Hidden Leadership Lesson #32

A leader is one who others have chosen to follow.  So because leaders require followers, it is imperative that the leader be a person of utmost integrity.  Knowing who you are and what you stand for and embodying this in your way-of-being is paramount.  Moreover integrity is the antecedent to trustworthiness. Why is this important?  Who among us would decide to follow another who wasn’t worthy of our trust!  As Katherine Hays, CEO of GenARts, shared in an interview “Someone was doing a reference check on me at some point a few years back, and people said that I’m extremely honest and fair, and that was one of the greatest compliments somebody could give me, because those are really core to being a great leader.”  The decision to follow another should be a free choice, one based on trust and not one made out of fear.  Developing ones’ personhood should therefore be the first step to take for great leadership.

Since leading is about showing the way forward, it requires having the will and ability to look beyond the immediate horizon. This means that executives ought not place the focus of their attention on results in the short-term.  Fear of short-term loss will limit both perspective and potential.  As Katherine asserts “you can’t focus on what’s just happened because you can’t change it…you have to balance that with maintaining focus on what the next steps are.” In other words leadership requires taking the long view that broadens a leader’s focus of attention and concern. Leaders who are willing and able to gain perspective are able to see beyond the immediate issues and gain the critical insight and necessary foresight to set a sound strategic direction for the enterprise. Shortsighted leaders can’t possibly show the way beyond the horizon!

Effective leaders know that there can be no sacred ideas and that he/she is not the one and only person with creative ideas. Thus effective leadership is also about facilitating the expression of the potential that lies in others.  This means that the effective leader provides the space—physical and psychological—within which people can freely exercise their capabilities and where creativity can emerge.  When sharing a recent leadership lesson Katherine noted “I’m learning more about being quiet, stepping back and having my team really direct more of it.  And to help them think about things as owners.”  Enabling people to gain a sense of ownership affords meaning and joy in work.  When people are meaningfully engaged then the likelihood of their creative abilities emerging increases.

Effective leaders facilitate learning so that the prospects for tomorrow will be better. Katherine expresses this principle when talking about the culture she strives to create,  “If you’re really the owner of a piece of work, you’re actually excited about the feedback because it’s going to help you improve what you’re doing. I think you have to have a culture where being wrong is O.K. — at least during the process — so that people can say, O.K., I got this piece wrong, but now I’ve corrected it and we’re moving forward to a better answer.” That is to say, leading for learning is central to effective leadership: And for this to be fully realized fear must not be part of the culture, which brings us back to the first step toward leadership.

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