I was asked to write one of the keynote (inaugural) Valued Leadership blog posts for this program. “Program” is probably not the right metaphor. It’s perhaps more of a learning platform or a context for peer leadership enrichment. Join me and others as we learn together about what we hope is both effective and wise leadership.
I will begin with a few ruminations about the four C-words that are being used to frame and focus this learning work. Over the last two decades I have heard many phrases used to characterize effective leaders. They “stick to the knitting” (Tom Peters). They “make the main thing the main thing” (Steve Covey). They “see the deeper patterns in the apparent chaos” (Margaret Wheatley). They “adapt tactics quickly and still achieve long-term objectives” (Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky). We could go on. Although the euphemisms vary, they have something in common. Each of these presupposes a sense of internal coherence or a set of convictions that hold steady though much else may be in flux.
Our four words—Character, Collaboration, Culture, and Change—will serve us as a way of framing very important dimensions of our leadership. They provide coherence. These words invite us to reflect on who we are as leaders (character), our style of engagement (collaboration), the types of communities we create (culture) and our context (change). They invite us to explore both ends and means. This will be an exciting journey together.
In this post I want to particularly focus on the matter of character. It’s been said that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” I suggest that “character eats competence for lunch.” Now what do I mean? I firmly believe that at the heart of truly effective leadership is the heart of the leader. I didn’t coin this phrase. Many have used it (including Warren Bennis). But I am old enough and been around the bush enough times to know how important this is.
Let me tell you a story. Obviously the names have been changed to spare embarrassment, defamation of character, or inappropriate hubris…smile.
Joe was a legacy CEO. He had led the organization through nearly 25 years of unanticipated and unprecedented growth. He was strong-willed. Some would have characterized him as a “lion”—ready to take on the world, make a point, make a difference, and make a mark. This energy got a lot done. But sadly over time and as he grew older, he grew less attentive to those around him. He became defensive when challenged by the board and his senior staff. Although his legacy was rich with accomplishments, near the end of his career the senior team and board was eager for a change. It was hard for them to wait out his leaving—sad.
Jane too was a legacy CEO. She had served in the organization for nearly 30 years. Long before others grew weary of her leadership, she decided she had made enough of a contribution and she wanted to leave before she was tired and while there were still plenty of important things for the next executive to do. She tendered her resignation with a year’s notice. There was sadness but joy in a job well done. She blessed the team, board, and her successor.
Dan Ebener in one of his recent books, Blessings for Leaders: Leadership Wisdom from the Beatitudes, suggests that one of the great ironies of leadership is that as leaders bless others, they are blessed. Perhaps this points to the essence of character in leadership: can we be a blessing to others?
My hope is that Valued Leadership and the 4C platform can be a blessing to leaders and organizations in the MHS community and beyond.