Thursday, March 25, 2010

why do I care?

This past week I have had a long conversation with a colleague about leadership from the middle and gave a talk at the IACBE conference on developing leadership capacity in college students. In additon, I have been reading Daniel Pink's new boon entitled Drive, and had an interesting conversation with a friend at the IACBE conference on servant leadership. My life seems to be filled with thoughts and conversations on leadership - I wonder why that might be?

If you are reading this blog, you are also probably interested in leadership (or are just being a good friend to me and reading my blog because you want to tell me that you actually read my blog). So why are you thinking about leadership? What is it thast makes you look at leaders and wonder why they do what they do? Why are you anxiously waiting to read the next great book on leadership and try to learn something new? Why do you care about becoming a better leader yourself?

Let's consider this question for a few moments:
  • you care about leadership because you feel a call to lead
  • you care about leadership because you are in a position in which you should be leading
  • you care about leadership because those who lead you are either 1) grossly incompetent or 2) very competent and you want to know what makes them the way they are
  • you care about leadership because you believe you have been called to make changes in the world around you - and you know that leadership skills are needed to make change happen
  • you care about leadership because you have been put into a position where you are expected to lead - and you actually want to do a good job with that
  • you care about leadership because you have always been a natural leader - people look to you to lead and come to you with ideas about leadership
  • you care about leadership because you have hope for the future - and you believe it will take a new type of leader to solve the problems we will all face in the future.

And so the list goes on. I think that if one can articulate WHY they care about leadership, it can shape what they read...what they talk about...what they think whom they talk... and the actions they take to make a difference. So ask yourself why you care about leadership and why you are taking the time to read this blog. And if you like the answer - ot not quite sure about the answer - post a comment and let's see what kind of conversatin we can get going to learn from each other about why people (especially you and me) care about leadership.

Friday, March 12, 2010

the art of integrity

Last week I quoted a former boss of mine who defined integrity by "doing what one says they will do." I could not agree more. The idea of integrity is at the heart of good leadership, for integrity is what creates trust, which is what creates followers, which is what creates a culture of developing leaders. I suppose when I use the phrase "the art of integrity" it implies that acting in an integral manner is something one is born with and not a learned behavior. However, let me interpret that phrase a bit differently. In refering to the ART of integrity, I am using that term in a way that describes what happens when one lives out their leadership through integrity. Let me explain further...

Integrity is a matter of choice. Leaders are faced with this choice multiple times every day. They are asked by those around them (colleagues, other leaders, followers) to do things...because that's what leaders do - they get things done...and they are able to get things done either from their influential power or their positional power. When people rely on their influential power, they may or may not be able to accomplish the task which they set off to do. When people rely on their positional power, there should be a greater likelihood that they will be able to do what they say they will do. Of course, there are many exceptions to both of these concepts, but for the most part, leaders have the ability to do what they say they will do because...well, because they are leaders and they can find a way to get things done. And when they do those things which they say they will get done, they perform in a manner that exhibits integrity, whish builds trust, which creates more followers, which creates a culture of developing other leaders. All well and good!

But what happens when leaders choose not to act in a manner that exhibits integrity?
  • Communication breaks down - it becomes difficult to talk about issues in a collaborative fashion because people don't know whether or not that person will follow through on what they said they would do.
  • Trust erodes - the less one is trusted, the less they have the ability to influence the organization for good. People begin talking about them behind their back, and less and less people engage them to help get things done.
  • Isolation occurs - the one who chooses not to exhibit integrity will begin to isolate himself or herself (because they will start avoiding people) and others will isolate themselves from the leader (because they have lost trust in that person).
  • Silos are built and/or reinforced - others who act in a similar manner will align themselves with the person who does not exhibit integrity - and others align themselves against that person. Communication breaks down, trust erodes, isolation occurs, and silos become ironclad.
  • Vision disappears - People who don't do what they say they will do must constantly find ways to protect themselves or cover their tracks. If time is spent in this manner, then time is being robbed from the mission and vision of the organization. Similarly, as others grow frustrated with the leader who lacks integrity, they too waste precious time and energy on the unimportant.

