The Art and Craft of Leadership
The other day I was leading a staff meeting in my department at The Everett Clinic. We were discussing some important issues in our work. After the meeting, I felt that I hadn’t done a very good job in my role as a leader…I did too much talking and not enough listening. I hadn’t facilitated a very productive discussion--I was disappointed in my performance. This stimulated me to think about the nature of leadership.
As our nation moves toward the next presidential election, many of us are reflecting on what makes a good leader. After all, we are going to have to pick someone to be the next president! We can look back in history and select individuals who were great leaders in times of crisis—Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln—just to name a few. But lately, it seems to me, there is lack of leadership skills in many of our current leaders. Many of us are disappointed. And, I think it has resulted in a loss of faith in our government.
So what makes a good leader? When are leadership skills required in everyday life? Is leadership an art or a craft? How can we develop these abilities?
A couple of years ago, I attended a 5 day workshop on the “Art of Leadership” led by Robert Gass. There were about 25 participants, mostly women, who were mid-level directors of health care organizations, non-profit organizations, schools and businesses. It was an eye-opener for me. In one of the exercises, small groups were given an interesting and unique problem to solve. I jumped in with a very clear idea of how to solve this puzzle. I was so sure of myself. The only catch —I was completely wrong! An “outside the box” solution was required, and I was thinking in traditional ways. It was sobering.
Leadership skills are not just required for managers or executives. Every day parents exercise leadership skills with their families. Leadership is required in any context in which decisions must be made which need action, resources and people. Challenges in daily life can demand that someone take charge and encourage the cooperation and participation of others.
So here are some points to consider:
Leaders connect with the people around them. Connecting with others enables us to feel part of something larger than ourselves. Connecting with your children and spouse make them feel part of a “family”. Connecting with co-workers make them feel part of an “organization”. It reflects your genuine interest in the other person. This is a necessary pre-condition for someone to want to follow your lead.
“Over-confidence” and “under-confidence” can be equally negative. In the workshop, I noticed that many of us males suffered from “over-confidence” (Yeah—we were so sure of ourselves even when we were completely wrong!) and many of the women lacked confidence (despite the fact that they were often right!). Too often, adults rely on age or experience to guide them and to provide them with confidence in themselves. It’s not always a good idea….Good ideas can come from anywhere!
Good leaders are good listeners. Effective leaders are better at listening to others than making their point. And when they do express an opinion, it is respectful of the people around them.
Effective leaders bring forth the voices of others. This can be a tough one for me! Helping others articulate their thoughts, find new approaches, come together with others, and chart a successful course of action is the work of leadership. This helps others find the wisdom and knowledge that is within them. This, I believe, is the fuel of organizations that flourish.
Strong leaders have courage. They are not afraid to make decisions, make mistakes, or make enemies. They do not let their fear prevent them from acting. They are willing to stand up for what they believe in—but in a way that is respectful of the people around them.
Leaders don’t “push” or “pull” others—they bring them along. When you push others, guess what, they push back. When you pull others, they resist. But when you bring them along with you, they want to come. That is the magic of effective leadership.
So what do you think makes a good leader?