—Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation.

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Serving as a foundation for authentic modeling of what matters (Practice 1), the next servant leadership practice is Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. One of the unique features of this practice is its emphasis on self-evaluation sequentially prior to the leader’s evaluation of others. While it may be easy for leaders to recognize faults and mistakes in others, leaders must first engage in in the hard work of looking in the mirror and engaging in a self-evaluative process of reflection.

The Leader’s First Look

This practice is consistent with the biblical admonition to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Engaging in honest self-evaluation requires leader humility. It requires a capacity for self-awareness. It requires a willingness to reflect on personal faults and shortcomings which shape the organizational environment and the experience that followers have in the organization.

Being (and Growing as) Humans

Shann Ferch argued that “one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to discern one’s own faults, to be broken as the result of such faults, and in response to seek a meaningful change.” Leaders are not exempt from such important human characteristics. The issue is not whether or not leaders have faults and make mistakes in their leadership practice at times. Rather, the issue is whether or not leaders have the capacity to reflect on these mistakes and engage in honest self-reflection and self-evaluation. Leaders who do this are able to learn from their mistakes and then grow as persons and as leaders.

Greater Influence Necessitates Greater Reflection

Emphasizing the importance of honest self-evaluation, research participants noted among other things the danger of leader blind spots and unquestioned assumptions. One participant noted, “Honest self-evaluation is utterly important for leaders,” and that, “the blind spots of leaders tend to be far more destructive than the blind spots of non-leaders [because leaders] … impact more people.” In other words, the scope of one’s influence matters. While honest self-evaluation is vital for all people, it is critical for those with significant influence.

Self-Evaluation and Role of Trusted Friends

Research participants further noted the dangers of unconscious self-exaltation and the drift toward arrogance and individualism. They argued that honest self-evaluation is best accomplished when trusted friends are invited to provide the leader with feedback on their growth edges. In addition to effecting the leader’s personal growth, the absence of honest self-evaluation on the part of leaders decreases the capacity of teams to change and attain goals in an effective manner.

Looking in the Mirror 

It’s one thing to read about self-reflection and self-evaluation as a leader. It is another thing altogether to actually do the work of honest self-evaluation.

Have you taken time recently to pause for self-reflection as a leader? How are you evaluating your engagement with those on your team? Are you doing this evaluation on your own, or have you invited a trusted friend to provide honest feedback so that you may better see your leader blind spots?

Though pausing for self-reflection and self-evaluation may feel like you are simply not getting your work done, the research study that backs these reflections prioritizes leader self-evaluation as a first-order priority for leaders. Pausing for reflection and evaluation allows you the opportunity to make mid-course corrections in your leadership, contribute to higher levels of follower job-satisfaction, and contribute to the increased effectiveness of your team.

Take time for an honest look in the mirror today.

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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

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

A Syllabus for Personal Learning

Learn Sign, philosophygeek, Flickr

Photo Credit: Learn Sign, philosophygeek, Flickr

A Syllabus for Personal Learning

I am a professor, so syllabi are a regular part of my life. As we move toward the start of fall semester classes, syllabi are in place and I’m getting ready for the start of a new year.

I was in a faculty workshop today that referenced “the power of the syllabus” for personal learning.

What is the purpose of a course syllabus? A well-formatted course syllabus provides an overview of several key learning features such Learning Goals, Learning Resources, and Learning Assignments.

These features may also be helpful for our personal learning.

As you look to the next 6-12 months in your personal learning and development, perhaps it’s time to explore a Personal Learning Syllabus.

Here are a few recommendations as you consider whether a syllabus for life-learning may be helpful for you.

1.  Learning Goals

As you think about your personal desires for learning, what are your goals for the next 6-12 months? Goals are often shaped by topics we are interested in pursuing.

Are you interested in learning more about change? Are you interested in learning more about effective leadership practice? Are you interested in focusing on your personal or spiritual formation as a leader?

Whatever these topics are, consider 2-3 learning goals you have for your personal leadership development in the coming 6-12 months. Write these goals down. Keep them in a place that will trigger your learning around these goals.

