Category Archives: Leadership

What I Want from Elected Leaders

I started this series on leadership with an eye toward the upcoming election cycle. Admittedly, most of the commentary provides guidance on how leaders best serve their organizations and team members. But let me get back to my original motivation and speak directly to expectations of our elected officials.

elected leaderBe an honest, forthright candidate. Provide solid evidence on the campaign trail about who you are, what you believe in, and what you plan to do in office. Don’t serve up empty platitudes and euphemisms. Don’t promise the stars and the moon unless you can demonstrate how you’ll pay for them and how it will affect the economy. Be open about who funds your campaign and how that will influence your decision-making.

If elected, act in integrity. What was promised during the campaign should find expression while in office. Speak the truth. Let everyone know that your word is your bond. Show your constituents that you care more about their interests and the good of the nation than you do about getting re-elected. Live into your oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Let each branch of government attend to the tasks for which it has a clear mandate. Work effectively and cohesively with State and local governments. Let our system of checks and balances serve the American people as they were intended. Be transparent in all your affairs. Obey the law and make sure your associates do the same.

Leverage subject matter experts to educate the public and make important decisions. Scientists render crucial commentary on environmental considerations and changing weather patterns. Epidemiologists and public health professionals can tell us how to combat the current pandemic and protect ourselves from future threats. Economists can weigh in on the financial impact of policy initiatives. Diplomats have spent their lifetimes understanding complex geopolitical relationships. Career military officers have the training and experience necessary to assess the efficacy of military presence on foreign soil or in armed conflict. Surround yourself with the best and brightest. Listen attentively to their commentary and recommendations. Do enough of your own homework to engage them effectively. And when you’ve reached a decision, tell us why we’re pursuing a particular course of action and what we need to do to support it.

Keep a watchful eye on impending threats that could affect our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and take action accordingly. Nuclear arsenals. Global warming. Pollution. Pandemics. Income inequality. Racial strife. Teetering economies. To name a few. Much of the work that will keep us safe won’t make headlines or garner acclaim. Do it anyway. Some of it will put a crimp on our lifestyles and make us grumpy. Take a stand for what’s in our best long-term interests anyway. Bring us on board with your reasoning so that we can all leave the country and the planet in good shape for the generations to come.

Be fiscally responsible. Assess taxes sensibly and fairly. Make sure we’re spending money on the right things in the right amounts. Hire good people and hold their feet to the fire on assigned deliverables. Trim the fat out of the government payroll. Curtail the national debt by balancing the budget and working toward generating a surplus to pay it down. Be an example of fiscal restraint and call upon your colleagues to join you.

Take seriously the mandate to serve all of the people, not just the folks who support your political agenda. According to Gallup polling data, registered Democrats and Republicans each lay claim to roughly 30% of registered voters with Independents, other party affiliations, and “none of the above” accounting for the remaining 40%. It makes no sense to pursue an aggressive agenda that delights 30% of voters, aggravates 30% of others, and leaves a burgeoning group of folks in the middle who find fault with both extremes. It makes no sense for one party to hold power and enact legislation that the other party rips apart 4 or 8 years later. And it does not make sense for uncompromising deadlock between House of Representatives and Senate, or Congress and the President. Do what all the rest of us out in the real world have to do. Compromise. Carve out some livable space in the middle that will persist across administrations.

Be a peacemaker. Stretch your hand across the political aisle to build relationships. Listen deeply to folks whose views are very different from your own. Model the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. Find the shared humanity on which we can build a strong, unified nation.

The Inner Path of Leadership

This week’s post on leadership features the work of Joseph Jaworski and his international best-selling book Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. Mr. Jaworski is an attorney, corporate strategist, and founder of the American Leadership Forum, The Global Leadership Initiative, and Generon International, an international consulting firm specializing in organizational renewal.

Jaworski sets the context for his commentary by noting that individuals want to be in contribution to their communities and fulfill their life’s purpose. Fear and a relentless drive for more and more material goods often get in the way of these goals. Great leaders can remove these stumbling blocks by helping people catch a new vision of the world in which we are all a part and establish the means through which every individual engages with it. In this altered world vision, relationships matter, not things, and all people in all places are connected. This concept hearkens back to Bell’s Theorem, which goes something like this:

two particlesImagine two paired particles in a two-particle system. If you take them apart any distance and you change the spin on one of the particles, the other will change its spin simultaneously. The experimentally proven phenomenon is the result of the oneness of apparently separate objects.

When extending Bell’s Theorem to humanity, individuals are inextricably part of a larger whole that evolves constantly. As individuals, we are tasked to be open and learn so that we can sense and actualize emerging new realities. As leaders, we must be attuned to human possibilities such that we can provide inspiration, guidance, and stewardship toward their realization. Jaworski defines the deepest territory of leadership as “listening to what is wanting to emerge in the world, and then having the courage to do what is required.”

