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Day 2 at the Leadership Challenge: All about the love

I figured Day 1 of the Leadership Challenge Forum would be hard to top, but I was pleasantly surprised on the second day of the conference. Over the course of the day, I spoke with all four keynote speakers: Barry Posner, Jim Kouzes, Steve Farber, and Marshall Goldsmith. They were all gracious with their time, spoke candidly about various topics related to their work, and provided insights into their unique views of leadership.

To follow is one memorable idea from each that was shared with me in our respective conversations:

1. We need to overcome the leadership mythology

Jim Kouzes suggested, "a lot of people see leadership with that capital 'L'. They see stories about CEOs, about Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton - and they think that these people are leaders, so I'm not. But think about what Melissa Poe did..."

Melissa Poe was only nine years old when she watched a television show that painted a bleak picture of our future environment. She wrote to the then-President George H.W. Bush, but even when he didn't respond she pressed forward, created an environmental movement and founded Kids F.A.C.E (For A Clean Environment), now a large non-profit run by kids for kids. Kouzes highlights her story in The Truth About Leadership, and she is a great example of the idea that anyone can be a leader if they take the first step. Kouzes believes that we must "overcome this mythology about leadership" - the idea that it starts and stops with the most prominent members of society.

2. It's okay to talk about "love" in the workplace.

Steve Farber, author of Radical Leap (which was recently named as one of the Best 100 Business Books of all time) and Greater Than Yourself, travels around selling a concept that has traditionally met resistance in the workplace: love. "It doesn't take much to convince a business person that 'love' makes sense. Everyone wants their customers to love their products, so if I can get them to acknowledge that, then the logic that follows is very clear: The customers aren't going to love the product unless the employees are connected and love the work themselves."

Farber does not think that leaders should try to create an environment where everybody is happy all the time. Rather, "a place that is truly devoted to help one another achieve hopes, dreams, and aspirations would tend to be livelier, tend to have more arguments, tend to hear more debate because people aren't afraid to speak up - they want the place to be great. That's the kind of place that people love working for. The deeper and more sincere the love is, the higher the expectations are of one another and performance."

3. Don't force it.

Barry Posner made a comment, almost in passing, which was incredibly insightful. He said, "you can force people to do things, but it takes a lot more energy to do so." This sentiment may be, in part, the underpinning of the Leadership Challenge model. Nowhere in the approach is anything forced. Rather, a leader works to involve others, to share in an exciting future, to embrace mistakes, and to strengthen others.

Yet some hold tightly to the idea that a strong leader is one who bends others to his or her will - and we often see evidence of this in the workplace. Many leaders commonly use threats and intimidation along with common scare tactics. As the great John Wooden said, "motivating through fear may work in the short term to get people to do something, but over the long run I believe personal pride is a much greater motivator. It produces far better results that last for a much longer time."

4. It's not what you say, it's what you do.

Marshall Goldsmith was named as one of the fifteen most influential business thinkers in the world in 2009, and is probably the only person in the world who has worked with over 120 major CEOs and their management teams. And he doesn't get paid unless he gets results. Needless to say, his insights are worth considering: "To me, the key to leadership is lead by example. If the CEO is asking others to get better, but doing nothing himself, he's basically saying, 'I'm perfect, you need to get better.' Then, you know what everyone else says? 'I'm perfect, you need to get better.'"

Goldsmith brings up a concept that's easy to understand but can be difficult to emulate. Even more than words, a leader's actions are noticed and followed by employees. It's a question that's worth pondering, what messages do my actions send?

All in all, the Leadership Challenge Forum was an enjoyable experience, and I learned much from the attendees and the keynote presenters. As always, let us know what you think.

Have idea for what we should write about next? Be in touch at info@menoconsulting.com or visit us at Meno Consulting.  

By Joe Frontiera  |  August 9, 2010; 10:44 AM ET  | Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I agree with Jim Kouzes' idea that you don't have to be a "L" to lead. I have used TLC with inmates who are leaders in their own institutions based on the organizations that they belong to and some are "leading" themselves out of their negative behaviors as they now understand the importance of living up to their values for their sake and for the others in their lives.

Posted by: ken777 | August 11, 2010 11:33 AM

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