Shift: Toward Convergence
Excerpt from Keep The Change
By Lee Primeau, B.A., M.A.Converge“to reach the same point coming from different directions” “A coming together from different directions, especially a uniting or merging of groups or tendencies that were originally opposed or very different”
Science or Art?
Leadership is both a science and an art. It is science in that there are certain disciplines, behaviors, and principles that if applied properly will ‘get you on the dance floor’. These unchanging attributes are things like vision, integrity, perseverance, courage, innovation and risk taking. Along with the right widget, right timing, and right team, they make a business go a long way down the road. Vision insinuates that that big ‘ahha’ moment that propelled you into leadership ring ignited you into action to do something. It might have been a passion, a moment of observation where you saw a need to meet, it could have been a sense of anger that someone should to do something or that something has to be done to address an issue, a need, a solution. And you thought that it might as well be you than someone else. So you took the plunge.
The Leadership Spectrum
A vision is that enigmatic something that lays just over the horizon. You can see it, feel it, be compelled by it and now it causes you to take action, to take initiative, to move. That with some kind of basic skill to infect others with that vision and you are on your way.
Integrity is the cache you have that allows you to share the vision and move others to join your idea, concept, and passion. Integrity has many moving parts to it and you have enough of them to act in principle and within the ethical lines of doing right. Your transparency and authenticity create a trustworthiness that gives your leadership and business a winning chance.
Perseverance is also a part of your leadership arsenal and allows you to get through the ‘tuff stuff’ of life both internally and externally. Your ‘stick-to-itiveness’ is remarkable and contagious causing others to both be inspired and relentless in pursuing the same vision as you have. Your own personal belief in yourself is seen by the acts of courage you take. Vulnerable, chancy, leap of faith kind of leadership that allows you to experience what so many other leaders do not experience, the risk reward factor. Your intuitive nature has not been pushed aside for mere academic knowledge of applied leadership but converges with that acquired leadership knowledge making you call ‘audibles’ in the heat of leadership decision making that has a high percentage of winning. You thrive on it! It grabs a hold of you like nothing else and leads to another monumental leadership attribute that allows you to breath the rare air of innovation. You see things in your mind fit that shouldn’t fit, those ideas and concepts that make sense to you that haven’t entered the mind of other leaders leading to ever spiralling up successes. Innovation now becomes your personal brand of leadership. You are sought out for this unique ability to ‘see behind the veil’ the ‘je ne sais quoi’ (I don’t know what/can’t put my finger on it’) but there it is and its amazing, successful, moneymaking, and promotion filled innovation.
So What’s Missing?
The fact that you have experienced, developed and been able to make these unchangeable attributes repetitive has put you into a small percentage of successful leaders. Now if you could only get to that one game changing level where titans of leadership and business have only made it that would be something. No matter how disciplined, how well trained, how well mentored, how well educated all the aforementioned is worthless if it doesn’t work in real world, real-time circumstances. Those circumstances outside the leaders control that can bring to an end many dreams of leaders.
The truth is that these external and internal changes and challenges are evident in every generation, every market, and every environment. So what separates the best in class leadership attributes from achieving greatness? In the best of circumstances you have personal discipline, you have funding, you have market space, you have operational excellence, and you have solid governance. So what’s with that? In their detailed and well-researched book, In Their Times, Harvard Business School Professors Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria relate a key discovery for business and leadership success. They found that in addition to all the above leadership traits the business leaders they studied from history portrayed a propensity to take advantage of the environment they found themselves in. Whether it was demographic changes, societal trends, economic swings, geo-political events, new technologies and the like, business leaders had an innate ability to read these factors, both positive and negative, and make critical decisions for their organizations that lead to success. The call may have been to pivot away from a situation, take advantage of an opportunity, redefine their business, or resist pressure or any combination of these the leaders who survived and thrived in environments just as challenging as the ones you are facing right now did so by seizing the opportunity. An optimistic attitude allowed them to assess the circumstances, determine the best approach to dealing with the environment, and pushing forward. In short as Myo and Nohria say they had ‘contextual intelligence’.
History Reveals the Principles
Throughout history we learn of leaders who have presented themselves, as those rare leaders who did not fold in the crunch, did not retreat from the vision, did not allow circumstances to bully them into defeat, but pushed through to success. Alexander the Great was young but won his troops over by his immense resolve to expand the Greek empire. Tutored by Aristotle he applied his philosophical worldview and intelligence to gain respect. His accomplishments in expansionism covered the world from the Ionian Sea (Italy to the West) to the Himalayas to the East. His campaigns lasted ten years conquering empire after empire. His control the “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea” vision was both ambitious and arduous. Alexander’s legacy was a world with cultural diffusion, unified language, enhanced communication, and single currency. His history was full of personal struggle, political internal challenges, military resistance, logistical complications, and various warfare methodologies to name just a few. Imagine the task of leading an army over the Himalaya Mountains, or facing an army with fierce Elephant forces never seen before. For ten years Alexander the Great faced unfavorable circumstances but his history of leadership is filled with all the aforementioned leadership attributes and one more leadership weapon in his arsenal. His ability to improvise on the move, to adapt yet stay true to the vision of “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea” and to innovate to stay competitive. He did this with such excellence and to the extend that his military excellence became the standard to be a military leader and his life, strategies and situational abilities are studied to this day in military colleges around the world.
