Friday, September 17, 2010

forgiveness as a leadership tool

I had a phenomenal experience yesterday in class where I had to ask forgiveness from a student, and when he replied "don't worry about it" we as a class had a 15 minute dialogue around the ability to say "I forgive you" and how powerful those words are in a leadership position. I believe most people are afraid to say "I forgive you" because they think that those words nullify any consequences that should follow the inappropriate behavior. But perhaps one of the great things I have personally practiced...and that I teach my students to say are the words "I forgive you AND you're fired" (or fill in the approriate consequence).

The power of forgiveness lies in the fact that through those words realtionships can be healed and people can be freed from their guilt. The consequences will still follow (if you embezzle money from the organization, and upon being caught show true remorse, I will forgive you AND fire hope is that you will know you are forgiven and can then move on with your life in a new position). If leadership is about people and influence, then I need to be a person who understands the need for people to be FREE in their lives - and carrying around guilt will keep one burdened in a way that will never allow them to live out their gifts.

This begins in simple ways:
  1. a report is late in getting to your desk - your colleague says they are sorry it is late - you look at them and decide to say "I forgive you." It may seem silly, but imagine the impact it has on that individual.
  2. a spouse says a harsh word - as soon as it is out of their mouth they say "I'm sorry" - your first response can be "I forgive you" - imagine the differnece that can make in a relationship.
  3. a co-worker speaks a harsh word about you behind your back - you hear about it and confront them. When they apologize, you look at them and say "I forgive you AND is there anything I am doing that caused you to say that?" Imagine the rich conversation that can take place at that moment.
  4. one of your reports is abusive in their relationship to another employee - when their behavior doesn't change, they are put on notice. Finally you have to terminate them from their position. They come to your office in tears realiziung now that their behavior was inappropriate, and ask for another chance. You look at them and respond with "I forgive you AND I have to let you go because of the hurt you have caused others in this organziation and your continued behavior does not show that you have the ability at this point to make the necessary changes." Imagine the effect this can have on the worker - AND on the organization itself.

So how are you at saying those three words? Take time right now to say them outloud - see how they sound - practice them while driving in your your shower...while mowing the yard. And the next time someone says "I'm sorry" be sure to pause and remember to say "I forgive you." Imagine what might happen...

Friday, September 10, 2010

leading with a mirror

I find that there are many times I complain about how others lead, but often forget to complain about how I lead. I live in a world in which I believe my decisions are (or would be) best - and wonder why other make the decisions they do. I see my actions as heroic - and others' actions as dimwitted. I think that my ability to bring people along is a fine-tuned skill, honed by multiple years of experience - and watch others fail to even communicate with those who are under their care. I look upon my ability to get things done as almost superhuman - and wonder why others seem lost in a paper bag.

Of course, I hope I also have sense enough to know that others feel the same way about themselves - and me. It is our narcissistic tendency to believe the best about ourselves and the worst about others. Somehow the mirror I look into only reflects what I want to see, not what I should be seeing. I often wonder how others have seemed to purchase the same mirror. So what is a leader to do? How can we get and use the right mirror which gives us a true reflection of how we lead?

Perhaps the answer lies in a two fold manner - first, having a mechanism in which to do honest gut checks with ones self; and second in having another person who is constantly checking to make sure the leader is using the correct mirror. Honest gut checks are often difficult to perform. Using a leadership assessment tool is often just a glorified mirror in which I self report about all the great things I am doing and how I believe others see me. Journaling is often no more than a reflection of the great things I do and the lousy things others do. Going off on a retreat and being silent helps reinforce the narcissistic mirror I might already be using. Listening to what others have to say about you often puts followers in a spot in which they will also reinforce the use of the "bad" mirror.

Having another person whom one relies on to give honest feedback can be tricky - should this be a good friend (do you really want your best friend to tell you about the lousy job you are doing)?; should this be a hired coach (why would I pay all that money to have someone tell me how bad I really am)?; should it be one's spouse (do I really need to hear about my faults at the end of the day)?; what about one's supervisor (and when my promotion is on the line, is this really the person I want examining what I fail to do each day)?

