Ron's Material Leadership Blog
Why the name material leadership? If you are curious the answer is on my website. www.materialleadership.com
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Friday, January 11, 2008
The scene opens in a staff meeting, the charismatic boss opens saying, “we have got to cut costs people, ideas…” A tentative looking employee hesitantly offers, “ uh, we co-could open an account on fedex.com,…save 10% on…express shipping…?” pregnant pause with all the staff looking around to see who might validate or discredit the idea then the manager confidently offers his assessment, “how about this, We open an account on Fedex.com, we save 10% on online express shipping.” The flunkie staffers all nod, smile and confidently affirm their assent to the bosses great idea. The tentative staffer puzzled by this turn of events exclaims, “You just said the same thing I did only you did…this” (wiggling his hand side to side). The boss confidently replies “no, I did this.” (moving hand confidently in a downward motion)
If you want to watch the video you can do so here. Fedex Video
This is one of my favorite Fedex commercials for the way it pokes fun at office politics. From the time I first watched this video I have empathized with the staffer who must feel like he had just entered the twilight zone.
SO what the heck does this video have to do with the subject of a leader’s purpose? Well I am excited to share I just finished interviewing our second featured guest on Material Leadership’s investigation into a leaders purpose. Our guest, an accomplished leadership development coach, walked me through the steps he would take to help a client develop a sense of their leadership purpose. His answers followed my questions with a conciseness I had not expected. Figuring my clumsy interview style would lead to at least a few awkward pauses, I did not expect this at all. Our guest walked through each question sharing a polished elegant model of how he helps a client come to grips with their own purpose discovery.
The video! The video came immediately to mind because to a certain extent I felt like the tentative staffer in the twilight zone. Here I was listening to an expert in leadership coaching offering his process which was remarkably similar to what I have shared with you in previous posts! Of course our guest had been living leadership coaching well before “coaching” was trendy, before I had considered that I might want to devote myself to the study and practice of leadership development.
In the next several days I will post the interview. I know you will like it, this is good stuff! In the mean time let’s talk about the video story above. What takeaways can we glean from this spoof of corporate life?
They are out there
Whether we like it or not, they are out there. People who look at the world differently than we do. People who take the exact same input and see a totally different picture. The challenge is to recognize this for what it is, diversity. Once we recognize that differing opinions and perspectives are potentially a good thing, we have a chance at an even better end result than we had alone. Is this not why a leader depends on his followers in the first place? Remember the old quote (I think it was Henry Ford’s) “If the two of us agree, one of us is not necessary”
Life, surprisingly, is not fair
Sometimes people will take credit for your work, other times they will undermine your credibility behind your back. You may be blamed for actions you did not take. You may be overlooked for a well earned reward.
It will happen yes, but how you deal with it is what matters. In your reaction lies the opportunity for leadership. Do you remember one of the early posts on this site “Are you self serving or selfless? The whole point of being in leadership is that you, for a the chance to achieve a greater purpose, are willing to subjugate your own needs and wants to the greater good of the cause. You are willing to take responsibility for others and to sacrifice.
It’s not easy, it’s leadership.
Bad leaders and even worse followers
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it seems is character in the eye of perception. As a leader we need to be on guard to challenge the perceptions, judgments and negative stereotypes we propagate. People are rarely as bad as we might at first think. It is my argument that they are simply not aware of how their words and actions misalign. The leader’s role is to get beyond the exterior and develop a relationship.
Once we have invested the time to know someone, we are in a better position to understand their character. With this knowledge we can either embrace the relationship and go deeper, or the opposite back away slowly. There is always the courageous option to speak into their life what you see. This with the right person can change a life for the better forever. Done recklessly it can create an enemy or worse seriously harm another person. Wisdom and patience are required here so tread carefully.
Some have not found their purpose, or even started looking
This gets to the whole point of this series. The staffers in the commercial are too busy making sure they ride on the boss’s coat tails to recognize that their actions lack authenticity. You cannot find yourself when you are busy making sure you don’t stand out, you don’t make waves, you don’t think for yourself.
Character comes at peculiar moments. Most often we are given the chance to wake up and ask questions of purpose in times of great stress; death, sickness, divorce, layoff etc. It just seems far to comfortable going with the flow. So ask yourself when do you feel most alive? When is it that you are most aware of your senses, your surroundings? Seek to understand these moments. What brought them on? What were the circumstances surrounding them? Short of death defying activities, lean into these moments, stay in them, bask in the emotion, in the discomfort, in the adrenaline. Learn how to wake yourself!
