Friday, November 13, 2015

leadership and belief

Yesterday afternoon I concluded my day at Concordia University Texas having a conversation with Dr. Carl Trovall, our Dean of Liberal Arts, about the topic of leadership and belief.  He is in the midst of writing a new course for our Educational Doctorate program entitled Leadership and Faith Traditions, and our discussion centered on which texts he would include for students to read.  We ranged from the Book of Job to the Tao Te Ching to The Meditations to The Analects to Shakespeare to Niehbuhr to Plato to Kiekegaard...and if you know Dr. Trovall, you know that the conversation was far-flung and incredibly engaging.

So why think about or write about leadership and belief?  The essence of philosophy is that one's thoughts and beliefs shape one's actions...and if that is the case, then leaders should be thinking about what they believe, why they believe what they believe, and how that belief shapes how they lead.  A couple of random thoughts on this concept for a Friday morning:

  • People often tie together their beliefs with their faith traditions - and in many cases that may be true.  However, even when one confesses publicly, "I believe..." they should ask the question of why they believe what they confess to believe and how might that square with their experiences in life?
  • If one's confessed belief does not line up with their life experiences, they might begin to experience a cognitive dissonance, forcing them to wrestle with right and wrong.  This wrestling allows them to consider what might be truth and how that truth lives itself out in their lives.  Such thinking allows people to consider and embrace the power of paradox, one of the thinking patterns that allows leaders to function more effectively.
  • Belief is shaped by many experiences and thought practices throughout one's life, often creating a "voice in the head" that dictates how one acts.  Examining those voices is critical in leadership development, and only by thinking about one's beliefs and examining other's beliefs can the voices be identified.  Of course, the more difficult part is the willingness to modify or discard those voices if they are harmful to one's leadership (or life).
  • There could exist in some faith traditions the thought that reading the texts from other faith traditions might be harmful to one's personal beliefs. For me, if I know what I believe and have confidence that it is the truth, then reading these other texts should only strengthen what I believe to be true, especially when they begin to align with one another.  Having another way of thinking about what one believes provides a bigger tool box for future actions.
  • On the flip side of that, when I come across those areas of other faith traditions that disagree or conflict with what I believe to be true, I begin to gain a greater understanding of how others think and how their beliefs lead to their actions.  My understanding of "the other" is a key piece to transformational leadership.
  • Finally, I cannot leave this blog without promoting the great literature of the world as some of the best leadership development available.  Great literature is written from a place of belief of how the world works and what makes up the essence of life.  Reading Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, Tolstoy, and Hemingway (and feel free to add your own writer or text here) allows one to enter into the belief system of others AND allows the reader to consider their own beliefs.  What better way is there to think about and shape one's leadership?

Friday, November 6, 2015

leadership and voice

Last night I attended Bocon!, a drama by Lisa Loomer and put on by Concordia's theater department.  One of the great lines in the play was "If you don't have a voice, you can't tell your story."  As I quickly wrote out that line on my program, I was struck by how much it applied to those in leadership roles...and the importance of both voice and story to accomplish the task of leadership.

There has been much written about story telling and great stories inspire others; how stories allow people to place themselves wherever they need to be within that story; how stories help others to understand vision; and how stories connect people to one another in multiple ways.  I am a fan of telling stories - I can say more about Concordia with a good story than I can with multiple facts and figures.  But what about voice?  What is it about one's voice that makes the story even possible? As I think about that concept, several thoughts come to mind:
  1. One's voice is a part of one's history...what I have experienced throughout my life shapes what I think and believe, thus causing my voice to be one way or another.
  2. One's voice is a result of one's belief...the deeper my convictions, the stronger my voice.  So I better know what I believe and why I believe that way.
  3. One's voice takes time to voice has changed over time (including much more than moving from soprano to baritone as a young teenager).  The more I learn and the more I experience the more different my voice becomes.
  4. One's voice develops through dedicated practice...the more I think - and the more I speak - allows me to use my voice more effectively.  Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule might apply here...and that practice needs to be done in an environment where I can get feedback on how I am using my voice.
  5. One's voice can get stronger or might diminish with age...depending on the circumstances I have faced and the feedback or encouragement I have received, my voice will either get stronger or weaker.  Recognizing that (and using it to my advantage) can make all the difference.
  6. One's voice should always have a consistent message...what is it that I want people to know, believe, and act on?  Does my voice support that?  And do they hear it on a consistent basis?
  7. One's voice is shaped by what he or she reads and thinks about...the phrase "garbage in - garbage out" might apply here as I think about what I spend my time with, especially when it comes to what I read.  There is a reason Shakespeare is still around after almost 500 years.
Understanding one's voice can lead to better story telling...and my encouragement is that as leaders we pay attention to both.