Sep 05, 2016
“Judge me by the enemies I have made.”
Franklin D. RooseveltEffective leadership demands more than rote acceptance of rules, guidelines, ...
Sep 05, 2016
“Judge me by the enemies I have made.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Effective leadership demands more than rote acceptance of rules, guidelines, policies and practices. Whether in corporate, academia, non-profit or any other leadership venue, we often equate leadership traits of intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision as guideposts for measuring the effectiveness of our leaders. Yet, truly masterful leadership calls for decision making in the context and application of wisdom, sagacity and discernment.
The dictionary defines discernment as “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure” or “an act of perceiving or discerning something” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Traditional definitions tend to align to religious underpinning of God’s truth, “In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically“ (MacArthur, 2009). Discernment in the context of trying to assimilate into a religious dogma, begs the question of whose God are we talking about? Jones (2015, para. 2), of the Centre for Innovative Leadership Navigation, delivers an insightful thesis regarding the importance of discernment for educators, “Interestingly discernment is an area of focus that has largely been left to theologians, which in itself is both interesting and yet somewhat surprising. After all, discernment is fundamental to decision making, and the quality of decision taking surely hinges upon the quality of our discernment. The ability to judge well and with perception can not only improve our ability as a leader, but also as a human being.”
Given the urgencies of our current leadership roles, bringing wisdom and discernment into our decision making requires infusing that which is internal to us, stepping beyond common practice and bridging the chasm between what appears to be visible and apparent to a differentiated level of consciousness.
Conscious discernment elevates our ability to look within to discover nuance, creativity and innovation, all desirable attributes of highly effective leaders and essential to distinguishing truth from fallacy. And yet, truth is elusive and subjective, particularly when others within your organization have dissimilar views, opinions, levels of emotional intelligence, communication styles and ambitions. As leaders, we must make decisions which not only impact those we lead and serve, but advance and support diverse constituents, corporate goals, and ultimately the health of the organization. Do we entrust our decision making strictly to the corporate playbook or look beyond the construct of policies, procedures and practices to embrace what Jack Welch brought to life early in his role as CEO at General Electric? Prior to emboldening his 4E’s model of energy, energize, edge and execution, there were the components of head, heart and guts. “Head,” of course, referred to an individual’s intelligence and competence, “Heart” connoted the “soft” skills of empathy and understanding, which Welch felt were essential to developing the open, candid organization that he was trying to build. “Guts,” as the name implies, meant a level of self-confidence sufficient for making the tough decisions” (Krames, 2005, pp. 8-9).
In our quest for discerning objective truth, are we, as leaders, aware of the internal fires that burn within, creating filters for our decision making? Conscious discernment compels us to think before acting, breathe before engaging and shift from reaction to choice, thus moving away from those fires and internal belief systems that stir from within, unconsciously nudging and inviting quick, and at times, less than productive decision making. When we are aware of being aware, we step into the presence of consciousness, better able to hear the voice from within to distinguish between objective truth and the fallacy of limiting views. Our inner psychic world is a composite of hardwired emotions attached to those indelible experiences that impact decision making and ultimately the consequential results. Our thoughts then, driven by both conscious and unconscious emotional patterns, create our intentions, which lead to our choices, thus constructing our realities. And as human beings, we are imbued with a full range of emotions from joy to rage, all fixtures from within, subject to surfacing in an instant and sparking actions. Daniel Goldman, acclaimed author of Emotional Intelligence, postulates that we have the ability to develop an inner radar to control turbulent emotions by gaining what he refers to as a choice point.
Self awareness is essential in developing consciousness of our self-defeating habits, usually implanted by events in our early childhood, along with understanding that our more-primal limbic signals for strong emotions, when left unchecked, control our behaviors.