2.  Learning Resources

Based on the goals you identify, what are the tools and learning resources that will assist you? These resources may be books, magazines, journals, key mentoring relationships, relevant blogs, or other learning tools.

As you scan a diverse set of learning resources, what are the 3-5 key learning resources that will best facilitate your engagement around your goals?

3.  Learning Assignments and Activities

Finally, in addition to learning goals and learning resources, what learning assignments or activities may contribute toward your learning goals? This may include:

  • attending conferences, classes, workshops
  • taking a personal assessment
  • organizing your thinking into relevant blog posts
  • journaling or other writing exercises
  • visiting key people or organizations that provide models of excellence around the leadership or learning themes you are pursuing.

The key is to not leave learning at the level of goals and reading. It includes bringing this reflection to a place of action and implementation. Creative learning assignments and activities provide a context for synthesizing personal learning.

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So, what are your goals for learning in the coming months? What learning resources and activities will help facilitate progress toward our learning goals?

Perhaps a Personal Learning Syllabus will help to organize your thinking in this area and help you make tangible progress around these goals.

If you end up implementing this idea, please share how it worked for you!

 

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!

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!

Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

Humanity, Love, Respect (B.S. Wise, Flickr)

Photo Credit: Humanity, Love, Respect, by B.S. Wise, Flickr

The challenges leaders face in developing motivation and empowerment among followers are many.

There may be challenges in the interpersonal or dyadic relationship between individual leaders and followers. There may be challenges within the team or group environment at any of the forming, storming, norming, or performing stages. There may be challenges at the level of organizational systems within which leaders and followers are embedded. Or, there may be challenges external to the organization such as a difficult economic environment straining follower and leader expectations of performance.

Beginning with Leader Self-Reflection

While each of these levels may be challenges to motivation and empowerment, leaders should begin by considering their own role in leadership challenges. In a previous post I argued that Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership. When leaders face challenges in motivating and empowering followers it is important to first look to themselves as leaders—to begin seeing how they personally may have contributed to demotivating followers. The Bible makes this priority personal: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

As a leader,
are you prone to look first to the proverbial speck in a follower’s eye,
or the log in our own eye?

Avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error

In challenging times it is easy to look to others or our environment and assign fault to them. This tendency is described by some as the fundamental attribution error or actor-observer bias. But thoughtful leaders are self-reflective leaders. They resist the fundamental attribution error and consider how they personally may be contributing to a problem and how followers may be impacted by their environment. They are leaders willing to look first to their contribution to a situation and work out from there to other relevant contributing factors.

Desiring Personal Humility

In light of such logic, we might argue that the greatest challenge to motivating and empowering followers is me and you. It is about self-reflection and self-leadership first. Jim Collin’s notes this point in his book Good to Great. At the heart of Collins’ work is the concept of level five leadership. Collins describes Level Five Leaders as having a unique blend of both professional will and personal humility. With such a blend, a leader has the self-confidence and self-efficacy to own that they do not have all of the answers and that they have less control than they may have originally thought. They also are willing to look into the mirror and see what their contribution is to the lack of motivation among followers.

Pressing Forward with Personal Humility and Follower Motivation

As leaders engage in personal reflection, embrace a spirit of humility, and acknowledge their own contribution to challenges … powerful result emerges. Rather than thinking less of leaders, followers generally grow in their respect for leaders who demonstrate authenticity and a willingness to own their part in challenges. Along this path, leaders begin by truly recognizing where actual power lies—with the wider organizational membership and not just leaders. From this place, leaders are able to motivate followers in authentic and meaningful ways. This motivation may take the form of genuinely valuing and developing people. It may also take the form of channeling followers to orient their attention on vision and performance that matters to them and the organization.

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Leader self-reflection and humility is a key starting point in making such motivation and empowerment come to life. Have you seen positive examples of leader humility in your organizations? What impact did this have on the community and the overall motivation experienced by organizational members?

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?

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