Tag Archives: leadership

It’s Lonely at the Top

The move to apposition of responsibility and decision making seems to entail crossing over an invisible line that marks the manager as “other”. Where conversations and support were once the norm, colleagues now stand back and wait to see what actions the manager will take. Even in the most supportive contexts, managers recognize in their discussions that it is “lonely at the top”.

Mangers recognize as well that developing a strong administrative team only partly meets their needs. Although the team may be a highly competent and confidential one, some problems and some solutions are not really appropriate for them to handle. In the highly competitive environments of senior and middle management, peers may be supportive but not always. Often they are competitors and all too often problems are seen as a sign of weakness.

Some managers are fortunate enough to have a friend or family member who is knowledgeable about management issues and is also a strategist. These individuals are also able to separate their support for the persons from the issue at hand. They are rare in the lives of most managers.

Recognising that isolation is detrimental many organizations try to set in place mentoring schemes, management programs, etc. However their effectiveness may be limited by the individual’s perceived need for strict confidentiality. Although organizations strive for collaboration the impact of politics and competition are major values and stumbling blocks. All too often, managers feel the need to protect their backs and one way to do this is to not divulge their concerns and problems.

For these reasons and others, the “Running Mate Program” has been developed. Unlike mentors who provide support for employees to advance in the organization, Running Mates are those who help set and keep the pace. They are there for support, encouragement and the extra energy needed to meet challenges and obstacles. The purpose of the program is to address the isolation of managers through one on one dialogues with a consultant whose extensive experience as a senior manager qualifies her as a confidante and an organizational strategist. Her recent work in applying research on leadership to the restructured organization and its demands on managers ensures support for new ways of thinking and leading.

The consultation will provide you with the opportunity to
– explore your unique understanding of power and authority
– provide a strictly confidential relationship in which you design your strategies and solutions
– develop a personal professional plan to enhance your leadership
– assess your conversational style in order to have greater impact in meetings

KeyLinks Newsletter – Autumn 2010

Please feel free to share my blog with friends and colleagues – and to write to me with your thoughts and challenges.

It is an early autumn, rainy, moody and full of colors! For those of us who are born in November this is our season – regardless of when it starts. From long habit this is my month to go to Australia. I arrive in Melbourne on September 18 and hope to see many dear fiends there.

I will be working on leadership with group women academics from the University of Melbourne. In preparation for my time there, I have reviewed leadership and its many perspectives. For your interest included are two short articles in which I explore some of the ways that leadership grows and can be recognized:

Learning About Leadership – The Extraordinary Experiences

Learning About Leadership – The Everyday Experiences

Although I have taken the term ‘destiny’ out of the title of this page, it remains in my thoughts. When I was told in April that I had breast cancer. I was taken aback and couldn’t make sense out of the news. The results of tests and biopsies proved the diagnosis – operation and radiation have confirmed that I am among the fortunate who have no trace of cancer left in my body. It has been a steep learning curve about how I am willing to deny, bargain and finally accept reality. As a coach I will practice my profession with greater understanding and compassion.

I have included the second chapter of my Camino writings and hope that you continue to enjoy them. I owe so much to Barbara Turner-Vesselago for her support, the challenges she has given me and her insight into my writing. Without her inspiration and encouragement I wouldn’t be where I am now – and that is within two chapters of finishing!

Learning About Leadership – The Extra-Ordinary Experiences

In the last issue I examined some of the ‘everyday’ experiences that teach us about leadership. Today I will explore ‘extra- ordinary’ approaches to learning about leadership. Innovative thinkers seek out extra-ordinary and relevant ways to explore leadership. I have chosen: equine-assisted learning, poetry and the visual arts.

Natural Leader
Have you ever watched someone come through a crowded room? Noticed how the talk grows quiet? How the crowd moves apart to let the person through? Although there appears to be nothing unusual about her, you’ve thought to yourself “Now there goes a leader”! Leaders have a presence that commands attention. This presence is also true in the animal world, particularly for horses. Horses live in a world where leadership is negotiated from the strongest to the weakest. Although the challenge can involve physical contact, often it is directed through a look, a movement that stops short of contact, a threat, or a stare. I have worked with horses for some time now – in particular my paint horse, Indio. This work has developed in me, an awareness of the unique learning opportunities presented by horses.

