So much has been written about leadership, but there is always more to learn. Since all of us are leaders in one context or another it’s important to think about our lives often from a leadership perspective. How can we be followers of Jesus and not be interested in leadership? Jesus came for many reasons, but certainly one of the reasons He came was to redeem a people who would live to make a difference in a world of insidious corruption. Here are some additional gleanings on leadership from the Chick-fil-A Leadercast, the benefits of which I began to describe in my last session.
Anyone who studies leadership, especially in a Christian context, will soon discover John Maxwell, one of the original founders of the Leadercast series. Though I must admit I have not always been a fan of Maxwell’s because of some of his ideas including the thought that “leadership is influence” (simply because that statement seems to miss the moral responsibility of leadership), he does have a way of simplifying complex ideas. He implies that educators tend to complicate the simple, while effective communicators simplify the complex. He went on to say that there is a difference between being simple and simplistic. The latter is shallow and fast. To be complex, he says, is to be deep and slow. But simple implies that one is deep and fast which really should be the goal of every leader. To lead simply, Maxwell contends, takes a simple lesson in mathematics:
- ADD value to people everyday. By this he means to continually find ways to invest in people for their benefit. It should be a daily question of ourselves about the extent to which we added value to someone’s life.
- SUBTRACT your leadership land-mines. Get rid of ideas or practices that take away from effective leadership. i.e. to make everyone happy.
- MULTIPLY your strengths by developing them. Here he emphasized that it’s important not to spend time on developing one’s own weaknesses. I think the idea here is to accept them for what they are and move on. I’d say there is a good deal of wisdom in this, but we should be careful not to ignore or take advice concerning our weaknesses.
- DIVIDE your weaknesses by delegating them. We need to acknowledge our weaknesses and get rid of those things we don’t do well.
There were some speakers that I missed in part, or did not make a huge impression on me. But another one who did impress me was Condoleezza Rice. She was interviewed by John Maxwell on a park bench (which meant there were some distractions). In her work as Secretary of State to the President of the United States, of course she dealt with serious complexity. She said it is important not to be overwhelmed by complexity, but simply to focus on the few things one can do to make things better. In seeking to negotiate peace, she would often ask, What is the one thing I can do to change the direction of this conversation? I like that thought, because sooner or later we all find ourselves in conversations that involve negotiation. In the midst of crisis, Rice believes, we need to ask what the first thing is we can do to get things back on the right path. She advocates a few simple ideas for negotiating complex decisions:
- Be right with yourself — be centred, spiritually centred
- Try to be an optimist
- Seek to motivate people by giving attention to common goals. We need to help people see that in difficult circumstances there is a solution.
Condoleezza stressed the importance of balance in the life of a leader — taking time to schedule time for family, friends, sport, music, and reflection. She says, being a communicator is really about being a good teacher. You have to find a way to help people see the conclusion of where you are. She maintains that life is a series of events that are quite serendipitous. We need to put ourselves in a position to experience serendipity.
Jack Welch is famous in business for helping GE become a multi-billion dollar company. He is recognized as a superb business leader. Jack began by emphasizing the need to let go of things. You have to get smaller before you get bigger. Secondly, if you are a manager, he says, you have to let your employees know where you stand. Also, you have to like people in order to be genuinely interested in them and to earn their trust. Good leaders have what Welch calls, the generosity gene. His three “S’s” of leadership are self-confidence, simplicity, and speed. Under simplicity he speaks of helping people develop self-confidence. He believes a self-confident team is effective. Look for teachable moments with your people because a big part of leadership is teaching. Keep emphasizing vision (where are we going?), mission (why are we doing this?), and behaviour (how we’re getting the job done). Much about evaluating employees, he contends, is about seeking to find out how they see the future. Great performers strike a balance between what they value and how they behave — between good values and character. A few other things from Welch on leadership: it’s good to have a healthy degree of paranoia. (You are never as good or as bad as a leader as you are portrayed by others.) And you have to have a degree of resilience when you get knocked down. When asked about a couple of things that are really important for a leader, he said, 1) love what you’re doing, and 2)over-deliver for you boss — make him smarter than before the assignment
One other talk on leadership at this event came from a military leader — Lieutenant Commander of the US Navy Seals, Rorke Denver. He spoke to the question of how to constantly excel in an elite environment? To demonstrate his answer he had us all stand to reach as high as we could. Then he asked us to stretch up-ward one more inch — a powerful lesson. You can always give it a little bit more than you think you have. The other point that made an impression on me was this: every team should have a war cry. For the Navy Seals, the war cry is, Hooyah! It’s the idea of a call or word that sums up what we’re all about. He also emphasized that whatever the leader does is contagious — i.e. calm in the midst of crisis.
Good leadership it seems, is a fine art. To some degree it’s a gift, but it’s also something that can be developed with practice. I hope I can do better as a leader for having been exposed to the teaching of some of these outstanding leaders.