The interview will be posted in a few days in the mean time…
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
A couple days back I was able to complete the first of what I expect to be several interviews on a “Leaders Purpose”. Blogger Dan King from
The interview with Dan was fascinating; we talked about his blog Management by God and how it relates to his sense of purpose as a leader. My original desire to include Dan as the first of several interviewees’ relates to the clarity his blog and the authenticity of his character. In Management by God Dan explores timeless Biblical wisdom and relates it to everyday leadership and management issues. As a fellow Christian the wisdom I have can also be directly linked to this important book. I felt that Dan had a story that needed to be told; a story that would explain how Management by God came to be and why it was so important. I was not disappointed. I learned that Dan was a principled man who has a clear sense of purpose and values that he strives daily to live by.
One of the aspects of the interview that made it even more authentic occurred when he was interrupted by a family member in need of a cookie. Dan’s clear sense of values was in this moment uniquely expressed. You can make no mistake he lives his values in an authentic way.
I asked Dan whether his blog helped define or refine his sense of purpose. Refine it he said clearly, this is a guy with a clear idea of what he is on this earth for. Dan is a teacher and a Christian. He has a mission field out in the secular business world that he uses with skill to teach timeless biblical wisdom on the subject of management and leadership.
When it comes to Management by God (.com) and its relation to my purpose, it has provided me with another opportunity to teach, in another way. It’s one of those things that has really helped me to live out my purpose, to do what God has called me to do.
How did Dan discover his own sense of purpose? He described to me being woken in the middle of the night and having God clearly tell him to teach his people.
I remember an instance several years ago, being woken up in the middle of the night. It was this very strange thing like the fire alarm in the apartment would go off. It would not even budge my wife, she would be dead asleep. I would be sitting there wide awake trying to bang the thing off the wall with a hammer to get it to shut off. Finally one night, after waking up several nights in a row at the same time, I got up and I said, “Alright God, I am going to sit here and pray and I am not going to stop until you tell me why you keep waking me up.”… I really kind of felt that (not in a loud audible voice) there was a voice in my heart kind of telling me that you are going to teach them my ways. “Alright God whatever, what do you want me to pray for? He repeated you are going to teach them my ways.
Well perhaps you are not the spiritual type, perhaps you have not had the opportunity to speak with God, perhaps you are a skeptic. Okay please remember this is not your story, it is Dan’s.
In the past several months as I have contemplated how to best coach others into finding their own leadership purpose, I have continually bumped into a wall. Call it what you will higher calling, spiritual guidance, inner voice; however you define it I believe that the humanists get this wrong. There is something bigger than the individual at play here. The challenge is to find it. Dan found it in the wee small hours of the night when God reached out and told him to “teach his people”. This greater force allows Dan the motivation to continue in the face of adversity, to persevere. I personally find my “something bigger” in my Christian faith as well.
Where do you find yours? Do you acknowledge it or ignore it? Certainly it is possible to achieve some level of success while within yourself. However when you tap into a power greater than yourself truly remarkable things can be achieved.
Finding this higher calling can take a life time or a moment, I believe it depends on the person. I do recommend that you take the time to quiet your mind, to get into a relaxed state where the insanity and chaotic noise of life can melt away and you can for once hear things clearly without disruption. This may take the form of prayer, meditation or some other form. Regardless of the path seeking out your sense of higher calling is an important aspect to finding your leadership purpose.
Get Dirty, Make Mistakes
How do you expect to learn anything about your own talents unless you are willing to experiment? My conversation with Dan had taken a turn, he described for me how he had volunteered at his church in a number of capacities and through these his talents (gifts) started to come into focus. There is an old quote that says “you always miss 100% of the shots you do not take.” Dan and I agree that getting in the game is a critical aspect in finding yourself and uncovering your purpose.
Just going out and serving and experiencing ministry in different ways and discovering my gifts in different ways
This aspect of purpose may seem out of phase with the last section yet it is not. You see this discovery process is not linear. We are not baking a cake here; no we are making a leader’s life. Often the best learning and growth comes from reflection upon and synthesis of multiple experiences in a short time frame. Translation: do stuff, experiment, get your hands dirty, make mistakes. How else do you intend to learn and uncover your purpose?