When handling our turbulent feelings, it helps to understand what happens in the buildup to them. This typically goes by unnoticed. But if we can bring the buildup into our awareness, we gain a mental foothold that allows us to short-circuit what otherwise would become a destructive emotional hijack. At the very least we can notice how we feel during the hijack itself and note the negative consequences of our impulses. And with luck (or practice), we can catch ourselves in the future and change what we say or do for the better. For this it helps to become aware of the gap between the provocation of an emotion, like anger, and our response. The same goes for our more mundane tensions, the ones we all face when whim and impulse contend with obligation and responsibility. A pause can help us sort out when those impulses and whims are just fine to act on and when obligation and responsibility matter more (Goleman, 2015, Self Awareness, para 3).
While it is true that consistency and stability are desirable attributes of effective leadership, the discerning leader also understands that one size does not fit all. Choosing one’s actions depends on many variables, from environmental to individual competencies and everything in between. Getting to the heart of matter, whether making decisions that affect the overall performance of the organization or deciding which word to insert in an email communication to a colleague, depends on one’s ability to aptly discern the optimal choice. Maxwell (2011) writes, “Good leaders cut through the clutter to see the real issues. They know what really matters. There’s an old saying that a smart person believes only half of what he hears, but a really smart person knows which half to believe” (p.287). And to make matters more complex, conscious discernment ebbs and flows with the constant changes in the many dynamics that drive an organization’s heartbeat. Market changes, technology enhancements, availability of talent, internal organizational politics, and so much more, all act to create a fluid equilibrium requiring balance and constant adjustments.
Effective leadership demands wearing different hats to fit different situations. Discerning which hat to wear or which dance step is required at any given time calls for flexibility and grace. After all, leadership is not in a vacuum, but rather between human beings having a human experience. In the humanness of the experience, others carry with them unique belief systems, aspirations, competencies, motivations and psychic filters. Conscious discernment is proactive, anticipating with clear vision the paths to walk in order to accomplish the tasks at hand and find balance.
One area requiring a great deal of discernment is our own characterological reactions. We all have our imbalances where we get triggered by people and things. Maimonides wrote about the importance of finding that place of balance. This concept covers the gamut of character traits, such as the balance between excessive pride and meekness, between stinginess and wastefulness or between rage and apathy. The intermediate point between extremes is not always easy to find. That’s the idea of consciousness – finding the exact point of balance that’s needed for the situation. (Wolbe, 2001, Ch. 3, para 2).
Sagacity as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (1997), synonymous to discernment, speaks to one, “…gifted with acuteness of mental discernment, having special aptitude for the discovery of truth, penetrating and judicious in the estimation of character and motives, and the devising of means for accomplishment of ends” (Gunz & Lissack, 2005, p. 397). More importantly, a distinguishing element which further supports a level of conscious discernment is a leader’s interpretive knowledge. Clearly, leadership acumen centered in creativity and innovation are highly desirable for any organization, but without the ability to see beyond the specifics of a particular situation in its overall context and environment, great progress and results may not occur. Simmons and Sower (2012) explore this concept, termed the helicopter view, originally developed by the Royal Dutch Shell Company as,
The ability to see the big picture that the helicopter view provides is a vital leadership trait. But sagacity also incorporates the wisdom to see what others do not and to effectively act upon that information by providing leadership that can identify transformational creativity and foster innovation within their organizations. Without sagacity, the helicopter view might enable an organization to adapt to changes in its environment through continuous incremental improvement but provides no guarantee that it will recognize potential paradigm-shifting events on the horizon (reactive) or develop those events itself (proactive). (p. 301).
The concept and practice of conscious discernment in leadership necessitates an elevated state of perception and awareness. One’s ability to rise above the three dimensional limitations to become the observer, present and aware of your own leadership behaviors, yet with a holistic view of all the moving parts, optimizes a leader’s capacity to comprehend a clear path forward. The analogy of being both on the dance floor and in the balcony, watching with keen interest, as beautifully illustrated by Heifetz and Linsky (2002), provides an important element of higher awareness necessary for envisioning a more comprehensive understanding.
