An Archaic Definition of Leadership

LeadershipDefnArchaic2 “A position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.”  This is Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of the word leadership.  I envision that someday there will be an italicized word next to this definition – archaic.

First of all there is no need for using the word leadership in this way.  There is already a better word for this, it’s management.  When referring to a position within an organization, just call it management.  Management is about position, structure, authority, business.  Leadership is about people, relationship, influence, life.

Often leadership is used to distinguish upper management from lower management.  But again this isn’t necessary.  Call it upper management or executive management.  Please don’t call it senior management, though, that has its own issues.  Senior management conjures up images of silverbacks in the boardroom drinking their discount coffee.

Many times leadership is used as a euphemism for management, to glorify management.  This has the opposite effect, however, if you stop and think about it.  It suggests that management has such a negative connotation that it needs to be called something else in order to be respected.  But this is absolutely not the case.  The position of manager is a very distinguished role within an organization.  If there is a negative connotation it is an issue with the person in the position and not the position itself, and needs to be addressed as such.  Call management management and respect it for what it is.

Within the role of manager is a great opportunity to serve the people of the organization.  And within that service then is a great opportunity for leadership.  The leadership comes not from the position itself but from the service carried out within that role.  Service builds trust.  Trust builds leadership.  The key thing to remember is that this is true of any role within the organization, not just management.

Not only is it unnecessary to use the term leadership to describe management but it is also harmful.  It’s not just a matter of semantics.  To me this is a moral issue.  I firmly believe that there is no greater impediment to individual growth and personal fulfillment than all the confusion around leadership.  And it is just as much a detriment to those in management as those on the outside, if not more.  I’ve gone into detail on this in the past and I’m sure I will again in the future.

Here is an exercise to help think this through.  For one day, challenge yourself to pause for a second every time you are about to use the word leadership.  Consider what you are referring to and ask yourself – Is this really about leadership or am I in fact talking about management?  If it’s management then use the word management.  If indeed you are discussing leadership then by all means use the word leadership.  Just call it what it is.

It may seem pretentious of me to want to rewrite the dictionary.  The main point is that we have a great opportunity at hand.  Our concepts of organizations are being redefined and rethought.  The structured paradigm of the industrial age is crumbling.  Now is a very good time to pause and think about how we use the word leadership.

A Fathers Day Paradox

This evening I went to the store to grab a couple items. When I walked past the card aisle I was moved by the sight of people buying cards for Fathers Day, just a few days away. A card was not on my list, but after I had found the stuff I had come to get I returned to the card aisle.

After reviewing a few cards I found one that was perfect for my father. The design and theme of the card fit him well. And the message expressed exactly how I felt. It was truly the perfect card.

Then I put the card back on the rack. And I walked away, delighted with my find though I didn’t purchase it.

You see, my father passed away 27 years ago. Reading the different cards and finding the perfect one was a small ceremony of remembrance and healing. informal and impromptu yet meaningful.

Fathers Day is a paradox for me. In all the years I have had to reflect on what it is like to lose your father there is one phrase I have found that describes it best. It sucks. And yet woven in tightly there is joy. In life our relationships are part of who we are. And the deep and meaningful relationships continue to be part of us long after the other person is gone. I am grateful to my father for giving me life and for living his life in a way that impacted mine so significantly.

And Fathers Day is also very special to me because I am blessed to be father to three wonderful children who are all amazing young adults and each a great leader in their own way.

If you share with me in the paradox of Fathers Day, I wish you all the best in this time. Take it for what it is, all of it, and let it make something richer of you. The full marvel of life comes not from its glorious moments but from all the bits and pieces of its entirety.

Happy Fathers Day.

Leadership on P.A.R.

In leadership all of us are on P.A.R.  This is one of the fundamental leadership principles on which I stand.

 

Transcript:

“Take me to your leader.”

Imagine that you are watching your favorite cartoon show. Your favorite cartoon character is out in a field and along comes a flying saucer that lands near them. Out comes a space alien who then walks, floats, slithers over to the cartoon character. And what is the first thing the alien says? “Take me to your leader.”
What comes to your mind when you hear that? If someone, a space alien or anyone, said that to you where would you take them? Would you take them to meet your manager? Your CEO? The governor? The president?
Or would you take them to meet your coworker who whenever you’re faced with a difficult problem helps you see things from a new perspective and helps you find a way forward?
Or would you take them to meet your child’s Little League coach who not only teaches the kids the skills of the game but also the value of teamwork, and in the process inspires the parents and brings a community together?
When we hear the terms leader or leadership we tend to think in terms of structure, with a point at the top. And the ones who are highest up, who are ahead of the rest of us in the quest to get to the pinnacle, they are the leaders. No.
Leadership is not a position. And if there is no position, there is no structure, no pyramid.
When it comes to leadership, everyone is on PAR. P. A. R. Each of us has the permission to lead. Each of has the Ability to lead. And each of us has the Responsibility to lead.

