There has always been a tension in the American character between individual rights and the common good. While we’ve loved and admired John Wayne striking out on his own with just a horse and a rifle, we’ve also known that the wagon train couldn’t make it across the plains unless we all stuck together. So writes Walter Bennis in On Becoming a Leader.
In the early 1800’s President James Madison wrote, “The public good, the real welfare of the great body of people, is the supreme object to be pursued.” A hundred years later President Coolidge said, “The business of America is business,” and hardly anyone disagreed.
Short term thinking and instant gratification is not the thinking or strategy of a true leader. And this holds true if you lead a large corporation, a non-profit, a small business, a family or yourself.
Do you trust your intuition?
“The leader needs three intellectual abilities that may not be assessed in an academic way: one needs to have a sense for the unknowable, to be prepared for the unexpected, and to be able to foresee the unforeseeable,” so says Robert Greenleaf in his book The Power of Servant Leadership.
Sounds like a tall order, almost like a description of a super hero right out of the comic book pages. But a second reading reveals that at sometime in all of our lives we are that super hero.
Who are you leading? A company department, a small business, your family, yourself? Your ability, and your willingness to step up, trust your intuition and make a decision for you and those who look to you for direction defines your leadership.
Ralph Waldo Emerson talks of a ‘Blessed Impulse’, listening to that inner voice and going with it, all voices to the contrary. Is that the still small voice, the almost silent whisper that we grow to trust to be God whispering in our ear? How often do you ‘go with it, all other voices to the contrary’?
Taking leadership, regardless of the position you hold, requires a certain amount of abandonment. Taking a risk. In so many places people are looking for (someone else) to step up and lead. Scientist Mathilde Krim said “Growth requires curiosity to experience both the difference and the synchrony, to explore and immerse yourself in new surroundings, to be able to contemplate your experiences and get something out of them”. To simplify: doing the same old same old every day, not experiencing new things, not asking questions and not reflecting and learning from your experiences will stunt your growth. It will also block your leadership opportunities.
And leadership is anything but the same old same old. Greenleaf tells us: Every once in a while a leader finds himself needing to think like a scientist, an artist, or a poet. And his thought processes may be just as fanciful as theirs – and as fallible. Leaders are not superheros, they make mistakes, but they are willing to make mistakes, show their humanness and fully express themselves in the process.
Why Go It Alone?
In their book ‘The Accidental Leader’, authors Robbins and Finley write:
“No one leads alone. Leaders who do their jobs are continually consulting with others. They are always plugged in to other people. They use others as mentors, as peer review panels, as confidants to bounce ideas off. They schmooze, they copy, they complain. They listen, they steal. Sometimes they just turn their dials down and relax with friends. Leading is a very social function, or you’re not doing it right.”
“Why do so many new leaders feel they have to go it alone?”
Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. The western image of the independent male, making it on his own, conquering and winning with only his own wits and resources to rely upon has sadly and wrongly infiltrated the American male psyche. And it is destructive. Whether you lead a large organization, small company, a family or only yourself – another man coming alongside you to share ideas, thoughts and truths is crucial to your success. Not only is it helpful in increasing your chances for success, but it makes life more fun and interesting. It can also provide opportunities for you to pour ideas and concern into another man’s life. And isn’t that what a life well lived is all about?
So how does a leader reach out to a coach or mentor? How does a man move toward a friendship? For most, this is within 4 feet, but it sits just outside the box we call our comfort zone. So just as we tackle most projects, or how we eat an elephant (one bite at a time), we reach out, pick up the phone, send an email and ask. We give up the fear of rejection, the awkwardness we may feel and accept the certainty that the offer for a cup of coffee, a lunch date or a drink after work is probably making the other man feel the same. That is why it is called the comfort zone and why success only happens in the uncomfortable zone, on the edges, where life is hot.
I have met too many men who bemoan the fact that they don’t have friends, a lot of acquaintances but no real friends. They knows guys from work, or the club. Their wives arrange social outings with other couples and the women guide the conversations. I know men who attend the mens ministry program at their churches and temples, but never really find another man or two to really open up to. Friendships are risky and can be messy, but add a richness to life that can not be gotten any other way. Having a coach or a mentor is like adding another set of caring eyes to your life and work.
A true leader can easily list the many people who contributed to his success, knowing he could not have done it on his own. And the difference between a grumpy old man and a kindly elderly gentlemen is how many other men he can call ‘friend’.
Emotional Intelligence – how’s yours?
Walter Bennis in the introduction of his book On Becoming a Leader lists the Four Essential Competencies of a Leader.
- The ability to engage others by creating shared meaning
- Having a distinctive voice
- Having integrity
- The ability of adaptive capacity
Having a Distinctive Voice is further described as a cluster of traits such as Purpose, Self-Confidence, and a Sense of Self. He then adds “the whole gestalt of abilities that we now call Emotional Intelligence. EI is a concept that has been around a relatively short time and one I am still trying to get my arms around. Look up Emotional Intelligence on Google and as expected you get 8.5 million sites.
One site says “ Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand other people and yourself.”
Another site tells us ” In summary, emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection and influence. The following skills belong to the highly developed emotional intelligence: independence from your own feelings and ability to adjust yourself to them, ability to recognize, name and direct your feelings, discern the nuances of feelings and use them in positive way, and, as a consummation, derive actions from it. Emotional intelligence accompanies our daily life and in many cases as important as the “common” intelligence, especially in our modern society.”
The Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence
Perceiving Emotions: The ability to perceive emotions in oneself and others as well as in objects, art, stories, music, and other stimuli
Facilitating Thought: The ability to generate, use, and feel emotion as necessary to communicate feelings or employ them in other cognitive processes
Understanding Emotions: The ability to understand emotional information, to understand how emotions combine and progress through relationship transitions, and to appreciate such emotional meanings
Managing Emotions: The ability to be open to feelings, and to modulate them in oneself and others so as to promote personal understanding and growth
*From “Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), by J. D. Mayer, P. Salovey, and D. R. Caruso, 2002, Toronto, Ontario: Multi-Health Systems, Inc.
Our first lesson from this important book of leadership is that authentic leaders are in touch with both their own emotions and feelings as well as the people they serve and lead. Consider that truth, whether you lead a large organization, a small business, a family or yourself. Your ability to recognize how you feel, why you feel, and what to do with your feelings (positive constructive actions or negative destructive reactions) will play a big part in your leadership efficacy.
We are meeting as a small group of Life Long Learners reading, discussing and teaching one another from this book. Learn more by clicking here: http://livingreal.net/on-becoming-a-leader-book-club/
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