Saturday, January 29, 2011

Character and Leadership in Egypt

The unfolding events in Egypt are a powerful and present reminder of the need for character in leadership. To be sure President Mubarak's character has been evident over his 30 year reign. The problem is that his character does not reflect the character of his people or take advantage of the best Egypt has to offer the world.

Leadership that relies on fear and control eventually comes to an end at the hands of the captives. Only at that time does the dictator try to placate the people with small reforms that have little meaning.

My hope for Egypt is that its greatness will be renewed through leaders that possess the character and leadership that Egypt deserves.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Everyday Courage

One of the greatest benefits of the times in which we live are the stories of inspiration and courage that cross our paths every day. I have mentioned before that I find myself most challenged with the element of courage in my leadership and my personal life. Perhaps that is why I am so captured by stories of courage in others. Early in the month I shared on our Facebook page the story of Katie Jeter. She has demonstrated profound courage in pushing past the obstacle of disease and amputation to continue to play her favorite sport, hockey.

What I see in Katie is an ability that takes many leaders years to develop - the courage to firmly push past obstacles and boldly seize opportunities. I am grateful for Katie’s example of personal courage. I know this same quality will permeate her leadership for years to come.

As inspiring as Katie’s story is, what about leaders who don’t find themselves in the type of personal or professional challenge that requires bravery? Is it possible that the type of courage that leaders must demonstrate is more mundane? Is it possible that it takes courage just to get up and face the ordinary challenges of the day?

I think we may focus too much on the extraordinary and miss the courage demonstrated by leaders each day. I saw two demonstrations of courage in leadership this month in our own practice.

One day early in the month I had a rare opportunity to drop in on a friend who is the CEO of a local organization. The company he leads has been through the depths during the recent recession, and although they have found the bottom, they are still struggling on a daily basis to overcome the effects of the economic downturn. Throughout this decline, my friend has stayed in his role despite the fact that he could move on at any time to a much more desirable situation. He has persevered not because he is dedicated to the company and the industry but because of his sense of responsibility to his team. This type of courage to keep on is an inspiration and epitomizes the courage to lead captured in The Character of Leadership model.

The second situation of courage comes from a new client. I was asked to provide coaching to an executive in need of some new abilities to lead her team. I don’t do a lot of individual coaching but was inspired when I chatted with this new client. What I loved in our conversation was her passion to learn new skills, to see her organization from a more strategic perspective, and to tap into a coach to expand her ability. It takes courage to ask for and implement help.

Even though we can see a great demonstration of courage in Katie’s story, let’s not overlook the courage of everyday leadership: the courage to stick with an ailing company because it is the right thing to do, or the courage to learn and grow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Leadership Action

It is the action, not the fruit of the action that is important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result. Mahatma Ghandi

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Character and Leadership of Parents

The following essay was written by my friend Kent Oram. He has graciously allowed me to share it with you. It is a wonderful testament to the power of character and leadership in parenting. Enjoy.

Honor and Action

My parents passed away during 2010. It has been interesting, challenging, and enlightening. I am aware of the importance our decisions have not only on our lives but on the lives of those around us. Never has this truth been more evident than it is as I consider the lives of my parents.

Until the day he died, my dad said "I am who I am.” If I work diligently, someday I might measure up to the life embodied by those simple words spoken by that simple man.

My mother said "be satisfied with what you have and who you are. If you want to change one of those, work on who you are."

They were imperfect people who raised imperfect children. They lived humble lives and were never pretentious. Their hard work and example shows those who knew them the pathway to real happiness is not lined with possessions or riches. It is lined with memories of a life where principles and beliefs are aligned with actions. Knowing they had faults helped them focus on capitalizing on their strengths. They called it “determination.”

If you asked them to do something, you never had to worry or follow-up.

Once in a very great while, you would hear a benign curse fall from their lips. Always, you would witness immediate regret for ill chosen words.

They had no difficulty determining right from wrong. At the same instant, they were not judgmental and always full of love. Now and then, I would hear “I love you but not what you are doing.” There was no dichotomy in those words when spoken by my parents.

They had their sight on a target. Like all humans, their vision was obscured now and then. Unlike many humans, they fought with all the fervor they could muster to regain their vision of their goal as quickly as possible and move towards it again. Their pursuit of their life’s goal was relentless.

I will miss them but I have their example to follow. Perhaps, if I work at it, 40 years from now, someone can write something like this about me.

Now, why do I write this to my friends? Recently, it has been troubling to watch as some around me struggle. Some behaviors are simply out of harmony with beliefs. Some attempt to offload accountability and find they cannot. One cannot talk about dignity and respect during the day and mock those values during the night.

As I have reflected, I have thought of my own imperfections. Together, let us resolve to align our actions to be more in harmony with our beliefs. Let us be kinder and gentler. Trust and be trustworthy. Be humble. Seek to make a positive difference in the lives of those who surround us at work and at home. Live a life we can happily hope others will follow.

I will follow my own advice and honor my parents’ legacy through my actions. What will you do?

Fallow and Fertile

It is my habit to listen to NPR when I am traveling. This week I caught part of an interview by Terry Gross of Fresh Air with Bruce Feiler. The point of the interview was Feiler's book The Council of Dads but during the interview the subject of rest came up.

It used to be the practice of farmers to let their fields lie fallow every seventh year. This year of rest would regenerate the land and allow it to be more fertile. Today, many farmers supplement the land with chemicals and nutrients to maintain productivity. This artificial fertility allows production to go on uninterrupted by rest.

If the land needs to be fallow to be fertile how much more do we need rest to be productive?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Kind of Leader Am I?

The following question came to me after this person had completed The Character of Leadership assessment and received the situation worksheet. I thought it was a great question.

I thought after filling the questionnaire I would be placed as maybe a democratic leader, autocratic or whichever. In other words my question is what kind of a leader am I?

Here is my response:

That is a great question. I tried to stay away from the notion of classifying leaders into groups and rather pose a model that would have leaders contemplate their character components. One of my overriding principles is that leadership must fit the context in which it is demonstrated. Consequently I wanted to make sure I was not too prescriptive in what should make up a leader's character but rather to challenge leaders to consider that for themselves.

For instance there are certain leadership norms in the United States that would not translate well into another society. My hope is that organizations around the world will tailor the behaviors inside the model to fit their particular situation. Having said that I did want to provide leaders a model that would allow them to contemplate their character and leadership.

I hope that helps. If you want to explore this further just let me know.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Anthony Graves' Courage, Hope and Justice

Last week I heard a stirring radio story about Anthony Graves. Anthony spent 18 years behind bars including 12 on death row for a crime that he did not commit. Beyond the obvious indictment of a justice system involved in this story the evidence of courage, hope and the eventual justice done by the current prosecutor are inspiring.

I encourage you to read the story in Texas Monthly and then to watch the post prison interview of Anthony Graves. You will be inspired but his grace, hope and his own sense of doing what is right even when it was difficult and potentially could have cost him his life.