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the interview occurred when I asked Dan what his values were. You see I believe that purpose and values are intimately related. My hypothesis is that if you have taken the time to discover one it is almost certain that you have discovered the other. I was expecting him to rattle of things like faith, family, and teaching, things consistent with what he had already shared. What I got was completely different. I got the following statement,
I have one rule that I use to define my personal values, to live the way the Bible tells me to live... In some cases, in some parts of my life I may have discovered that more than other areas. I know I constantly have areas to grow and mature in Christ. I really try to center my life around the word of God.
Essentially what Dan was saying is that he has a filter that he passes his experiences through and uses to decide how he will react. The filter is scripture. In an authentic way he strives to be consistent with the truths of the Bible in every aspect of his life. When I consider the topic of his blog scriptural application to life and leadership, how could it be otherwise? Here is a guy who walks his talk, leadership personified.
What can we take away from Dan’s interview? Well there are several things that stuck out for me.
Walk the Talk
It is critical for authenticity in leadership that words and actions be aligned. Dan does this through his values statement and the accompanying use of a scriptural filter. He also does so by boldly blogging about the biblical aspects of leadership and management.
As is the code of blogging, give freely. Not with an expectation of what may come back to you but rather with a passion for living your own purpose. Dan’s tireless volunteerism has led to a clear understanding of his gifts and an even clearer sense of purpose for his life.
It is only when we step into the game that we learn of our own mettle. We need to be bold and to risk mistakes in order to discover ourselves. Dan has done this in many ways his personal commitments arguably rival his career obligations.
You have to know what is important and be unapologetic in choosing it when the time is right. Dan understands the importance of family and incorporates them into many activities as possible (another walking the talk moment). He has a clear sense of what is important and pursues it.
Recognize it is not always about you
A leader is in that position for the very reason that they see an end state larger than just themselves. They may see an organization feeding the poor, correcting injustice, creating a new machine, providing worthwhile work to a community. Whatever it is they see something larger than themselves. This is the very argument of purpose, a cause greater than themselves. If you believe leadership is about providing you with some greater slice of the pie, some convenience or privilege you have sorely missed the mark.
In the next several days I will publish the Material leadership podcast. The first episode will contain part one of the interview with Dan. I am very excited to bring this to you and hope that you gain as much value from the interview as I did.
So the first step is to figure out exactly how to get a podcast on the web. As soon as I have done so I will include a link to the cast. If you want more information on this feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally my sincere thanks to Dan for being my first interviewee. I gained so much from the time you gave me, thank you.
Finally my sincere thanks to Dan for being my first interviewee. I gained so much from the time you gave me, thank you.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
A few days back a friend read my posts on the subject of leadership purpose. Something caught his attention when I described the phrase constancy of purpose. He commented,
“Constancy of Purpose presents an interesting conflict for me. I struggle with duality of purpose. My life's purpose is clear to me. Where I struggle is that my career...as much as I enjoy and appreciate it...is never more than a means for me to live my espoused purpose or pay the bills. My career is more or less apart from my purpose, not a neatly-fitting part of it. The obvious answer is to find a career more in line with my values and purpose, but that simply wont do when it comes to everyday life's reality. I enjoy my daily interactions at work and look forward to opportunities I have to lead people in faith, provide council or simply be the office purifier. Who can help me work this out? Any suggestions or comments are most welcome.”
So comment I will. This friend of mine is a very intelligent fellow, well educated, highly motivated, eloquent, energetic, and principled. His comments and questions cannot be taken lightly; he is struggling mightily with what he considers a duality of purpose.
There is no magic bullet here and idealistic statements have little worth for this conversation. My friend needs wise council, a clear direction in which to explore. He has a clear sense of purpose. I know because I tested him. He belted out his 30 second elevator speech readily. This man has spent some time discovering his purpose.
What are our options? As I see it they are limited yet here are some that need to be given consideration.
- Accept the duality and continue deriving meaning from external activities
- Find another job more closely aligned to his purpose
- Find meaning related to his purpose in his current role
- Develop a secondary purpose that will more closely fit to your role
- Evolve the role and organization to align more closely with your values and purpose
Accept the Duality = Status Quo
Even though the majority of working people do some form of this, it is hard to ignore the work of Gallup who have found that over 70% of workers are not engaged. Duality of purpose almost certainly will lead to some level of disengagement. Perhaps this is a chicken and egg story. Does disengagement arise from a misalignment of purpose or perhaps it is the other way round?
I read some interesting research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner who you may know are the authors of one of my top five leadership books The Leadership Challenge. They found a positive correlation between the degree of alignment in personal and organizational values with motivation and performance. If an employee has an alignment between their own values and those of the company they are highly likely to be motivated to higher performance. But what of purpose?
