Sunday, June 27, 2010

"You can not lead where you do not go." Don Ward

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a professional conference and presented a program there. I hadn’t submitted a proposal in some time, but decided that I needed to start again. I’ve realized that if I’m tired of sitting through ‘sit and listen’ presentations on the same old topics, I need to step out there and do something different. So I submitted a proposal to present ‘The Leadership Dance’ even though there was a possibility that no one would show up or like it if they did.

I’ve mentioned this workshop before (Stepped On Anyone’s Toes Lately) and in its full form it takes at least an hour and a half. I only had 60 minutes which meant I would not be able to do the full workshop. Instead I started by explaining the history of the workshop and its purpose of creating an opportunity for participants to experience the partnership aspect of leadership. I explained kinesthetic learning (briefly, it is learning by doing rather than by listening or reading). Kinesthetic learning is an appropriate style for this workshop since there is really only one way to learn to be an effective leader and that's by actually practicing leadership. Then I told them that they were the brave group who would choose to attend a session with the words lively, interactive, and dance in the description and asked them to move the chairs back against the walls.

There was a fair amount of nervous laughter at this point and one person actually left the room, but the rest stayed and were good enough sports to give it a try - though one person told me later he had been pretty resistant to the idea at first. For the next 30 minutes we had a dance lesson and each person had a chance to serve as a leader and as a follower and then we talked about their experiences. Based on their comments and evaluations, participants both enjoyed the session and learned something, so it was a successful endeavor.

I share this story for two reasons. First, when you do something that is unusual, you take the chance that some people will be resistant to the idea. However, while some people will walk away from the opportunity presented, others will hang in there. Of course, those who hang in there may not like it. But that's no reason to refrain from taking the chance. If we can just get past our fear that we'll look foolish or that people won't understand what we're trying to do, our possibilities to be creative, to teach, to lead will expaFont sizend immensely.

This is, of course, the second reason to share this story. Some participants said they gained a new understanding of leading and following. Others commented that they would now try to find creative ways to do their work. Still others asked for further information about the exercises in the larger workshop. In other words, they were engaged in learning. I've presented the Leadership Dance many times to a wide variety of groups, some of which were very surprised by what they were expected to do. But as one person told me, they may joke about having had to dance, but they remember it and that's more than usually happens after a speech. Learning something new often requires the learner to be a bit uncomfortable; seems only fair that the teacher ought to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes too.

So what are you not doing because it's a bit risky? Is there a time or a place when you might just risk testing out that new way of doing things? After all, a significant part of leading is asking a group to go someplace or do something new; shouldn't leaders be willing to try something new as well?

Take care,


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Silence is Golden

I've spent the last couple of days participating in a retreat based on Parker Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness. The main purpose of the work is to take the time to stop, be in community, and listen to one's inner teacher. And there is really only one way to hear that teacher and that is to be in silence.

The retreat was held at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation. As a result, many though not all of the participants were Quakers and one of the opportunities for participants was the chance to join the people who live and work here in Meeting for Worship. I had never attended a Quaker meeting before, but I quickly learned that it is all about silence. Most of the half hour was quiet, sometimes a person will stand up and speak, but maybe not. There is time for announcements at the end and that is all. Each individual finds their own way in the stillness.

Most groups have trouble with extended silence. We feel compelled to fill the silence even if we don't have something new to add. But there is really only one way to truly listen, only one way to really hear what the other person is trying to say and that is to sit quietly, silently. The next time someone comes to you with an issue, try holding the silence. After they have told you what they came to say, what would happen if you just sat quietly for a moment or two? Yes, it might be awkward for you and for them, but they might find they have something else to say and that last bit might be the most important part of all. Larry Spears, former director of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership says listening is a servant leader's most important skill. Listening deeply requires the ability to hold the silence, internally and externally, to give people time and space to find what they need to say.

So this week, try giving the gift of silence to others and to yourself. You might be surprised what you hear.

Take care,


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Giving Up Control

I've been traveling this weekend and I'm reminded again that air travel is a great way to practice the experience of being out of control - literally. When I travel by air, I can't make the plane take off, I can't make it land when or even where I want to, and I certainly can't make my luggage show up at the right airport. It's a lesson in patience many passengers would do well to practice.

So what's that got to do with leadership? After all, leaders are supposed to be in control of what happens in their organizations, aren't they? In fact, one style of leadership is even called command and control. However, no matter how hard a leader might try to control all aspects of an organization, it's not really possible. Margaret Wheatley says part of our challenge in leaders is that we confuse order and control. She goes on to say, "What if we could reframe the search? What if we stopped looking for control and begin in earnest the search for order.... (The) basic shift needs to be from control to order, from a reliance on formal authority and procedures to a reliance on the self-organizing principles of people..."

This means a very different sort of leadership is needed, a kind of leadership that allows others to do their job well without the leader's needing to control every instance of the work. It requires different kinds of training and hiring, most of all it requires communication and great trust.

Trust like the kind we put in airlines. And we know, for all the terrible headlines on one end of the spectrum and petty annoyances on the other end, the airlines actually do quite well. After all, I don't want them to take off when the plane needs maintenance or the weather is really bad no matter how important I think my timeline. And one way or another I've always ended up back home and I had very little to do with it. Patience, trust, letting go of our needs for control, more leadership skills to think about.

Take care,


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Time Well Spent

This past week I have been reminded, yet again, of the importance of communication. I know I’m not alone in knowing this leadership reality and still struggling to be effective in my communications. There are many reasons effective communication is challenging. For one, we each have preferred methods both for receiving communications and sending them. Mismatches in these styles can hamper our ability to communicate. We also have differences in our preferences regarding the level of communication. Some of us like lots of detail and want to hear from our colleagues continuously; others of us prefer the big picture and only want to know when it’s something big – of course we need to understand their definition of big. Sometimes we only want to hear the good news. Unfortunately, as Kim Campbell* puts it, “If you don’t like bad news, you should get out of the leadership business. Your job is to hear as much bad news as there is out there and to figure out ways of dealing with it.”

While all of these are real issues in communication, I sometimes think the biggest problem is time. Effective communication takes time. We have to pay attention to what information we are receiving and evaluate it. We have to decide what needs to be shared and with whom. We have to consider who needs to hear this information and how rapidly and in what format. Does it need to be face-to-face? Will a phone call do? What about e-mail? And then we have to ignore all the other demands on our attention and actually communicate.

Then there’s the public aspect of communication. When we have formal leadership roles, our public communication may be even more critical and time-consuming. As leaders we have to choose our messages carefully and we have to repeat those select messages multiple times. It’s not that people aren’t listening to us; it’s that they too have multiple demands on their time and attention and we need to recognize and honor that.

And last, but definitely not least, is the other side of communication. As Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall said, “Listening well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” In order to be effective in our communications we must listen well and, in this day of e-mail, read well. In other words, we must be open to hearing what others have to tell us. And again, this takes time. It also takes a willingness to set aside our need to be heard and that may be the toughest part of communication there is.

So, this week, I challenge each of us to find time for effective communication. It saves time in the long run, but more importantly it helps all of us be better leaders and work together more effectively and that’s always time well spent.

Take care,


*The book Everyone Leads attributes this quote to Kim Campbell with no further identification and I can’t find it elsewhere. However, Kim Campbell the former, and to date, only female, Canadian Prime Minister speaks and writes on leadership including at this blog so I believe she is the likely author.