Sunday, June 17, 2007

Leadership for the long haul vs KISA

People often come to me to fix their problems, particularly at my work place. Sometimes they just need a decision and don't want to or can't make it themselves. I try to encourage my managers to come to me with a proposal and often all they get is my blessing to go ahead. When I have additional information, though, I can suggest modifications to their proposal, and it will be a better solution.

The line that struck me most in reading Ronald Heifetz in
Leadership without Easy Answers was on p. 87. "First, an authority figure exercising leadership has to tell the difference between technical and adaptive situations because they require different responses. She must ask the the key differentiating question: Does making progress on this problem require changes in people's values, attitudes or habits of behavior?”

I think we treat far too many issues as technical and not adaptive, and I wonder how it is we can learn to distinguish the two? All too often we think that our credibility, and thus our informal authority, depends on having the answer. We have to change our own habits and ways of thinking so that we know we don't always have to be the expert.

The other thing that struck me was that the people need to learn, and we must empower them to do so. I once fired a manager who could not learn how to learn--well, it's a longer story, but in this context, he just could not do adaptive work and his technical expertise was a hammer in a place that sometimes needed a screwdriver or a sponge. It was enormously difficult because he had been quite a good hammer, and then things changed.

A friend in my leadership class was describing a situation where his inner KISA (knight in shining armor) was tempted to step in and fix everything. Adaptive work takes time, and is not conducive to easy fixes. In technical work the problem is clear and so is the solution and what is required is expertise in a leader. In true adaptive work neither the problem nor the solution are clear and both require learning on the part of the leader and those being led, but the greater responsibility lies with the people. One of the keys to good leadership in these situations is giving work back to the people at a rate that they can stand.

My fantasy series recommendation to my friend was the Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey that starts with
Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, and Arrow's Fall. In it the heroine learns the differences, and the consequences for each, between leaders (Heralds in Valdemar) who plunge into the rescue, save the day, and ride away, and those who have to stay there day after day and deal with the results of their actions.

But I like the metaphor of the knight or herald as leader because at least you can get off your high horse sometimes and let people do their own learning, even though, of course, you might be able to do it so much better...

Monday, June 11, 2007

The spiritual practice of napping

Yesterday afternoon I took quite a lovely long nap instead of reading my assignment. I've come to regard naps as a spiritual practice, particularly those that overtake me on Sunday at 3 p.m. after a busy week and a full Sunday morning. I acknowledge the nap as a spiritual practice of leadership, or at least as a consequence of leadership.

Of course, one of the twentieth century’s great leaders, Winston Churchill, was famous for his naps, in case we need a role model--not that we need justification for naps.

Napping is also one of my most authentic Sabbath practices as a Christian I suspect.

It’s something that can happen even on those Sundays where I haven’t been playing a leadership role at church on Sunday mornings. In those semesters where I don’t have a lot of theology to read (history or ethics also work well), I miss that Spirit-led drifting off on Sunday afternoons after too many late nights of staying up to finish “just one more thing.” Drifting off while reading a mystery, science fiction or fantasy doesn’t have the same spiritual feel. :-) Leave the computer now and head to your couch or recliner with a good, but thin, book of theology. It will refresh your spirit, if you actually get any reading done, or even more, if you just nap.

Why a thin book of theology? It doesn’t wake you up when it hits your chest or the floor. I won’t make public recommendations for authors beyond that.

Happy napping.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Leadership and Charisma

I am taking a class on Leading from Within: Spirituality and Leadership. We’re reading Ronald Heifetz’s Leadership without Easy Answers and Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers.

I was hanging out with my daughter in the Young Adult section of the library and checked out The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce to read this weekend, which as it turns out makes a wonderful fiction companion volume to Heifetz and Wink this week on domination. The empress in this case is in a very hierarchical empire where everyone knows their place and everyone bows to the empress' every whim (deference). Of course our heroine and her friends do not. While this is not subtle it is an excellent overt overview of power in action.

In our discussion board someone asked: How much of leadership is simply about charisma? In this book, the Empress is quite charismatic, but she's not being a good leader for all of her people, only for the ones who agree with her. Hitler was quite charismatic, they say, and I think that one can argue that he was not really a good leader, if leadership is defined as Heifetz and Wink do. I would also say I have known or read about bad leaders, but I think the word "leader" has an unspoken inference of doing good, but that is not always true.

Without allowing for the possibility of bad leadership, we have no cure, no recourse. If we have a strong leader in place, with a lot of vision, does that mean that the organization will survive? Perhaps, but it does not mean that all of the people in the organization will survive. Does leadership mean finding a solution that works for everyone or does it mean finding what works best for most people with the least harm to others? But where does it tilt, when leaders are doing what’s best for a progressively smaller and more elite subset of the organization, until leadership is perfectly selfish?

In a representative democracy, whose interests are the leaders representing? This would apply to the deacons elected by a congregation, as well as state representatives and members of Congress. Is it such an elected leader’s responsibility to speak up for one who can’t speak for herself or safeguard the rights of the oppressed or of the many? Their very charisma means that we will just assume that they’ll be acting on our behalf, because we “like” them. These are questions that we must ask those who want lead so that we are clear about what we will get from the leaders we choose.

And if we are leaders in organizations, for whom do we speak? What deference do we ask of others? What deference do we give? What good do we do? What harm do we prevent? Whom do we help? Whom do we harm?