So what can be done? In an organziation where lack of integrity is isolated or the exception, these people need to be confronted, having their inconsistency and lack of integrity pointed out. In an open and trusting environment, this can happen from anyone in the organization, and changes can be made that have the possibility of bringing an organization not only to a functioning level but to a place where trust determines a culture of openness and greatness. If the organization is a place where lack of integrity is protected - and sometimes even rewarded - then it becomes more difficult to change the patterns and culture that creates silos and mistrust and poor communication. Perhaps the best one can do is to build a culture of integrity around themselves and those who work within their circle of influence - of demanding that everyone will do what they say they will do - and of rewarding those who truly live up to this commitment.

One final thought - when you are NOT able to do what you say you will do, then you openly acknowledge that in a timely manner and ask forgiveness. That too is acting in a manner that exhibits the art of integrity, which will allow you to create trust, which will create followers, which will create a culture of developing other leaders. And that can make all the difference in the world!

Friday, March 5, 2010

leading from the middle

I have run across several books entitled something like "leading from the bottom up," or "leading from the top down ," but little has been written about leading from the middle. Perhaps little has been written about this because either 1) no one leading from the middle has time to think about writing a book; of 2) leading from the middle can be so depressing that why would any one want to write about it, much less read about it.

My role as a Dean of the College of Business at Concordia University Texas defines "leading from the middle." On one side of me is the Provost, Vice-Presidents, and President. On the other side is faculty. Talk about being "stuck." If one of the hallmarks of leadership is initating change, consider the role of order to initiate change, one must begin with influencing those who follow that the change is good and should be embraced. This may or may not be an easy task, but one that can be accomplished over time (NEWS FLASH - we announced this week the beginning of an MBA program for next fall - so I guess we were able to enact change). Once the followers are convinced it is a good idea, then my job is to influence my boss and his colleagues that this is a good idea so that they can officially approve the idea (did I mention that we launched The Concordia MBA this week?). All of this takes time, and can be stopped at any place along the way. Frustrating? YES...Impossible? NO!

The nature of leadership from the middle means that those in "middle leadership" are always influencing two groups of people - that's the nature of the beast. So what does this mean? And how can those in "middle leadership" actually move their organization forward? Here are few ideas:
  1. Be a people person - in order to have influence with followers and supervisors, you need to have access to them. Be sure you know them and they know you - and trust you (more later on that). Spend time with both groups of people beyond the times when you need something. Take a genuine interest in them and know them as real people.
  2. Help both groups get what they want - the old saying that one can get everything out of life that they want if they help others get what they want is absolutely true - especially if you lead from the middle. You may find yourself acting as a translator most of the time - for me, I define my job as helping faculty understand what the administration wants, and helping the administration understand what the faculty wants. Acting as a go-between provides you access to both groups and makes the change process more smooth.
  3. Build trust - a boss of mine once defined integrity as "doing what one said they would do." That action will build trust, and will allow you as a "middle leader" to get things done more quickly. When I am asked for something by either group surrounding me, I do it to the best of my ability and deliver in time. When I can't do either one of those things, I let them know. If people trust you, they will listen to you and follow you and approve your requests more readily.
  4. Produce Excellence - leading from the middle may demand a greater need for excellence than in any other position. Think about it - everyone is watching you and they want results from you. Consider the fact that those in "middle leadership" have to get permission fromn two groups of people to enact any change - they're watching and they want proof that their decision to grant you permission was worthwhile. "Middle leaders" who produce excellent results will get a second and third chance next time they ask.
  5. Be a listener - yes, you know the change you want to enact...yes, you know how it should be done...yes, you could do it easier yourself...but the fact of the matter is, if you ask for help and for people's ideas and opinions, you have a beter chance of getting it done in the long run. Not only is this a courteous thing to do, you could actually learn something and produce a better product in the end. And in the process, you have built coalitions of people because they have had a say in the matter. Being collaborative and really learning to listen are critical skills for people in "middle leadership."

I think that is a long enough list for today - besides, I have to get some more work accomplished because in a few hours I am going to the Wizard Academy - not quite sure what I am getting myself into, but I am guaranteed to have a good time and learn something...I may even learn something about leading form the middle!