Permission

You have the permission to lead. You don’t need to have a certain title. You don’t need to be above a particular level in an organization. You don‘t even need to be a manager. You just need to be you.
So much of the information on leadership is confusing and misleading, suggesting that leadership and management are interchangeable terms. Or that leadership is a higher form of management. But leadership and management are actually distinct, unique concepts, and leadership is not exclusive to management. Yes, managers need to be leaders, but so do those of us who are not managers. Confusing the two impedes the individual growth and fulfillment of everyone, including managers.
Don’t be confused by the mixed messages. Just know that you have the permission to lead, whoever you are, whatever role you may be in.

Ability

And you have the ability to lead. It may be intimidating if you’ve always thought of leadership as something executives do; or if you think of the great leaders like Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa.
But at its core leadership is really quite simple. It begins as simply as saying, “What if ….” or “You know, we could …” or “I don’t think that’s right. Could you explain that to me?” If you can look at a situation and see it for what it is, and have some idea of how things could be better, and should be better, and you care enough about the people in the situation to want to move them from here to there, then the seeds of leadership have sprouted in you.
From there then you can do a lot to become a better leader. Leaders are learners. Learn listening skills, because listening is so critical to leadership. Learn about personality types, so that you better can understand people and influence them. Build trust, relationships, your network. Start where you are today and grow from there.

Responsibility

You have the permission to lead. You have the ability to lead. And you have the responsibility to lead. Have you ever heard someone say, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?!” That’s a red flag phrase. The question of a leader is instead, “What can I do?”
Another red flag phrase is, “It’s not my job.” Well, you can take that with a grain of salt because leadership isn’t a job.
Similar is, “I don’t have the authority.” Ok, leadership isn’t about authority, it’s about influence. If the situation at hand truly is a matter of authority, then figure out who does have the authority to take the necessary action or make the decision. And then your question is, “How can I influence them?” “How can I use my influence to help this person of authority to take a better action, or to make a better decision?”
It’s important to note that being a responsible leader doesn’t mean you’re always leading. The great leaders have the wisdom to know when to follow. When others will not lead, then stand up and lead. And when others cannot lead, then stand in. But when others will lead then stand back, and follow. And always stand strong.

Lead on!

And when it comes your time to lead know that you are fully capable of succeeding brilliantly. Also realize that you are fully capable of totally screwing it up. And that’s ok! Be open, authentic and honest at all times, and learn from the experience no matter the outcome. The leader isn’t the one that gets it right. The leader is the one who gets it, who understands that it’s all about people. It’s messy and confusing and complex, but that’s why we need leaders.
So if someone ever does say to you, “Take me to your leader,” tell them, “Here I am. And here you are.” We’re on PAR – We each have the Permission, the Ability and the Responsibility to lead. Let’s go! Lead on!

PAR2

Is reality still real?

The house in the picture was beautiful.  And its setting on the waterfront was spectacular.  When I saw this photograph about twenty years ago my first reaction was one of wonder at this incredible place.

Then I read that this house only existed in the photograph and in the computer that generated it.  This was in an article in Computerworld magazine.  In the years before I had watched as computer generated pictures became more and more realistic.  And now for the first time I was looking at a picture that I couldn’t tell wasn’t real.  So my second reaction was to marvel at how far technology had come.

But as I began to contemplate the implications of this, my third reaction was great concern, almost fear.  How would we now be able to tell what was real and what wasn’t? Would there need to be some official designation or even legislation to help distinguish pictures that weren’t real?

Then my fourth reaction came as an epiphany.  It suddenly dawned on me that the question of reality was largely irrelevant.  The issue wasn’t how to recognize reality.  The issue was that reality was being totally redefined.  The criteria of reality to people in future generations would not simply be whether something existed in the physical world.  What the new definition would come to be I did not know, but I did know it was going to change.

Twenty years later this is still playing out.  And it has great bearing on leadership.  It’s easy to make assumptions about basic concepts, like reality.  But what is unreal to me may be very real to someone else.  This has great impact on matters such as trust, communication, relationship.  These are pillars of leadership.  And as leaders we need to keep a very open mind to the shifting realm of reality around us.  We can’t shy away from it, though, because the need for leadership is as real as it has ever been.