Leadership is an improvisational art. You may have an overarching vision, clear, orienting values, and even a strategic plan, but what you actually do from moment to moment cannot be scripted. To be effective, you must respond to what is happening. Going back to our metaphor, you have to move back and forth from the balcony to the dance floor, over and over again throughout the day, week, month, and year. You take action, step back and assess the results of the action, reassess the plan, then go to the dance floor and make the next move. You have to maintain a diagnostic mindset on the changing reality” (p. 73).
Each situation requires assessing the most optimal dance step. Do you waltz or tango? And which partner provides you the greatest opportunities for an enlightened response?
Have you ever wondered why you connect better with some people while with others, the simplest of communications seem strained and counterproductive, despite your best efforts? Human beings are in essence super-conductive electromagnetic miracles, energized, electric and infinitely connected to each other. You have heard the phrases, “She’s got an electric personality,” or “When he speaks, people listen,” or “She’s always one step ahead of everyone else.” These comments illustrate observations we make of individuals who stand out as different, more expressive and possessing qualities that could be described as super-human or of a sixth sense. What is it that causes a room full of people to turn and notice an unknown individual walking into the space, while others come and go without notice? Energetically, if we were able to see the energy that emits from us, we would discover an elevated aura, a palpable flow of current exuding from certain individuals. Why is this? Energy, when viewed as a current, flows within a frequency, from low to high. Leaders sensitive to their own output can choose, at any given moment, to elevate their vibration by shifting from unconscious auto-pilot to the present moment, selecting an awareness of openness and light. From this point of conscious awareness, leaders can make decisions that are discerning and empowering, reflective of supporting those being led with intentional foresight and direct connection. When this level of presence is employed, different choices emerge; those you lead and serve feel your energy and a higher degree of collaboration can manifest.
Interestingly, while companies need discerning transformational leaders who possess the knowledge, charisma and talent to spearhead changes that elevate profitability, expand market share in a competitive and ever-changing environment, and change the rules of the game in their industry, relatively few leaders fit this mold. Few executives understand the unique strengths needed to become a discerning leader. Rooke and Torbert (2005), discuss the Seven Transformations of Leadership without any regard to discernment, proposing that great leaders are differentiated not by their personality or philosophy but by their action logic—how they interpret their own and others’ behavior and how they maintain power or protect against threats. Central to their thesis is the belief that leaders are made, not born, and how they develop is critical for organizational change. Their extensive research included twenty-five years of survey-based consulting across a diverse array of highly successful American and European companies and thousands of executives, managers and professionals. Out of this research emerges seven action types that catalogued leaders based on characteristics shown and strengths identified.
Notably, we found that the three types of leaders associated with below-average corporate performance (Opportunists, Diplomats, and Experts) accounted for 55% of our sample. They were significantly less effective at implementing organizational strategies than the 30% of the sample who measured as Achievers. Moreover, only the final 15% of managers in the sample (Individualists, Strategists, and Alchemists) showed the consistent capacity to innovate and to successfully transform their organizations (para 8).
Of the total number of surveyed leaders, only 5% represented the highest levels of transformational ability, the Strategist at 4% and the Alchemist at 1%. The Strategist, as a transformational leader, generates organizational and personal transformations. He/she exercises the power of mutual inquiry, vigilance, and vulnerability for both the short and long term. The highest level of Alchemist, good at leading society-wide transformations, generates social integration of material, spiritual, and societal factors to achieve a higher order.