For many, working with horses is a new experience. For some it is a return to a childhood love, or a new dimension of dealing with leadership. Regardless, the learning environment is charged with relevance.

Horses are motivated by the fact that they are prey animals. They need, and some even long for, leaders to keep them safe from predators. However if the leader doesn’t take on the responsibilities, the horses will live and react in the moment. Speed and flight are their strategies. To work in this environment means that the leader must understand their mentality, must create meaning and provide support and security. When the rider hasn’t established her leadership role, they take charge of their world – i.e. speed and flight.

In these workshops, participants learn to develop a meaningful relationship and construct an environment of trust and cooperation.

Touching The Heart And Imagination
Artists rely on their ability to challenge our understanding of everyday reality. They put metaphors, sensuous details, rhythm and beauty in front of us and ask us to make sense of a new view of our world. Like artists, leaders inspire by using the power of language and images to create their world view. However, much of the writing on leadership is based on two areas of focus: the military and religion. They shape our images, words and metaphors. For example, we talk about strategic planning, about vision and mission. Although our references to military and religious worlds are not made consciously, they create a context for thinking and feeling about leadership.

David Whyte (1994) was one of the first writers to link poetry and leadership. He found that it touched the heart and the imagination in powerful ways. Why not seek out your favourite work of art – poetry, visual arts, music – and have it with you as a constant reminder that leadership and the arts are interwoven.
As we are considering other ways of exploring leadership and worldviews, Palmer is worthy of notice. He encourages us to think from another perspective:

“Spirituality is not primarily about values and ethics, not about exhortation to do right or live well. The spiritual traditions are primarily about reality. [They] are an effort to penetrate the illusions of the external world and to name its underlying truth, what it is, how it emerges, and how we relate to it.” (Palmer 1983)

So let me leave you with this question: what has spirituality got to do with leadership – if anything?

The Cycle Of Issues
Issues and trends follow cycles. In the beginning, they take up a lot of space by focusing our attention and shaping our learning. Key ideas don’t disappear entirely, but do experience cycles where their profile is lower. At the moment, there are several significant ideas that are returning front and center.
First, women in leadership programs are experiencing revitalization. It is apparent that although a lot has changed, women are still not visible enough at the upper levels of organizations.

Second, mentoring first appeared in the writings of Homer around 800 BC. In the Iliad, Ulysses asked Mentor to guide his son Telemachus during his absence, to make sure that he had experiences fitting to the son of a great king.

In 1978, Daniel Levinson published “The Season’s of a Man’s Life”. For the next decade mentoring became a constant in work done around leadership. It is now twenty years later and there is a resurgence of mentoring as a key aspect of leadership in both Canada and Australia.

Learning About Leadership – The Everyday Experience

It is common practice to read books about leadership, biographies of leaders and to take courses, seminars and presentations. Today I would like to consider some of the ‘home grown’ aspects of leadership: adventures, work based learning environments and conversations. These three deal with the lived experience and provide a reality check for exploring leadership components in theory. They form a significant part of what, how and where we learn about leading.

Adventures
When we embark on an adventure – however we define it – we leave our taken-for-granted world. In the context of the adventure, we face the challenge of making sense out of who we are, what we do and what we value. The time frame is often compacted and so our learning is intense. Sometimes we gain new insights, often we re-learn old lessons. Much like the heroes of old, the adventure is the beginning of a quest – into new places and new ways of being.

My adventure happened this September when I went on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, a pilgrimage walk of 800 km across northern Spain. Like all of our adventures, the context has many layers. The Camino is couched in history from the early Celts who walked to the western most tip of Europe to the Christians who made pilgrimages to the tomb of St. James the Apostle. So given its long history and its present day following, I ask myself ‘what were they seeking? why are we doing the pilgrimage now? What is it we are seeking’? What became obvious is that we don’t really know why it beckons. The ‘why’, the sense of purpose, grows with time and effort. It reminds me of the purpose story which leaders tell – a story which reaches back into the past and our sense of identity. As I listen to these stories I recognize that they are complex and multiple – told and retold each time with different meaning. And I recognize how unique each of our answers to these questions are.