I Would Look Up

6_ragsThe Raggers Program, formed by Thomas Caldwell, began in 1914 at a YMCA camp in California and since has been adopted at many other Y camps.  It was designed for youth ages 12 and up.  Progression through the program is marked by a series of colored rags.

It was at YMCA Camp du Nord, a family camp, that I became familiar with it as an adult.  For a few years du Nord used an adaptation of the program, modified for use by people of all ages.  The camp provides a beautiful setting for personal reflection (the Be blog header is from there) and Raggers helped me be more intentional in my reflection.

Central to the program is the Raggers Creed.

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer,
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all – the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

Wherever you may be in this moment, physically or emotionally,
read those words again and reflect on a few questions.
What do they tell me about who I am?
What do they mean to me as a leader?
What do they mean to me as a follower?

When Helping is a Disservice

LendAHandServant leadership is more than doing something nice for others.  Yes, kind and generous actions are a key element.  But the more you assess the situation and the better you understand those being served, the more that all involved will experience the full richness of servant leadership.  Without it your actions could actually be a disservice to those you are attempting to serve.

Robert Greenleaf said the test of servant leadership is this,

“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

To deepen my understanding of servant leadership I periodically form and refine my own definition.

To serve is to live in such a way that others become more from what I do.  Servant leadership is serving in a way that others become servants who lead.

Before you reach out, reflect within on a few questions.

  • Does my service help them reach their goals?  Or is my only objective to achieve my own goals?
  • Does my service help them to become more skilled, more knowledgeable, more self-aware?  If I do what they are able to do themselves,  will I deny them an opportunity to learn and grow?
  • Does my service help them to become more self-sufficient and self-confident?  Or is there a risk they will become dependent on my assistance?
  • How will their life be different as a result of my service?  What change will this bring about?
    • Are they prepared for this change?  Will they be equipped for the new reality?
    • Are they involved in the process enough to feel ownership of the results?
  • Does my service allow me to be enriched by the experience?  If service is harmful to the one who is serving, it is a disservice to all.  We each have our own unique gifts to share.  And if anyone, even the servant, becomes less we all become less.  Give of yourself without giving up yourself.

A key is relationship.  In relationship we gain the understanding necessary to serve effectively.  In relationship an act of kindness becomes a message of love.  In relationship we share responsibility for the outcome.  In relationship we grow and become more from what we do.  In relationship we lead.

Go the extra mile to do something special for others,
but also go deeper to be someone of significance to others.

Image: foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remembering Van Eaton

VanEaton2 When I learned the story of Thomas Van Eaton I was troubled by it, but even more so by the circumstances around it.

Mr. Van Eaton was an early European settler in Central Minnesota in the 1860s. In 1862 conflict between the Dakota people and the growing number of settlers erupted in violence, in what is commonly referred to as the Dakota Uprising.  While the worst of the fighting was over fifty miles south of Van Eaton’s homestead, there were attacks in other areas as well.  Thomas brought his wife and five children to a stockade twenty miles away.  Returning to his farm a couple days later to check on the cattle he was attacked by a group of Dakota.  Defending himself with his back to a tree he killed eight of them before he himself was brutally killed.

Though the details of the death of Mr. Thomas Van Eaton and the eight Dakota were disturbing, what disturbed me most was the realization this took place a few miles from where I grew up.  And I had never before heard the story.  The tiny village of Grove Lake where his homestead was, where he died and where he is buried today is just four miles from my boyhood home.  Why was I learning of it now for the first time?

Why are there no signs or monuments to recognize this historical event or the nine men who lost their lives in it?  Why was there never any mention of it in school?  Why had I never heard of it in the local lore?  And what of the eight Dakota?  Where is the story that at least tells us their names?

This past summer a couple family members and I went to the Grove Lake Cemetery to seVanEaton1e if we could find Thomas’ grave.  It took us awhile, but we eventually found the gravestone matching a picture online.  It was off in the corner, tucked in against a tree.  The stone looks like it was badly damaged and poorly repaired.  The name Van Eaton is misspelled and backwards.  This alone is the physical marker of the events around the life and death of Mr. Thomas Van Eaton.

In addition to bringing light to this story, I also feel compelled to point out an important lesson the circumstances hold for leaders.  One of the key roles of a leader is storyteller.  Leaders need to shape a story of a better future around a shared vision.  But leaders also need to keep alive the stories of the past.  While it is not good to dwell in the past, we do need to remember those events that shaped who we are.  This includes not just the recollection of our great victories, but also our struggles and our failures.  In the shadows of our humanness we are reminded to hold fast to the light of our humanity.

The story of Thomas Van Eaton
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=55045935