While there is efficacy to this study, it fails to consider the innate, unique and less tangible, yet highly relevant characteristic of discernment. One can learn to listen more effectively and develop leadership skills necessary to become the Strategist and Alchemist. Yet, how does one learn compassion or evolve to a higher vibration, one that touches the hearts of others? A leader’s ability to exercise sagacious intelligence and the discernment necessary to provide a differentiated degree of understanding, empathy and human connection deserves our collective attention. In a world exponentially changing, wrought with increased instability, violence, corporate greed and disparity of wealth, our leaders must align to a higher calling, one that bridges consciousness with discernment. Today’s leaders must integrate conscious discernment. It is simply not enough to define effective leadership by the standards and characteristics of yesterday’s leaders. Discernment, through the application of wisdom and sagacity, is the catalyst for future-thinking, action-based leadership at a time when our global community requires nothing less.
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Goleman, D. (2015, November 02). Develop Your Inner Radar to Control Turbulent Emotions.
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& Management Review, 6(5), 75.
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Organization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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Aug 23, 2015
Aug 23, 2015
What’s up with the millennial generation? For years, I toiled with understanding this younger generation and their exceptional talents. Finding an inroad to harness their unique voice and spirit presented a wonderful opportunity to step into their collective psyche to identify what, why and how they experience the world. This is a generation that gets their news from satirical outlets such as Comedy Central, living by word-of-mouth recommendations from friends on Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and Blogs.
In my leadership role as a banking executive working in one of the most affluent areas of the country, finding committed, talented and engaged younger employees became extremely difficult. Scratching my head, this baby-boomer boss spent a significant amount of time and energy interviewing, discussing and leading these associates only to find unique challenges associated with this generation. This group encompasses those born in the early 1980s through the early 2000s.
By contrast, as a baby-boomer, I know the difference between a world of limited technology and a simpler, more structured order from today’s increasingly intertwined and ever-accelerating technological mainstream. Not only have I endured the jagged mix of bridging the chasm of generations in my professional life, but also in my personal world. With three sons born during this tumultuous period, finding understanding and cohesion has been an interesting journey.
History gives us some important clues as to why millennials were born into a new age, a new reality. The millennial generation commenced with a very dramatic shift in American consciousness. The era of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, during the 60s and 70s, took a sharp turn when a little known disease entered the current mainstream: AIDS. Living in New York City at the onset, I witnessed a penetrating fear infiltrate the psyche of young men in the City. What had been a culture of freedom and exploration now turned cold and dire as young gay men inflicted by the disease died a horrible death. This shift in the collective unconscious brought about a fear that had not been known previously. And culturally, AIDS became not only a symbol of the homosexual community but a social wedge creating a deep crevice in our collective experiences.
November 9, 1989, was a pivotal date in world history as the Berlin Wall crumbled. This iconic landmark symbolized the end of the Cold War and the introduction to a new world order. Fast forward to December 26, 1991, when the former USSR dissolved the Soviet Bloc into a Commonwealth of Independent States. So world events ushered in the start of the millennial generation. But even more impactful was this new technology called the Internet. By the mid-1990s, computers were entering the American landscape and by the early 2000s, everything changed in a big way with the ubiquitous emergence of cellular phones. But wait, there was more! In the mid 2000s, came the advent of smart cellular phones equipped with functionality that again accelerated everything in our world. Essentially smart phones were handheld computers with a phone function. The millennial generation seemed to be born with the immediate dexterity to power their world from a phone in their pocket. Speed, access and availability now became a standard to which this generation seemed at home.
Here are 5 simple methods to employ when engaging a millennial.
1. LEAD WITH OPTIONS-
Directing, bossing and ordering will not work. When involving millennials, open your leadership (including parenting) with options of how to complete tasks beyond rote practice. Flexibility is key!
2. OVER COMMUNICATE-
This generation is attached to a virtual reality that has instructed their pattern of communication to texting vs. phoning, following Facebook vs. one-on-one interactions and multitasking vs. task oriented engagement.
3. INVITE THEM-
Do not be fooled into thinking that millennials do not have creative capacity to revolutionize standard practice into a better, more efficient way of being. Lead by invitation and watch out for amazing ideas.
