This is a presentation that I made to a local Buddhist Community in 2005. I hope the comments spark interest and discussion. Tony
What Does It Means To Be a Leader
By Tony Crisp
Presented to the Hampton Roads SGI-USA Men’s Division Meeting
September 25, 2005
Good Morning. I am honored to speak with you today on the topic of leadership. I do, however, have a confession to make. I am no expert on leadership; but I do feel compelled to transform lives and I feel exercising leadership is the best way to do that. I want to thank Nate for giving me this opportunity. Nate took great risk by inviting me to speak with you today; the only thing he knew about me was my passion to learn more about leadership and to teach other the same. So I hope our discussion today will be beneficial for you as you grow more leaders for your organization.
I will present some leadership principles that I try to live by. These principles are aligned with my spiritual perspective and what I see my creator calling me to do. I will talk out my Christian belief and faith, but I strongly believe that these principles apply to people of all faiths.
I would like to start our presentation with a short story from one of my personal leadership mentors John Maxwell. The story is entitled, “The Servant Girl” and is taken from his book: Running with the Giants. (Read the story)
Wow! What a powerful story….making a big difference in someone’s life .The first thing that hits me when I read this story is that we’re all potential leaders. It’s a matter of influence; it’s a matter of getting someone to believe in us and then following through with what we suggest. That’s powerful stuff.
So lesson number one, leadership is about influence or said another way…you can’t lead if no one is following you. That’s just taking a walk!
Hitler was a leader. As a matter of fact, he was an excellent leader. He got a whole country to follow him. We don’t always think of Hitler as an excellent leader because his value system was so different from yours and mine. At least, I hope his value system is different from yours. So we see, being a good leader doesn’t always mean the leader is a good person. Goodness or lack of goodness comes from our personal value system and I hope you will hear that throughout the presentation.
Often a person’s leadership practices are aligned with their spiritual life mission or belief system. This spiritual life mission that I am talking about is not about religion, but about a person’s value system. However, religionist extremists of all faiths have made life difficult for the masses. Stop for a moment and think about a person or persons who have exercised leadership with a value system similar to yours. As a black man, Martin Luther King, Jr. was very influential on my life. He was a role model that I try to live by. He was courageous, he practiced non violence, he preached equality and he practiced social justice. I want my life to reflect those characteristics. As a Christian, Jesus Christ is a powerful influence on my life and that’s the life I try to mirror. For many of you I am sure that Nichiren Daishonin (Dye-shoney) is a powerful influence on your faith journey and it his life and his virtues that you hope to reflect and to equip others to do the same.
Let’s make this a little more personal. I am sure you all have been touched by or influenced by someone you know. Think about what that was like for you. As I was growing up, I had two people that had a great influence on me—my uncle Cornel, who was a civil rights leader and a Christian and my grandmother, who was also a Christian. Why did they influence me? They were credible. They walked their talk; people listened and followed them and more importantly, they transformed people’s lives.
So this leads me to another characteristic or definition of leadership. Leadership is a give and take process. A process between those who choose to lead and those who choose to follow…those who aspire to lead must embrace their followers’ expectations (Kouzes & Posner, 1995, pp. 19-20). It may be a time in our lives that we may not want to take the lead for a number of reasons—we may not have the skills necessary to take the lead in a certain project, we may not have the time to take on another task or project or we just don’t have the passion for the “cause” before us. But in any case, if we decide to lead, we must decide for ourselves what kind of “influencers we want to be. Do we want to have a positive influence on people’s lives; or are we just about ourselves and don’t care what our actions have on others?
So how do we learn to lead? Various leadership gurus list three primary methods: trial and error, observing others, and education and training.
Let’s look at trial and error, probably the most important one. There’s no substitute for the school of hard knocks…you know, learning by doing…the more chances we have to serve in leadership roles, the more likely we will develop the skills to lead. The more chances we serve in leadership role, the more likely we will learn those important lessons that only come from our failures and our successes. Boring routine jobs don’t help us to improve our skills and abilities, and boring, routine jobs don’t help us move forward in our career. We have to stretch and believe me stretching is not always fun. It’s scary, because life, usually, work life, as we have known it, may never be the same. Don’t you hate it, when you think you have finally made it—you have accomplished much, you can now relax and boom—a new requirement, another re-organization—how will I fit in—well, this is when we must take the opportunities to test ourselves against new and difficult tasks. So experience can indeed be the best teacher—if it contains the element of personal challenge. Observing others—managers serve as extremely important sources of performance feedback and modeling. The best ones are those who challenge us, trust us, and are willing to spend time with us. Sometimes we are not blessed to have good managers, but bad managers aren’t necessarily roadblocks to development. They can however, create unwanted stress in our lives (can anyone identify with that)…Kouzes and Posner state that our best growth strategy, for working with bad managers, is to treat them as we wish to be treated, deal with them in an assertive, but non confrontational manner and remain positive about ourselves (sometimes this can be hard, if we have a boss that constantly questioned our abilities). According to Kouzes and Posner, bad managers may not be pleasant to work with, but they can be great example of what not to do.
Education and training.
Kouzes and Posner believe that a person should spend about 50 hours yearly on personal and professional development. This training can be in the classroom or in monthly business meetings. Another option could be a group, such as this, who teaches themselves by listening to lectures, reading magazine articles or books (chapter by chapter) and then holding discussion meetings on how the ideas from the lectures, in the articles and/or books could be used, adapted or modified to work for them or their organization.
A continuous learning process for me is reading. I read books and articles about leadership and management, but what I love to read are biographies and autobiographies about past and current leaders. It’s a great way to learn about their challenges and how they overcame them.
