Golden Leadership

golden-leadershipWhat does one write in a leadership blog the day after one of the most contentious, divisive national elections in recent history? We need more leaders. I’m not talking about individuals who covet positions of leadership for the perceived power and prestige such roles might bring. I’m talking about people who feel compelled to step up to the plate, right where they are, to change a circumstance.

True leadership is not about a position. It is about having a purpose, and how you treat others on the way to fulfilling that purpose.

Which should be a source of encouragement, regardless of whether you are excited, anxious or in a bit of a stupor about the results of yesterday’s election. You can step up and take a leadership role, right now, right where you are, to work toward an improved circumstance. How?

For starters, listen. When was the last time you truly listened to someone who had a perspective different from your own — not with the goal of telling them why and how they are wrong, but to try to understand where they were coming from? You aren’t going to change someone’s perspective simply by shouting louder or questioning their intelligence, and you won’t make the best decisions by only listening to those who already agree with you. Granted, part of leadership is making decisions that won’t please everyone, however if you can allow those with a different perspective to feel heard, and treat them with respect, it is likely you will gain followers even if they don’t agree with every decision you make.

Secondly, be willing to question your thinking. No one is “right” all the time. And just because a decision might have been the best solution with one set of circumstances, when variables change sometimes the most appropriate response changes too. I’m not suggesting that you don’t hold true to your values and purpose. You absolutely should. However rigidity and an unwillingness to consider new information or to look for a “third way” doesn’t expand your influence or strengthen your position, it only makes it harder to accomplish your goal.

Finally, take the plank from your own eye before you go after the speck in someone else’s. Pointing fingers, being judgmental or condescending or patronizing lessens your own credibility more than that of those you are calling out. Again, that does not mean you should condone inappropriate actions or downplay your values, but somewhere along the way it seems we checked respect at the door. You can disagree with someone, or make the hard decisions, while still being respectful.

 Bottom line, the golden rule really is still golden. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you are less than enthusiastic about those seeking positions of leadership, be a role model of the kind of leader you want. On this “day after” my challenge to each of you is simply this . . .

Be a golden example.

Walls and Bridges

It seems the political season starts earlier with each election cycle. As wearing as that may be for some people, and all partisan issues aside, it does provide interesting case studies in leadership styles and effectiveness. One observation that gets reinforced for me time and again . . . walls stir emotion and bridges get things done. Let me explain.

Walls (I’m talking figuratively here . . . absolutes, lines in the sand, “I will never” . . .) are great for fanning the flames of passion. They get the party faithful fired up and ready for battle. That is why you see so many walls being thrown up during primary season. Regardless of party, primary candidates tend to lean toward absolutes. The thing is, at the same time they are fanning the flames of passion for those who agree with their position, they are also fanning the flames of those opposed to the position. While that may make great political theater, in many cases it also creates additional barriers to achieving the very thing the candidate purports wanting to accomplish, because they start by focusing on points of opposition (walls) rather than points of agreement (bridges). Once the election is over, to make significant strides forward, people usually need to find a way to focus on common ground, and build bridges to connect differing perspectives. For bridge-builders, getting to the final destination is more important than taking one specific path to get there, even if that means taking down a few walls along the way.

So transfer those same concepts to your organization. I’m not necessarily saying walls are always bad — sometimes there truly is a non-negotiable — but there should be a lot more bridges than walls. Most of a leader’s energy should be focused on getting to the final destination, the mission. And if taking a slightly different route to get there allows more people to get on board and support your efforts, the mission probably benefits in the end. Yes it will take longer, and if your ego is invested in a particular route it may smart a bit, but focusing your energy on finding common ground and building bridges not only benefits the issue at hand, it also bolsters people’s confidence that they can trust you to listen to their voice moving forward. And with that type of synergy, leaders can build momentum over time to accomplish even more.

One caveat . . . this sounds easy enough when you read it in black and white, but it can be much harder when you are directly impacted by a specific situation. For example, when yet another unfunded mandate gets added to your contract expectations, it is much easier to focus on the negative impact to your organization and dig your heels in (a wall that says the funder is the bad guy/doesn’t care about the mission) than it is to stop and ask about the funder’s intended goal and see if there is another way to get there that you can live with. Will the diehard “walls” think you are weak or waffling? Maybe at first. But over time, it is hard to argue with how far you can get when you’re willing to build a few bridges.