I believe the alignment of purpose, though perhaps less clear, can be similar. An organizations whose sole existence is to increase the wealth of their shareholders would be a poor fit for an individual whose life purpose is related to lessening human suffering, improving education for disadvantaged youths etc.
So perhaps there is an opportunity to look behind the façade of the organization. By determining what it truly values, looking at it’s behaviors as well as its words, will give insight into how misaligned personal and organizational purpose are. A severe misalignment here requires a decision, should I stay and seek to fulfill my purpose externally reasoning I can accept what the organization believes. Alternatively must I leave saying I cannot be a part of this any longer.
Quit and Start Again
Choosing the latter path above will not necessarily be easy but does provide for a clear honoring of your individual purpose. This is the courageous choice. I caution not to enter into this option lightly. Preplanning and career searches prior to the decision point will make the transition less uncertain.
There are a number of excellent podcasts dealing with the preparation for and implications of this type of decision on one of my favorite websites; www.manager-tools.com. I highly recommend listening to these in advance of such a decision.
The benefit of this approach is the opportunity to seek out an organization whose purpose is more closely aligned with your own. To facilitate knowledge in this area it is advisable to conduct web based searches for keywords related to your purpose. Correspond with the types of organizations who seem like minded. Go as far as interviewing key members of these new organizations for further insight. Finally, taking on volunteer roles in your local community that are closely related to your purpose will not only help refine it but will provide needed experience and contacts in the field.
Dig Deep in Your Current Role
As a leader and manager I believe it is my responsibility to define the role I am in, in a way that will make my team and my organization successful. I do not conform and simply do what is expected, I look for a way to change the context of the role and achieve break through results. Why do I bring this up here? I believe that in any leadership role some ability to do this is available to the leader. As long as organizational priorities are achieved and people are respected, there is an opportunity to look for opportunities to live your purpose within the organization.
Say perhaps you are called to eliminate poverty and the associated suffering. As a manager you could look for ways to partner with local institutions that deal with the poor and provide them a limited service through your organization that helps them and provides you and your team a chance to practice their skills. You could get involved with product development efforts to develop lower cost items that would benefit the poor.
Alternatively you could follow the organizational value chain to its logical conclusion to see what people / groups most benefit from your products and services. If organizational decisions take directions that will adversely affect these groups you could act as their advocate explaining the benefit to the community of continued support.
A Backup Plan / Purpose
This concept is closely related to the previous one. The reality of purpose is that we often define our purpose in rather high level ways. Kind of like looking at a farmer’s field from a 727, we see the ground from 30,000 feet. There are not many details just shapes, colors, shadow and contour. Well we can use this to our advantage by seeking to refine our purpose and identifying a subset that can be achieved while at work. The employee who wants to serve the poor might start with the working poor within the organization and mentor them in skills that will help them grow and succeed.
Change the Context
One of the great leadership theorists of our time, Warren Bennis, made this plea in his book On Becoming a Leader. Similar to the argument made above in redefining your role in the organization, there is another option, change the organization. Well yes I did say something about avoiding idealism at the outset, okay, yet there is a distinct possibility with the right groundswell of support and correctly executed influence strategies the culture and ultimately purpose of the organization could be tweaked.
Not an easy undertaking and frankly you would be lucky to move it even marginally. Yet if your purpose was not far removed why not, why couldn’t you undertake this? We are talking leadership purpose here after all. This is the role of a leader to define a better future state and help people want to travel there. The beauty of this option is that as you continue to have you and your team achieve their required commitments, this long term modification will engage you and will undoubtedly leave little room for thought on the degree of misalignment. You would of course be engaged with the purpose of trying to change it!
Thoughts on a Recent Read
The Dip by Seth Godin
This was the first of Mr. Godin’s books I have read and I must say it will not be the last. I enjoyed this book and found its message wise and on point for our age. The premise of the book is that there is a time to quit a role, project, effort and a time to stay. When we have the opportunity to be the very best and are willing to pay the price, it is time to stay. When it is clear that staying will result in mediocrity or worse yet (Mr. Godin’s term for a dead end) a cul-de-sac, it is time to move on to something where we can be our best. The dip is the place in between. The place where we face opposition, adversity and discouragement. It is here that many wrongly chose to give up when greatness is not that far away for the brave souls who persevere.
Compelling: Very much