Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wisdom in Leadership

I was sitting in a coffee shop talking with a friend of mine who will be 90 years young in the next few months.  I asked him this question:  “What is the wisest decision you have made in your life?”  I was surprised that the question stumped him. This is a man who served in WWII, was married for over 50 years, and had a successful business career.  Over the next thirty minutes he continued to wrestle with the concept of wisdom.

During his life he made a series of choices that impacted his family, business and other relationships.  He made those choices based on his knowledge of the circumstances.  Sometimes they were good decisions and sometimes they did not work out so well.

Was he just lucky that some of the decisions he made worked out?  Was wisdom at play whether he realized it or not?  The question for me is what might he have accomplished had he given more intentional thought to wisdom along the way?

During my study of wisdom leadership I have quickly found that it transcends self.  It is compassionate, insightful, gracious, and charitable.  It is confident without being arrogant or self serving.

Many wish to be wise. Yet there are wrong concepts of what wisdom is. Having large amounts of knowledge is not wisdom. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts.  Yet knowledge is worthless if it is not correctly applied.

Understanding is a critical aspect relating directly to knowledge and wisdom. Understanding is said to be a step beyond knowledge. It requires seeing the big picture, to see how the knowledge fits.

How can you apply wisdom to your leadership?

1. Listen- this is how you acquire knowledge
2. Learn- this is understanding
3. Apply- this is Wisdom

Wisdom does not come overnight; you have to seek it out like treasure.  When you find it, you will achieve a level of leadership that will have a powerful impact on the people you lead.   

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Leading from behind

“Leaders set the course and let others steer the ship.” Unknown

For now and into the coming decade or so, there are those who believe that the most effective leaders will lead from behind, not from the front.   In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela equated a great leader with a shepherd: "He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."
Everyone is familiar with the idea of leading from in front, but there is not enough attention given to leading from behind.  I believe successful organizations will focus on the development of each employee as a leader.

The organization’s leadership will of course set the vision and strategy of the company, but it will be the employees who make it happen. T
he challenge for leaders will be insuring that they have the right people in the right jobs, training them and giving them the latitude to make informed decisions based on a set of established parameters.  The bottom line is that leaders will have to find people who can execute on the vision and ideas of the organization.  This does not mean they will not be able to go off script when unique circumstances exist, but they will have been coached and prepared to accept the responsibility to make sound decisions.  Leading from behind results in a culture where innovation and creativity are nourished and rewarded which will set the successful organizations apart from all others.

As a leader, you have to be willing to bring up the rear if you want your team to be the best they can be and produce the results you are looking for. 
In the military, the general is rarely on the front lines in the heat of battle, he is often-times in a position where he has the best view of the battlefield.  He knows that each soldier has been carefully selected and trained for the task he has been assigned.  As a result, the general is confident in the soldier’s ability to carry out the mission.

Developing your team and coaching them for success will also result in a stronger bench where your next leaders will emerge.  So, get out of the way and watch them succeed, sometimes the view is better when leading from behind.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

If Not Me, Then Who

“If not me, who? And if not now, when?”
Mikhail Gorbachev

My sister Leslie has been in the nursing field for over twenty years.  In that time she has performed at a very high level and has taken the lead in several initiatives within the hospital.
Over the past year she has had the opportunity to travel to various events on behalf of her union and her colleagues.    At one such event she noticed that while nurses in other ethnic groups were being singled out and honored for their significant contributions in the nursing field, recognition of the contributions and representation of black nurses was strangely absent.  Now I am not normally one to highlight a specific race as we are all part of the human race, however, I thought the actions taken by my sister needed to be called out and acknowledged.

One day while visiting her home she told me of her idea to hold an event that would not only support, but acknowledge the contributions of black nurses all through history and those being made by black nurses today.  I will never forget what she said to me, “I just want to make a difference.”   She saw a need and wanted to fill it.  The need fueled her passion and set a vision in place that came to fruition.

With no outside financial support, she invested her own money and organized the entire event, and you know what, she pulled it off!  I am so proud of her I am about to burst my buttons.
She did not wait for someone else to take the lead, “If not me, who?”   Now she could have easily said I would like to do it someday, but acted when she had the idea to make it happen.  “And if not now, when?”  Through an unwavering commitment and with the support of her family she was able to make a significant impact in the lives of those in attendance.  

As I looked into the audience I saw the faces of nurses who are proud to serve in a profession that helps so many in their road to recovery.  They take pride in their work and although it is not necessary for someone to pat them on the back, everyone wants to feel appreciated and acknowledged for the work they do.  My sister organized a forum in order to shine the light on the daily efforts of these unsung heroes.

This is a great example of one person wanting to make a difference and taking on the challenge.  She was not intimidated by how difficult it would be to put on such an event, she just did it.
The event was very successful and she cannot wait until she holds the next one next year.  Her dream is that the event will be larger than this year and in a bigger venue.  I have no doubt that she and those who support her vision will make it happen.

As I celebrate Black History Month, it is my dream that one day the efforts of one nurse, who happened to be black, will be recognized as one of the great achievements of her time.

If you have a dream or see a problem that needs to be taken on, ask yourself the question, if not me, then who?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

My heart started to race when I looked into my rear view mirror and saw the beautiful, but anxiety-creating lights from police patrol cars.  Yes, I said cars.  My mind automatically went to thinking that maybe I fit the description of a bank robber or maybe it was just a case of mistaken identity.  I quickly found the safest place to park and pulled to a stop.  My heart was pounding like a Polynesian playing drums on my chest.  

One officer approached on the right and the other on the left.  I was praying that this was not going to be an episode of COPS.  But then I remembered I was not wearing a white sleeveless t-shirt.

Then one of the officers came up to my window and asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”  I said, “No."  He explained it was because he had observed me on my cell phone while diving.  Whew!  What a relief.  He said he would let me off with a warning this time.

He was right.  I was on my cell phone and I should not have been.  My son called me and instead of pulling over to take the call, I answered it while driving. 

Why am I sharing this story with you?  For two reasons:  1. As a leader we have to set the right example even when no one else is looking; 2. We must not justify breaking the law even when we consider the offense minor.

Yesterday while driving I saw a police officer with the same department on his cell phone while driving.  Hmm… “Do as I say, not as I do.”  I guess that is his philosophy. 

Well, needless to say I will not be driving without the benefit of a blue tooth head set anymore, but it made me think about  how many in leadership do not feel the same rules they enforce on us apply to them.  Remember Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary who forgot to pay taxes or how about Representative Charles B. Rangel who was recently censured for ethical misconduct?  In both cases the issue was about the payment of taxes.  Do as I say, not as I do.

It has been increasingly clear that many leaders whether Police officers or our government officials believe they can play by a different set of standards while they hold us to the letter of the law.

So, what do we do?

We do what is right, just and fair.  That is leadership!

No matter what our leaders do, we cannot use it as an excuse to commit fraud, lie, cheat or speak on our cell phones as long as there is a law against it.  I have a friend who said something really profound.  She said that because there are enough people who feel like they are over-taxed and over-regulated, FRAUD will be the next growth industry, (Medicare ring a bell?).  Wow!  Think about that for a while.

If our country is going to change for the better it will start with each of us doing the right thing.

Are you doing the right thing?