Even before the quest can be fully identified, some lessons are clear. First, travel light. Consider what you really need. Pare down or add as your priorities become clearer. Have a contingency plan. Second, knowing yourself and others is key. As the quest goes on, there are many challenges to your values, your assumptions and how you live with yourself and others. Knowing how this process empowers you, leads you to accept yourself and others is important. Thirdly, having a vision is key to emotional health. It provides a sense of the bigger picture, it shows us how to focus, to deal with passing events, friendships, life and death. With a vision, it becomes clearer which goals are easily attainable. Clear too where dreams are – and how to hold them in the open palm of your hand. A vision challenges us to examine our assumptions, to live our potential. Finally, decisions are often born in moments of crisis or in moments of extreme difficulty. Those deeply felt decisions grow into commitment and commitment itself gives impetus to new decisions.

Adventures have the power to put us on the age-old path, the quest that is at the heart of leadership.

Conversations
Why is it that some people have such rich, open conversations? To answer that question is to think about the small moments in talk. Each small moment opens up or closes off the next set of possibilities. And as those moments accumulate, we develop an understanding of what space there is between us and what is open to exploration. Stereotypes, generalizations and judgments color what is available to us.

Quite possibly it is the art of questions that lets us best negotiate the space. To ask a question with little or no pre-judgment as to what will be the right answer is a gift. All too often our questions are offered with the ‘right’ answer in mind – or the anticipation of a certain reply. It is as though we carry on an inner dialogue which precludes the unexpected response. And so without clearing our listening, our conversation has set limits within which to operate.

The leaders who ask compelling, fundamental questions do us a service. This is particularly true when the leaders join us in the search for answers. As the search for answers and space to talk about them goes on, we are freed from our own closed world. I notice that in healthy organizations the amount of talk and the patterns of authentic engagement are fundamentally different. Talk happens between levels, functions and across purpose and strategy. There is less fear of making mistakes or being blamed.

Workplace based learning
As a Visiting Fellow at Edith Cowan University, I had the opportunity to research workplace based learning. For last ten years at British universities have focused on learning in the workplace. One of the assumptions of this initiative is that learning cannot separated from its context. Learning links the individual to the organisation and vice versa. There is mounting pressure from students and employers as well as universities to shift more post graduate degrees in this direction. Its effectiveness is supported by a growing number of research studies and thesis. As this movement becomes better known it will fuel the desire for a learning that ‘works’ at work. So far it is not a focused conversation although the initiative has a lot of energy.

To test the approach, think of your first promotion and what you learned about yourself, the organization and your colleagues. From my experience, it dramatically changed and deepened my understanding and knowledge of the politics of power, values, culture and what a career might look like!

Aesthetic experiences

There is a small but significant interest in the aesthetic and its connection to leadership. This most often appears as ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’. It is included in writings and workshops on the competencies and the culture needed to create them. Continue reading

Touching the Heart and Imagination

Artists rely on their ability to challenge our understanding of everyday reality. They put metaphors, sensuous details, rhythm and beauty in front of us and ask us to make sense of a new view of our world. Like artists, leaders inspire by using the power of language and images to create their world view. However, much of the writing on leadership is based on two areas of focus: the military and religion. They shape our images, words and metaphors. For example, we talk about strategic planning, about vision and mission. Although our references to military and religious worlds are not made consciously, they create a context for thinking and feeling about leadership. Continue reading

Conversations

Why is it that some people have such rich, open conversations? To answer that question is to think about the small moments in talk. Each small moment opens up or closes off the next set of possibilities. And as those moments accumulate, we develop an understanding of what space there is between us and what is open to exploration. Stereotypes, generalizations and judgments color what is available to us. Continue reading