So what do we do? I suppose it is a combination of all the above, as well as having the ability to be emotionally honest with one's self and begin by admitting they might be wrong (this could be the start of a "leaders anonymous" group). The other day I walked into a colleague's office, incredibly upset about several decisons that had recently been made. I was ready to charge forward and try to fix the situation (even though it was not my situation to fix). I walked in and said, "I need a gut check" and proceeded to tell him what was going on. Throughout the conversation I kept saying "I might be wrong" and at times he confirmed that yes, I might be wrong - and at other times confirmed that I might be right. My ability to admit I might be wrong - and his counsel - all helped to settle me down and make a better decision.

There is no definite answer here...perhaps the greatest tool one can have to be sure they are using the right mirror is to recognize that in a position of leadership, it is often easier to use the wrong mirror that it is the right one. If I know that...if I remember that...if I recognize the times I tend to use one or the other...if I have someone to help me remember to use the right one...if I force myself to pull out the right mirror on a regular basis...if I am able to look into that mirror and believe what I see and then act on it - perhaps then my leadership can have a stronger and more positive impact on the people I lead and the institution to which I have been called.

So...which mirror have you looked into recently? Are you leading with the wrong mirror - or the right mirror? And what are you doing to be sure you are using the right one on a more regular basis?

Friday, September 3, 2010

gracious leadership

The other day I sent a note to a group of people thanking them for thier graciousness during a time of transition. One of the members of that group (and a frequent reader of this blog) suggested I write about "gracious leadership" - and what that might look like in an organization. I have been contemplating that idea for about 24 hours, so bear with me as I "think out loud" about gracious leadership.

The idea of being gracious sounds as if I am hosting a dinner party, and my goal is to be a gracious host. I imagine that one who is gracious is "full of grace" - and that has incredible implications for leadership. Leaders who are full of grace might:
  • think before they speak - how many times do those first words out of one's mouth end up hurting someone? Emotionally aware leaders will put the brakes on, especially if they know they tend to be sarcastic or "witty." Begin gracious in one's speech sometimes means not speaking what you think, but speaking words that build up another's countenance.
  • consider asking another's opinion - there is a built-in mechanism in most organziations that assumes those who have a title have more information with which to make better decisions. Gracious leaders will go to those who are closest to the issue and ask for their ideas and opinions - and invite them to be a part of the decision making process
  • be quiet and listen - I think that gracious leaders are the ones who think about asking really good questions, and then shut up and listen - really listen. Allowing others to talk and engage in the thinking process is truly an act of grace, because it invites people into an enriching dialogue, not a one-way discussion
  • not assume they are always right - one of the phrases I like to teach my students to be able to say is "I might be wrong." This is a powerful statement, as it shows vulnerability and allows others to perhaps be right, once again enriching the conversation
  • allow for flexibility in his or her co-workers - there is so much more to life than work, and understanding that shows graciousness on the part of the leader. Acting on that understanding moves the leader to the next level
  • always see the best in people - I believe that God has gifted everyone with a set of gifts, talents and skills, and that people truly want to use those in their lives. Helping others uncover and use those gifts can make a world of difference in an organization, as people are freed to live out their calling where God has placed them
  • be a person of forgiveness - being able to say the words' I forgive you" may be one of the hardest things leaders have to do, because there is an assumption that in saying those words, there will be no accountability for actions that harm the organization. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship talks about "cheap grace" - grace that has no accountability or cost. I would say the same of forgiveness - cheap forgiveness can only do harm to an individual and an institution. A gracious leader is able to forgive and hold accountable, specifically because they are gracious

So how does one become a gracious leader? I think it begins with oneself - do I understand (really understand) how God has been gracious toward me...and can I then be gracious toward myself? Am I comfortable with my own gifts and I able to listen to myself...can I accept that I am wrong from time to time...can I look at my own work and see it as good...can I be flexible in my personal there balance in my own life? As one comes to understand this aspect of self-leadership, they can then move into leading others in a gracious manner.

Special thanks to my friend Carrie for nudging me to write about this topic. I think that perhaps she has shown me gracious leadership by seeing that I should - and could - write about this topic. It's my prayer that she - and others - will set an example of gracious leadership among their co-workers and through that process create a gracious organization. Now doesn't that sound like a cool place to work?