Monday, March 16, 2009

Week 1

Hi everyone - welcome to the summer leadership development blog!

Your “assignment” this week:
- Read the Preface and Chapter 1: What is Leadership? in the book I sent you. You are encouraged to highlight, underline, or take notes on the content - the book is yours to keep.
- AFTER you read the content and make your own observations, come back to this blog, read the thoughts I’ve written out below and respond to the questions I pose.

“I’ve watched leaders succeed, and I’ve watched us fail. The question has always been: what makes the difference?” (from the preface)

Trying to answer this question is really what the next few months are going to be about for us.
I think we can all look back at our own previous leadership experiences and identify times of failure. (I hope we can find success stories too!)

In looking at a few of my own leadership moments that I’d rather not remember, I observe that my failures have rarely been due to technical incompetence, or not being “expert enough” in whatever I’m leading towards. No, the common thread for me seems to be right where Graham defines it: shortcomings in the “so-called ‘soft-edged’ skills like developing trust, communicating with sensitivity, balancing intellect with intuition, and inspiring” those I have lead. I’m struck by his observation that developing these skills “tests your spirit as well as your mind, and challenges your ability to form positive relationships with those you lead.” Prophetic.

Reflection question #1: Think through some of your own past leadership experiences and see if this principle is true for you as well. Share some of your observations in your comments below.

“Leadership is the capacity to move others towards goals shared with you, with a focus and competency they would not achieve on their own.” (from chapter 1)

In Chapter 1 we’re presented with a number of statements about leadership and leaders which pit common assumptions against a more complete view:
- It’s not just giving directions – it’s liberating people to do what’s needed in the best possible way
- It’s not a set of rules to be followed, but an ability to build relationships
- Good leaders don’t depend on position for their authority – they depend on earning trust
- Good leaders don’t mandate good performance from those they lead – they inspire it.

Directions, rules, position and mandate vs. liberating, building relationships, earning trust and inspiring.

Reflection question #2: Does any of this blow your mind?? How is your current definition of leadership impacted by these statements? Also, what might you add to the list of expectations he presents on page 11? Or which of the ones he lists stand out most to you?

“Good leadership is often decisive in why some trips succeed and others fail.” (from chapter 1)

Graham makes this repeated distinction between what he calls “soft-edged” and “hard-edged” skills. He asserts that we spend most of our time and energy learning or teaching the hard-edged technical stuff and neglect the soft-edged skills.

I articulate this point in a slightly different way – perhaps you’ve heard me say that there’s a difference between leadership and management? I would also say that leadership is different from teaching. Now, leadership does involve both teaching and managing… but these two aspects deal with the specifics of a particular leadership environment, and I’d say the soft-edged stuff is transferable between all leadership environments. Competence at the specific skills you’ll be managing or teaching is therefore secondary to the principles of leadership, because good leadership will enhance and bring out the competencies of those around us.

Reflection question #3: How concerned / stressed are you about the specifics of leading a CTI summer team? Are you able to let that go for now and concentrate on this soft-edged stuff, or are those other concerns presenting an obstacle for you right now?

“Every time I head out with another leader, I learn something new.” (from the preface)

I was just sharing about this with Paul. This point is a really challenging one for us, because we’re all surrounded by other leaders, and, by nature of the fact that we are leaders, we’re all a bit competitive. This can result in some pretty significant power plays. The challenge is in recognizing that there is tremendous blessing to be had for ourselves and for whatever cause we lead towards if we will humble ourselves enough to learn from the leaders around us. And learning from other leaders doesn’t just mean observing their methods from the standpoint of a peer – it means submitting to them and following them.

Quick example: I went backpacking with Max Hering last October (you’ll get to meet Max this summer as he’ll be joining us as an intern.) I’ve been Max’s superior in every context I have known him in. He’s been a summer team member, a fulltime team member, a summer volunteer, and a summer leader… and he’s been my subordinate in every one of those roles. Now, I’m not a slouch when it comes to the outdoors, but I can’t hold a candle to Max. We never spoke about it directly, but there was a clear understanding that he was the leader on this trip. It felt a little weird at times, but submitting to his leadership and focusing my own leadership abilities on being a good follower contributed to a fantastic experience for both of us. It’s quite clear to me that the amount of respect we each have for the other is what made the difference.

Remember this:
- A good leader has the capacity to be the best kind of follower.
- Conversely, a good follower has the capacity to be the best kind of leader.

If leadership is “moving others towards goals shared with you” then why should we be prohibited from exhibiting good leadership as followers? Did you catch that one little line in the avalanche beacon story: “The rest of us hadn’t helped much as followers”? The more you understand about leadership, the more you should be expected to contribute towards the common goal, regardless of whether or not you are the leader specifically appointed for the moment.

Reflection question #4: How will you allow what you are learning about leadership impact how you live now as a follower?

I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts. Remember to check back throughout the week and read what everyone else has offered to the discussion!