Far from being a traditional command-and-control presence, Jaworski’s leaders leverage their wisdom and power to serve others. In their work with groups, they are challenged to find ways to dissolve the perception of separateness and help individuals experience one another on an entirely new level. It demands an exceptional talent for listening, an ability to tease out the common threads and shared goals, and the capacity to bring forth confidence to act. This model recognizes that there is extraordinary power in a group committed to a common vision. When groups achieve the shift to wholeness, the membership realizes a profound impact on their insights and achievements. It also increases the likelihood of synchronicity – what C.G. Jung describes as “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”

“Wholeness” does not entail a dissolution of individuality. Though they may act as one unit, each member of a group retains his or her individual awareness and experience. Likewise, collective action does not require complete agreement. Rather, it encourages people to contribute and participate in a pool of shared meaning that leads to aligned action. For example, individuals may take part in coordinated action yet have different rationales for achieving a shared outcome.

Jaworski’s core message: Destiny stands in need of all of us individually and collectively. We can create the world in which we live. No one’s efforts are too small to make a difference. We must open our eyes and see the possibilities!

A final story punctuates his point:

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coal mouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

bird on snowy twig“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal-mouse said. “I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow – not heavily, not in a ragging blizzard – no, just like in a dream, without a wound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch – nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

A U.S. Marine’s Lessons on Leadership

james mattisIn my third post on leadership, I’ll share insights from Former Secretary of Defense and Retired General James Mattis’ book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. In addition to his civilian posts, General Mattis held command positions in three Middle Eastern wars. He led the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, a specialized unit that ensures the combat-readiness of the Corps. And, he was a Supreme Allied Commander for the US Joint Forces Command. In short, he knows how to lead.

My Dad was a proud Marine. From the Corps, he gained a profound sense of duty, a commitment to always being prepared for what was expected of him, and a dedication to mastering his profession. As a new recruit, he learned that “you can be a quitter, or you can be a Marine.” Dad was no quitter. He described his leaders as “tough son-of-a-guns” – as tough (or tougher) than the men in their charge. (Yep, it was all male in those days.) He admired them through and through, never hesitating to follow them into battle.

General Ulysses S. Grant characterized leadership in three words: humility, toughness, and single-mindedness. General Mattis adds three more:

  • Competence – brilliant in the basics and committed to continuous improvement (no one is excused from studying!)
  • Caring – knowing the men and women in your command, being respectful, providing direct and forthright feedback, and showing no favoritism
  • Conviction – being clear on what you want and what you will and won’t stand for (albeit with flexibility to change your position should conditions warrant)

While quite a bit of the book addresses the military, a large number of his precepts find resonance in any organizational setting:

  • For any operation, establish and communicate an intent that is consistent with the mission of the unit. Make sure that it is achievable, clearly understood, and capable of delivering what the unit is tasked with accomplishing.
  • Build a cohesive team with a centralized vision and decentralized planning and execution. Have faith in your subordinates once you’ve trained them. Delegate aggressively to the lowest capable level, matching personalities to the tasks at hand. Measure your effectiveness as a leader by how well your unit can function without you.
  • Choose the toughest threat against which to train. Practice, practice, practice. Make your moves second nature. Be like jazz musicians who are so familiar with their band mates that they know how to improvise together. Ask yourself daily: What have I overlooked? Where are the choke points in my plans?
  • Operations move at the speed of trust. Provide latitude for action without orders so long as it’s within the overarching plan. Provide coaching and feedback. Reward initiative; tolerate mistakes. Encourage; never berate.
  • Work with what you have; don’t whine about what you don’t have. Don’t get bogged down. If something isn’t working, shift gears. Don’t lose momentum.
  • Keep your superiors informed about your ground-level insights. Don’t assume that they see what you see. Articulate options and consequences, even when unpopular.
  • Spend time with the troops to find out what they’re thinking and feeling.

General Mattis learned from others; he was always a voracious reader of military history. As he says: “By traveling into the past, I enhance my grasp on the present.” So, he offers these words of wisdom from General George G. Marshall:

“The leader must learn to cut to the heart of a situation, recognize its decisive elements, and base his course of action on them. The ability to do this… is a process of years. He must realize that training in solving problems of all types… are indispensable requisites for the successful practice of the art of war… It is essential that all leaders… familiarize themselves with the art of clear, logical thinking.”

Primal Leadership

I’ve featured Daniel Goleman’s writings in two prior posts – one on meditation and another on emotional intelligence (EQ). In partnership with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, he applied his teaching on EQ to the subject of leadership.

teamwork The central thesis of Primal Leadership is that great leadership works through the emotions. Whatever they set out to do, leaders mobilize followers by driving emotions in the right direction. If they engender confidence, enthusiasm, and an esprit de corps, performance soars. Optimism and positive regard enhance creativity, decision-making, and cooperation. People work best when they feel good. By contrast, if leaders instill fear, anxiety, and rancor, the entire group will be thrown off stride.

To achieve improved business performance, leaders need to take their self-development seriously. That effort requires connecting to what really matters to them while working on key markers of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social competence, social awareness, and relationship management.

