The Leadership Shop

A Leadership Tidbit

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” — Rosalynn Carter

There are dozens of perspectives on leadership but all of those perspectives have at least one idea in common. As Carter suggested, to be an effective leader, one needs to have a vision for the future and a clear sense of mission or purpose. The leader then “leads” from here to there. A successful leader, then, is one that arrives at the predefined destination, with the followers right behind. One hears a lot about national leaders, state leaders, community leaders, and even family leadership as a necessary quality of a successful parent but one might wonder.

If a business or nonprofit organization fails, it’s usually seen as a failure of leadership. Those in charge fire the Executive and get a new leader, hoping for better times. If that doesn’t work, the organization eventually folds and everyone moves on to other ventures. With the national, state, and local governments and to some extent with families, that doesn’t happen. Rather, things get worse and may get better and then they get worse again but not much changes. Government and families are not much different than they were ten years ago or twenty years ago or fifty years ago. The same is true for the schools, public services, and most all of the institutions and sub-institutions in every jurisdiction. There are better times and worse times but there is a persisting sameness that characterizes things over time.

When the state of permanent institutions is experiencing the good times, the success is attributed to good leadership. During the worse times, the explanation is in terms of economic conditions, social turmoil, international conflict, or other factors that normal people can barely understand and can’t affect in any significant way. It definitely has little to nothing to do with leadership, or so they say.

Perhaps the underlying point is that the concept of leadership doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to government, families, and permanent institutions or at least institutions that are supposed to be permanent. The political folks, institutional employees, parents, and others taking care of business in those environments are supposed to do little more or less than what they can to prevent the worse times and to do whatever they can to maximize the good times. If everyone is on one of those institutional trains or another, they may not need or want a leader. The train can only go where the track is headed. That isn’t a specific destination. Instead, it is more like an adventure into unknown territory.

What should one expect from those in charge of running the train? They should keep it moving. They should keep it on the track. They should avoid running into obstacles that appear on the track from time to time. They shouldn’t lose any train cars as they go along. That’s about it, except for what may be the most important requirement. They should make very sure no one falls off the train. Maybe the real need is for fewer leaders and more conductors who take responsibility for the passengers, who make sure everyone stays on the train, and who assures that everyone has a quality ride.

The Gurus Say

haran, Ram, Stephen Drotter, and James L. Noel. The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

There is little acknowledgment that different levels of leadership exist and that people need to make skill and value transitions at each level. Relatively few organizations are thinking about the core competencies and experiences necessary to be successful at each level.

When you define potential as the kind of work someone can do in the future, it becomes easier to see it as a dynamic concept. This future work potential is based on accumulated skills and experience as evidenced by past achievement, ability to learn new skills, and willingness to tackle bigger, more complex or higher-quality assignments. The more people achieve, the more learning takes place; willingness to tackle new challenges increases as current challenges are met.

A Success Tidbit

Light Your Fire

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you
will be fired with enthusiasm.” — Vince Lombardi

This isn’t always true but is true enough often enough. It may
not be true if you are the boss’ kid, the only one who knows how to drive the
truck, or if it’s your ball and you will take it and go home if they don’t let
you pitch. Other than that, think of it as Lombardi’s immutable law of
continuing employment. Oliver Wendell Holmes even knew the source of the fire,
“Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with
fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and
passionate thing.”

You probably won’t want to take the getting fired up thing as
far as John Wesley did. He is the one who said, “I set myself on fire and people
come to watch me burn.” Even so, John W. Foster’s point is definitely worth
keeping in mind, “One of the strongest characteristics of genius is the power
of lighting its own fire.” Turning into a torch like Wesley is going a tad too
far; but keeping a match handy to light your own fire might be pretty cool, so
to speak. Being a genius certainly can’t hurt your chances of avoiding the
employment ax, if it falls.

If you don’t happen to have a promising future as a genius,
Napoleon Hill offers some useful advice, “The starting point of all achievement
is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desires bring weak results, just
as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat.” You need to have a
strong desire to succeed, a lot of Lombardi’s enthusiasm. As Publius Terentius
Afer pointed out, “There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when
you do it reluctantly.”

Winston Churchill hit the same nail
on the head, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” And
Robert Schuller drove it home when he said, “Do what you can, where you are,
with what you have.” Schuller could have easily added, “And do it
enthusiastically.” Should you be thinking that the fire you need exceeds your
capacity, the popular Anon. has a parting thought just for you, “If you really
want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”