4. CREATE A SOLID PLATFORM-
This generation does not know what it feels like to not have technology running the show. Being born into a society of fear with foundations crumbling does not provide any solid footing on which to have security. Provide a safe and secure environment from which they can thrive.
5. LEARN FROM THEM-
Whether you like it or not, computers, the Internet and rapid-fire technological advances are the reality for all of us. Rather than live in frustration and annoyance, ask them to teach you their natural abilities. Join in the fun!
Aug 23, 2015
Aug 23, 2015
Paradoxically, what has come to characterize true masculinity is anything but! Take for instance strength and courage, two attributes concretely demonstrating manly fortitude. How one qualitatively describes strength and courage depends on the circumstances around which men exhibit behaviors attributed to these two characteristics. Is it strength and courage when a man treats a woman as less than? Does strength and courage emanate when men fail to support equal pay for women? And politically speaking, do we attribute strength and courage to conservative media, politicians and leaders when men decide what is in the best interest in decisions regarding women’s health? Can we tag honor, respect and true masculinity to those men who feel comfortable demeaning, degrading and subjugating women? The answer to all these questions is clearly, NO!
It seems our human experience is replete with many powerful examples of cowardice and false bravado where ‘real men’ support the longstanding notion that simply due to their natural birthright as men, they exist on a higher pedestal than women. Male domination, primarily through institutional violence, power and control, has existed and enjoyed ubiquitous acceptance for millennia. So what have we learned about the myths of being a REAL MAN?
Look deeper guys! Go below the superficial surface of accepted practice and find a meaningful understanding of your true masculinity. You are much more than bodies built for strength and courage. You are the beautiful melding of divine and purposeful energy and love. Yes men, love. Our collective shortsightedness is in part a reflection of the American story, a short one compared to other cultures with thousands of years of recorded history. Eastern philosophy and practice speaks to the symbolism of Yin and Yang, Father Sun and Mother Moon, the balance between feminine and masculine energies, all of which embody unity, connection and the necessity of love, understanding and compassion.
Let us examine 5 myths associated with Real Men.
1. REAL MEN don’t cry!
Wrong! Real men openly express their emotions, including sadness, loss and frustration. We are a composite of body, mind and spirit. The human experience is entirely emotional and experiential. To cut off and live true to select emotions is to live broken and disabled. Stop operating from a storyboard of false and limiting beliefs.
2. REAL MEN are macho!
Not necessarily! The Village People’s, Macho, Macho Man iconic hit of the 1980s, sarcastically illustrated the ultimate paradox associated with real men being macho. A reminder— gay men are men. The word and meaning of ‘macho’ has undergone great transition over the past several decades, making it a passé to equivocate macho to describing a real man.
3. REAL MEN are ready and willing to fight!
Are you? It is a longstanding axiom that real men are ready to fight. This makes sense, in that violence, power and control are at the heart of masculinity. We continue to live intimately attached to war, violence, guns, brutality and subjugation. But while history clearly supports this myth, real men are selecting a higher vibration, one of dialogue, inclusion and flexibility. Real men oppose violence and brutality by standing up for women, supporting equal rights for all and by acknowledging their own femininity.
So put down that 6th beer, 4th slice of pizza and 22nd hot chicken wing. Turn off the Sunday afternoon gladiator NFL game and stop the perpetual stream of violence.
4. REAL MEN reject their femininity!
What? We are the composite of masculine and feminine energies and qualities. How often have you come in contact with a man making derogatory comments about homosexuals or lesbians or people of color or anyone different than them? Gender orientation is a complex issue for many who live silently in their own disorientation. When I hear people bashing a gay man or woman, I quietly acknowledge their struggle with sexuality. Real men are comfortable in their own skin and supportive of others who choose a different life style.
5. REAL MEN can’t show love and compassion!
Yes! Don’t hide from the love that exists within. Real men are loving, sensitive and empathetic. Open yourself up to the only facet of life that means anything: love and compassion for yourself and others. Be the light that shines on true masculinity.