We you read the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospels the leadership discovery is that here is someone who choose to take the road less traveled. A clear vision and mission in sight, to die an undeserving brutal death on one of the most advanced systems of torture of the time. The motif of Jesus’ life on that journey was one of political, religious, and personal grief. He was rejected, ridiculed, mocked and resisted at every turn of moving toward his mission. In the desert of temptation he had to face personal and inner struggle, facing down the corruption of organized religion he had to exercise the courage to take on the powerful, and in dealing with the political he had to accept the consequences of death on a cross. There is one outstanding comment found in the biography of Jesus found in the Gospel of Luke. Luke comments that as the time drew closer for Jesus to face death he, ‘set his face toward Jerusalem like a flint’. An idiom meaning that while aware of the difficult challenge before him he determined to move forward undeterred and with resolve. Jesus faced distraction, temptation, and opportunity along the way but in his time he resisted, improvised, and adjusted to ensure he reached his goal. There is no doubt about the success and legacy of the life of Jesus. Despite the misunderstandings and abuses of his teachings this planet is undoubtedly impacted by Jesus and continues to be. How would history be rewritten if to his prayer 2000 years ago, ‘Father if it is possible remove this cup (his destiny with death) from me’ he did not add, ‘nevertheless not my will but your will be done.’ The poor, the hungry, the needy, the ignorant, people from all walks of life, decisions on every level of life are determined to one degree or another based on the timeless teachings of Jesus.
Crossing the Chasm
We see that life for anyone is not immune to inner and external challenges. What sets apart successful leadership is the ability to understand the context they find themselves in and the ability make great decisions on what to do. Steve Covey uses the metaphor of a compass in place of a map. He explains that while a map provides a two dimensional perspective of a direction and destination for someone traveling it does not tell the true tale of the conditions of the journey. What season does the journey take place? What elevation? What climate? Is it dessert or is it mountainous? For all these questions a compass provides the best way to navigate. The compass provides the true direction while allowing one to make the many adjustments required on a journey in the event of washed out bridges, impassable mountain ranges, the absence of land marks in a desert place etc. The context in which a leader finds themselves in and the journey being experienced may be one of three steps forward and two backward but the leader with a compass can always know where true north is and make the necessary adjustments to press on to the goal.
I spent the majority of my leadership experience traveling with and training individuals and teams to work internationally in some of the most remote and arduous places on the globe. The sickest, the poorest, and the most deprived situations anyone could ever imagine or be in. The emotional, psychological and physical toil called upon is some of the most demanding a person can ever endure. In addition the logistical requirements and cross cultural dynamics add to the high probability of failure. Teaching, role-playing and artificial simulation exercises cannot even begin to compare to the real life situation. Over the years I’ve seen just about everything. The objective is to have an outcome that brings relief, solace, health, hope, and support to the community the team is going to help. The reality is that unless there is a constant application of adjustment to the moral of the person/group, improvisation for the resources lost or broken, adaptation to the schedule, change in the real need verses the perceived need of the situation, and sickness and even loss of life. My metaphor for international work expatriates do is like a run away train that is at any moment ready to derail. And the leaders job is to keep everything on track anyway they can. Leadership, whatever the context, home or abroad faces to one degree or another the same challenges. In the leadership responsibilities I’ve found myself in context has been the single most important attribute needed. While all the others are perfunctory, contextual intelligence is serendipitous. Like sparring with a ghost not knowing where the next blow will come from and where to take your next swing, leadership requires the ability to intuitively anticipate, improvise, adapt and contextualize ‘on the fly’. The management/leadership textbook gets thrown out the window and the petri dish of decision-making and deliberate timelines doesn’t apply. Only the ability to understand ‘your times’ and to contextually analyze your situation will secure success and make you stay on point to your mission. Military Operations have an acronym they use when the ‘by the book’ gets thrown out in a broken situation…OODA
- Observe: When in a difficult situation step back and absorb the reality of the situation.
- Orient: Next is to adjust yourself to change your position to the context or external stimulus.
- Decide: In light of all the alternatives and options the new situation presents, narrow your focus and commitment to a course of action.
- Act: Take the courageous step to implement a strategy.
When my parents opened up business in New York City and I was attending Southeastern University I’d visit my parents and hang around the Big Apple. During the months I was there I would sometimes catch Rudy Giulinai on an evening radio program where, as a regular, he would be interviewed about his work as United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. I found it fascinating to learn about his dealings in prosecuting high profile cases of organized crime and Wall Street financiers. This was my first introduction to the man that would eventually become a transformational leader in the area of reducing crime, cleaning up the city, and helping restore the economy of New York City as Mayor. ‘America’s Mayor’. So there was a sense of familiarity with him when on that devastating day of September 11, 2001 two planes were intentionally flow into the World Trade Towers making the United States a country under attack. That day political protocol, emergency contingency plans, and leadership metrics would not be enough. The world changed immediately and significantly, the city of New York was in chaos, the people of the United States and around the world were in shock. What do you do next? What decisions need to be made? How do you deal with the moment let along the long term? So many questions all displaying that the context changed.
Among many other decisions that were made that day and the subsequent days, weeks and months later one stood out that captured the moment. Rudy Giulinai was asked in a press conference how many people had lost their lives. He could have called on any one of the several assistants on hand to provide information, offer a guess, provide an analysis. However Rudy Giulinai choose to stay at the mike and not provide statistical data but simply and emotionally say, “I don’t know but it will be more than any one of us can bare alone.” In that moment he capture the pathos of a country, a people. It provided the solace to the grief we all were sharing, it connected us all together, and assured us that there was empathic leadership at the helm that was going to steer us through this awful and dreadful time.
During these challenging and unpredictable times socially, economically and politically all leaders can exercise more HEART!
Honestly communicate with your team. Be disclosing.
Engage more personable with your team. Be available.
Avoid distractions and stay focused. Be present.
Relate with your people empathetically. Be genuine.
Take care of yourself & your people. Be healthy.Throughout history, circumstances have presented themselves as timely opportunities for leaders…right now is that opportunity…