Research from those who have taken up this mantle tells us:

  • Goals should build on one’s strengths, not one’s weaknesses.
  • Goals must be a person’s own, not goals that someone else has imposed.
  • Plans should flexibly allow people to prepare for the future in different ways; a single “planning” method imposed by an organization will often prove counterproductive.
  • Plans must be feasible, with manageable steps. Plans that don’t fit smoothly into a person’s life will likely be dropped within a few weeks or months.
  • Plans that don’t suit a person’s learning style will prove demotivating and quickly lose his or her attention.

The authors claim that “emotional intelligence and resonance in a workplace may draw on the ancient human organizing principle of the primal band – those groups of fifty to one hundred people who roamed the land with a common bond and whose survival depended on close understanding and cooperation.” They find meaning in connection and attunement with one another. They share a collective identity, a sense of “fit” within their group, and a sense of well-being in community.

Rules of engagement for effective leadership:

  • Discover the Emotional Reality: Know and respect the group’s values and the organization’s integrity. If something fundamental needs to change, start at the top with a bottom-up strategy. Core beliefs, mindsets, and culture cannot be imposed forcibly; people need to drive change organically. Think about how you’ll bring everyone into the conversation. Discuss what is and is not working; imagine a world in which a high percentage of activity works.
  • Visualize the Ideal: Formulate a vision that will resonate with others on a deep and personal level. Avoid abstractions; communicate so that people can see, feel, and touch the values and mission of the revitalized organization. Find a way to connect high-level goals with each individual’s dreams, beliefs, and values. Build a culture that supports a healthy bottom-line as well as a healthy tribe.
  • Sustain Emotional Intelligence: With each interaction and decision, demonstrate alignment between personal values and those of the greater whole. Lead through fidelity to the shared mission, open communication, effective coaching, and respect for the individual. Call on everyone to act in integrity. Attend to organizational realignment, job definition, support infrastructure, and performance expectations to match the vision.

Leadership development needs to be a strategic priority of the enterprise. It does not happen naturally by promoting individuals into supervisory roles. Leaders need dedicated time to work on themselves while acquiring the skills to excel in relationship with others. They need a safe place for learning in which they can have experiences that are both relevant and challenging. They need strong mentors and coaches with whom they can have meaningful dialog and secure expert advice. And they need the freedom to use what they’ve learned to pursue new opportunities and solve real problems in their organizations. As the authors tell us:

“For most leaders, and even most managers, it is not more clarity about the strategy that will make the difference. It is not yet another five-year plan, and it is not another mundane leadership program. What makes a difference is finding passion for the work, for the strategy, and for the vision – and engaging hearts and minds in the search for a meaningful future. One more intellectual planning exercise is not going to get people engaged, and it certainly won’t change a culture.”


As the country ramps into high gear for the coming election cycle, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit books on leadership that I’ve read over the years. First up is a book by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus entitled Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge.

abraham lincolnRight up front, the authors assert that leadership is all about character. Great leaders are persons of integrity with a healthy self-regard, a compelling vision, a penchant for cultivating human possibility, and laser-like focus on desired outcomes. They manifest 5 key skills:

  • An ability to accept people as they are, not as they’d like them to be
  • A capacity to approach issues and relationships in the present, informed by history but not rooted in it
  • A practice of treating close associates with the same courtesy as they offer to strangers
  • An ability to trust others, even when it means taking risks
  • An ability to do without constant approval and recognition from others

In addition to these five key skills, Bennis and Nanus describe four areas of competency that all extraordinary leaders possess.

Attention Through Vision: Great leaders have a clear and compelling organizational vision and commit fully to getting there. They aren’t thrown off task by the myriad of day-to-day distractions; they remain undeterred when roadblocks and bumps in the road cross their paths. They capitalize on opportunities, course correct as necessary, and sustain focus, flexibility, and optimism along the way.

Meaning Through Communication: Great leaders know how to share their visions in ways that bring forth enthusiasm and commitment in others. This skill demands a mastery of communications alongside an ability to establish a context that resonates for all concerned. As the authors tell us:

“When the organization has a clear sense of its purpose, direction, and desired future state and when this image is widely shared, individuals are able to find their roles in both the organization and in the larger society of which they are a part.”

Purposeful engagement engenders vigor and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand.

Trust Through Positioning: Leaders secure trust by faithfulness to their organizational identity. It’s measured by how they structure and staff the organization, by the policies they enact, the decisions they make, and the results they achieve. Their fidelity yields “clean bills of health” when subjected to rigorous (unfettered) third party investigation or audit.

Deployment of Self Through Positive Self-Regard: Effective leadership springs from a healthy sense of self. Great leaders know their worth and trust themselves without getting caught up in their egos or needing to maintain external images. They’re committed to evolving personally and professionally. They evaluate themselves dispassionately to discern the “fit” between their skills/experience and the requirements of the job. They shore up their weaknesses and bend their ears toward good advice.

Finally, the authors remind us:

“The challenge to leaders will be to act as compassionate coaches, dedicated to reducing stress by ensuring that the whole team has everything it needs – from human to financial resources to emotional support and encouragement – to work together effectively and at peak performance most of the time. Recognizing, developing, and celebrating the distinctive skills of each individual will become critically important to organizational survival.”