A master class of life changing wisdom on leadership
Leadership is an Art and Leadership Jazz
By Leonardo Murillo
- 8 minutes read- 1571 words
A before, and an after
Overwhelming, pivotal, life changing.
Those words merely begin to describe the wisdom condensed in two small books, wisdom that has come to redefine my views on leadership, on people and myself.
The impact of the work of Max de Pree on two of his books, Leadership is an Art and Leadership Jazz was a surprise to me, not often do you run into words that are transformative and that redefine the vision of what it means to become that which you’ve always wanted to become.
I’ve always aimed for leadership, I have been in leadership positions since very early in my career. I’ve chosen to be a father and build a family.
It’s important that we focus more on what we need to be than what we need to do. In so doing, leaders do transform people’s lives. What a daunting responsibility!
Leadership is an infinite path
Becoming a leader is a lifelong exercise, a constantly moving target which requires perennial self evaluation.
At times one gets confused, thinking that arriving in a leadership role determines you are a leader, and you got there because you have succeeded in leading others; but that is not the case, arriving or holding leadership positions only defines the starting line of an infinite path of discovery.
Leadership is an art, something to be learned over time, not simply by reading books. Leadership is more tribal than scientific, more a weaving of relationships than an amassing of information, and, in that sense, I don’t know how to pin it down in every detail.
In this path the leader is challenged with defining her beliefs, building her voice, looking into her heart and transforming herself. Our style and actions as leaders are not a matter of words alone; our ability to lead, and the effectiveness of our actions directly relate to our ability to evolve our own beliefs in people, trust, beauty and justice.
Leadership is a job, not a position. The people who work with you are not your people; you are theirs.
A great leader can be seen only through those she serves
Leadership is debt, it is a promise to those that choose to follow you, it is assuming responsibility towards their development. A leader will only succeed if her followers reach their potential. Leadership is serving, enabling and empowering.
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.
The concept of servant leadership, of indebtedness to those that you are leading, has completely transformed the way in which I evaluate my role as a leader. My focus should always be placed on those who follow me for the success of my actions can only be seen through reflection, it can only be evaluated by seeing the potential of those I lead become realized.
The focus on myself should strongly be placed on my beliefs, my communication, my ability to trust and the meaning of my actions, the clarity and rationality of my vision.
Risk, fear and vulnerability
A leader’s role is one of pretty much constant vulnerability. Matter of fact, being vulnerable should be identified as a clear signal the leader is approximating the right path.
The leader is always enveloped in risk, from making choices and decisions that depend on interpretations of an imprecise future, by looking to trigger change, and due to the fact that the leader can only succeed through others.
True covenants, however, are risky because they require us to be abandoned to the talents and skills of others, and therefore to be vulnerable
It is therefore critical to the success of the leader to not allow fear to be a side effect of change and creativity, not for herself nor her followers. Change and risk should become powerful tools towards progress.
Liberate, empower and trust
Considering a leader’s success hinges on the realization of the potential of his followers, it becomes a crucial objective to liberate them, so they can reach that potential.
Empowering is a means to liberation.
The leader can really only focus in supporting their followers in identifying their potential, and open the doors, remove any blockers and provide direction for the follower to walk the path.
Liberation can only be self-achieved, and the leader’s role is there to bring direction and help in maintaining momentum.
The price is that leaders must be genuinely open to the influence of others.
But in order for the leader to be effective in his task of empowering his followers, trust is indispensable, and acceptance of the diversity of people.
More than contracts, covenants
Max de Pree mentions:
The best people working for an organization are like volunteers. Since they could probably find good jobs in any number of groups, they choose to work somewhere for reasons less tangible than salary or position.
This statement has never been more accurate than in our current day and age considering our globalized workforce, a strong focus on remote work and an ever-increasing amount of knowledge workers.
Contracts and remuneration are insufficient to bring the intimacy necessary for individuals to become truly committed in the common goals and share some direction.
De Pree uses the term covenantal, as opposed to merely contractual, as a definition of the intimacy and commitment required for leaders and followers to truly enrich each other’s lives, and participate in shared objectives.
How does a leader get to relay, with presence and clarity, the future she’s envisioning for her organization and for those that follow her?
How can a leader sustain her presence in front of the eyes of an organization much larger than herself?
Communication is a critical skill to develop to reach one’s own potential as leader - clear, rational and constant communication is the only way to guarantee the necessary connection between the leader and his followers.
Among a leader’s most trusted and familiar tools are communication skills.
Communication serves many purposes: it enables trust, as long as that which you communicate is rational and consistent with reality as experienced by the follower; access to information is essential for any follower to succeed in getting their job done.
Communication exercises one of the more important rights every follower is entitled to: the right to know and understand.
Goals are secondary to potential
The objective of a leader goes beyond reaching goals for the organization and setting goals for his followers.
Goals are simply signs on the road indicating that you are moving in the right direction, but they are not the ultimate objective.
The real task of a leader is to release every one of his follower’s potential, identify and enable every unique individual to realize her one of a kind capacity.
Goals are insufficient, they are defined as targets whereas potential represents a process of discovery, a constant state of surprise as we discover ever new abilities, capabilities and interests.
Potential is not static, the closer you get to it the larger it becomes.
The leader will never know everything, it is not expected nor desired.
Roving leaders are those people that, on occasion, get on the driver’s seat and turn the leader into a follower. It is the leader’s responsibility to identify those roving leaders and to support them, and share the ownership of a challenge through trust and grace.
However, the leader is not surrendering accountability; the leader remains as bound to the covenants she has established, the leader is not releasing.
Leadership is never handled carelessly-we share it, but we don’t give it away.
Never stop asking yourself questions
De Pree uses a common technique in his books by listing questions he’s amassed over the years, that he’d ask himself towards identifying and defining meaningful aspects of his development as a leader as well as his vision and ability to evaluate his own success.
I find this technique very valuable, and I’ve integrated it into my daily routines.
Who do you intend to be?
What do you, as a leader, owe?
What truly gives meaning to my life?
How am I going to nourish the spiritual, the visionary, the musical, the childlike side of my nature?
How accurate are my perceptions?
The list will grow, and with it your ability to become a better leader, to build a unique voice and to enrich and empower the lives of others.
A fantastic path lies ahead
I believe this is a great beginning, every day proposes a new great beginning, a new opportunity to ask yourself more questions, to communicate better with your followers, to bring beauty and grace and to unleash potential.
This article merely scratches the surface of what you will get from reading the works of Max de Pree - I hope I’ve motivated you to allow yourself to discover something new, something extremely valuable, that will empower you to become a better leader every day, and by doing so, liberate and enable many others.
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