I’ve had opportunity to learn about leadership through the media and at work; however, because my leadership practices are so aligned with my spiritual belief I have found that the best source of leadership teaching, for me, is the Bible. The Bible is full of examples of how God uses ordinary people, such as myself, to lead others to a shared vision. So for me, the leadership tool book is the Bible and the training ground (where I share, reflect & act) is my faith community. I am certain that you too can view this from your faith perspective.
So what do leaders do; in other words, what are the primary tasks of a successful leader. Kouzes and Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge, do an excellent job in describing what leaders do. They list 5 practices that leaders performed when they are at their best. Let’s look at these practices more closely. The first one is that the leaders challenge the process. Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. I don’t know about you, but I often like the status quo; but I also know that if I want to grow I must push myself past the routine—yes, past my comfort level. Effective leaders know this and they look for innovative ways to change and improve the organization. They often experiment and take risks. This takes great courage, but because they see a better future, they are driven to challenge the status quo. Can you think of someone that you know that has done this? What was the outcome? What did you learned from that experience?
As we talked earlier, leaders inspire a shared vision. They passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the–organization can become. Through their strong appeal and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in the dream. Again, think of someone you know who is good at this practice. What was the outcome and what can you take away from that experience?
Leaders enable others to act. They foster collaboration and build team spirit. They actively involve others…they strengthen others by sharing information and providing choice. They give their power away. This can be a scary and difficult to do, but by doing so, a leader makes each person feel capable and powerful. Who do you know that practice this skill very well and how has that influenced you?
Leaders model the way (they walk the talk). They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow….because complex change can overwhelm and stifle action; leaders have small wins (think football…2 yards, 5 yards, 10 yards…touchdown). In other words, they unravel bureaucracy, put up signposts and create opportunities for victory. Who do you know that does this? Reflect on the qualities of that person; how can you incorporate some of those qualities into your leadership style?
Leaders encourage the heart. They recognize contributions that individuals make and because every winning team needs to share in the rewards of team efforts , they make everyone feel like a hero. Who do you know that does this?
So far we have learned that leadership is about influence, we have also talked about what leaders do and on how they lead. However, I strongly feel that if we want to have a lasting impact on people or to leave a legacy of transformed lives, we have to examine the personal qualifications of good leaders.
John Maxwell and others believe that if leaders live their lives well, others would naturally want to follow them. I would like to examine these qualifications through the words of the servant girl that I read earlier.
A good leader needs to have character and integrity. This will enable the leader to do what is right even when it seems difficult. “If you want to make a big difference, be credible. I never would have had the courage to speak up if my service had not been pleasing to my master’s wife. People always pay more attention to how you live than to what you say. Remember that when you desire to speak into the lives of others” (Maxwell 2002, p. 101).
A good leader has perspective or sees the big picture. Perspective enables the leader to understand what must happen to reach a goal. “If you want to make a big difference, don’t be afraid to do something even if it seems small. We can never know how great, an impact, a small act can make” (Maxwell, 2002, p. 102).
A good leader must conjure up courage. Courage enables the leader to initiate and take the risks to step out toward a worthy goal. “If you want to make a big difference, be confident. My master listened to me because I believed in what I told him. CONFIDENT! Live like you believe it” (Maxwell, 2002, p. 101).
A good leader also has charisma. In other word, the leader is able to attract and empower others to join in the cause. “If you want to make a big difference, speak to people’s needs. Everyone needs hope and help—even powerful people like my master. And if the individuals you desire to help are low on faith, lend them yours…that’s right give your power away (Maxwell, 2002, p. 101).
So how do we become leaders? Let’s examine this through 4 contemplative questions. Please reflect on your own situation as we walk through each question.
1. Have you been surprised when the Creator has used you? How many other ordinary people can you think of that the Creator has worked through?
First, we must believe that we are a leader or have the capability to lead or influence people. Until we have that knowledge, we can never lead or we will never be effective leaders. We all know people who are in leadership position, either at work, their place of worship or other venues, and yet nothing of significance happens in the lives of the people that they are leading.
2. Are there people that you are hesitant to share your belief with?
I know this can be difficult in our world; especially at work, but said another way; do you lead out of your belief system? A leader must stand for something. A belief system gives the leader that foundation or that anchor to stand.
Let’s look at this more closely. First, you must decide what type of leader you want to be. In other words do you have a vision and a mission? Stephen Covey, another leadership guru, strongly believes that each person needs to have his own vision and mission. Charles Stanley, a writer and minister said that:
a. A vision & mission help us– set life priorities & keep us focused.
b. He states that a vision & mission serve as a filter for new ideas. We can reject ideas that do not agree with our purpose. When we sift new ideas through our purpose;
c. this will bring us back to what really matters, and that is, being focused on what’s best for our lives.
3. What is credible about your life that would make other people listen to you? Are there areas in which you lack credibility? If so, how does this limit your influence with others?
This goes back to those personal qualifications of leadership. If we are not credible, lack perspective, seem weak and do not meet human needs, it is highly unlikely that people would listen, much less follow us.
4. Who was the last person you helped through your own efforts? How did that make you feel?
You will never know how you feel unless you take the time to reflect. In other words, what can I take from this experience or life lesson? What did I like best about the experience; would I do it differently the next time? Remember experience can be the best teacher, if we choose to learn from it.
Think you are not a leader; think again. No matter who you are or what you do, you are person of influence. What I hope you learned today is what type of influencer you want to be. Remember, leadership is about transformation. It is about transforming ourselves and then when we hear the call from our creator, it is about transforming others. Thank you.