I was so impressed with this article by George Ambler, that I’m posting this link to the article, The everyday tasks of leadership.

Ambler talks about three major leadership tasks:

  • Setting direction (mission, vision, values)
  • Building commitment (trust, accountability, cooperation)
  • Creating alignment (common ground, shared responsibility)

Are there others that he left out?  Do all the significant leadership tasks fit into these three themes?  Please share you comments on this blog, and let’s make this a fruitful discussion.

Here’s a proposal I made to a group of entrepreneurs, who wanted to re-vitalize their meetings, and provide more value to each other:

I’d suggest that at each meeting we function as a Board of Advisors for one member business or business to be. We’d have that business make a brief presentation about goals, organization, status, and some critical decisions that they are facing. The group could then ask questions, and, finally, offer some advice.

A few notes about this process, what’s required, and what might go wrong:

  • We’d all have to respect confidentiality — that’s what’s shared in the meeting room stays there.
  • It’s always temping to listen little and speak quickly. This process demands a process of listening carefully, then asking questions that really are about clarifying and understanding. Only after that it advice appropriate.
  • I deliberately said board of ADVISORS and not of DIRECTORS. Assume that we have no power, except the power of good ideas.
  • From experience, I can tell you that the discussion needs to be carefully moderated, and by somebody who is not going to be a main contributor. The moderator needs to slow the group down, allow for good sharing, keep the discussion on topic, and counteract the presence of any egos that may be present in the room.
  • The advice we come up with may be worth the price paid (and no more!). It’s important to be modest about our knowledge and skill — even as we work with integrity and energy.
  • The whole endeavor also requires committed subjects, who are really trying to develop their business, who want to tell themselves and their advisers the truth, and who are open to change.

I should note that I’m happy to work with groups (profit or non-profit) interested in trying this process.

When our daughter was in high school, the school organized an evening program for parents on “resiliency theory”.  The lead speaker pointed out — as all the parents present already knew too well — that our children were at risk getting hooked on alcohol or on illegal drugs, that they may be in a crash with a drunk teenage driver, that our daughters  could get pregnant.  Indeed, there were perils at every moment!

All this is true, but not helpful, the speaker explained.  What was more helpful was the fact that our kids had been navigating these dangerous waters for some time, and had mostly been making good decisions.  We needed to identify the strengths that led to those decisions — such qualities as character, judgement, integrity, and courage — and find ways to highlight and support those strengths.  We needed to empower our children, reminding them of the positive qualities that they have to draw upon — rather than focus primarily on the risks that they face.  The risks were real and important, but they were not a key to safety and positive action.

What he was talking about, we learned, is “resiliency theory”.  There’s an excellent summary of these ideas at the WestEd Health Kids website:

At its foundation, a resilience based approach to youth development is based upon the principle that all people have the ability to overcome adversity and to succeed despite it. Resilience is a strengths based model meaning its focus is on providing the supports and opportunities which promote life success, rather than trying only to eliminate the factors that promote failure.

Research has consistently shown that the presence of these developmental supports and opportunities provide a better indicator of whether youth will grow up to become successful well-adjusted adults than the presence or absence of risk-factors (i.e. poverty, drug-use, etc.)

I’ve found this a helpful approach with people of all ages.  Recently I took on a new ‘coaching” client, a manager who came with a list of goals reflecting difficulty in social skills, a sense that he was managing short term operations but not visioning or achieving long term goals, and a concern that he was in some significant way a disappointment to his staff.  Indeed, when I had him complete an inventory of strength and weaknesses, and of the parts of his work and personal life that were working well or that were lacking in significant ways, I could see the same judgements and concerns reflecting in his answers.

We could have wallowed in those negative perceptions.  It might have been cathartic, and perhaps satisfying, but I doubt that it would have been empowering.  Instead, I suggested that we start by reviewing all the areas where he had given himself the highest ratings — to see what innate strengths, and what positive actions had made those parts of his work and personal life function so well.  That was the beginning of a healthy coaching relationship that has seen him energize his staff, spend more time envisioning and working for needed changes in his organization, and feel better about himself and his contribution at work.  Our focus is on what we can do, rather than on what might have eluded him.  He’s in control of the coaching sessions, and I believe he’s more in control of his life.

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