What Leaders are Learning

Each week, Leadership Spokane Executive Director Brian Newberry writes about what leaders are learning and how it impacts our daily lives.

Showing a sense of belonging is a high bar for leaders to aim for. but the power of acceptance is worth pursuing. Listening, giving up power, celebrating diversity and being engaged are good first steps for leaders to add value to their communities. Leaders should help others belong.

Leaders don’t just change vectors for organizations and teams--they point the way for others selectively making a difference one follower at a time, sometimes dramatically.

As the Winter Olympics comes to a close, the final ceremony is emblematic of a leader’s calling. The flame dims but it carried forward by the next country to be lit again in four years. Leaders never let the flame go out. Leaders grieve and then they bring back hope.

Organizational leaders can follow Olympic grace in their performance as well. When faced with financial stress, leaders can show composure or disarray. When faced with unwanted competition or employee disengagement, leaders can elevate their voice or speak softly. When faced with personal attacks, leaders can lash back or smile and elevate themselves above the fray. In each case, leaders have a choice to make and keeping themselves simple and elegant is the surest way to retain grace.

The white dove is the traditional symbol of peace and even with all the intense athletic rivalries, the Olympics has become a global symbol of one world. It reminded me that leaders particularly servant leaders are peacemakers by nature. Certainly, leaders need to agitate the environment to a degree to keep positive change going and avoid complacency. But change for change’s sake is exhaustive and will eventually degrade a team’s efficiency.

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This week momentous world events are occurring from the most watched television program, the Superbowl, to the coming together of humanity in the opening Winter Olympic ceremonies. In both cases, I am always reminded how leaders leave legacies for others to follow.

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. Our Gala was a celebration of leadership. It is easy in hindsight to see why our thousand plus alumni can be celebrated…they focus on the right things.

Leaders provide vision, wisdom and, most importantly, energy to move forward. Leaders also have a secret ingredient—hope. They see the glass half full, believe in a brighter tomorrow, and good leaders have one other advantage—they can convince those around them to believe.

Leaders whose legacies survive are those whose trails last through the test of time, long enough for others to follow after they have left the scene.

This past week, our leaders were part of our “Leadership in a Diverse World” day. The servant leadership characteristic we focus on this important day is awareness. For Robert Greenleaf, awareness was a crucial leadership characteristic so that leaders can be responsive to their followers. But, it is not a passive characteristic.

When faced with complexity, oftentimes the right answer is to go back to basics, where simple building blocks can be configured to show the right answer. For servant leadership, our basic building blocks are the 10 servant leadership characteristics.

This holiday season, I am reminded more than ever the importance of leaders taking the New Year on, believing in their followers and being resolute in achieving their goals. “Hope” is the calling card of effective leaders and belief and conviction are the two primary ingredients to hope.

Every holiday season, I am reminded how the holiday classics we see play on TV reflect timeless leadership lessons. The lessons are simple yet appealing beyond their nostalgia.

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. Our adult Leadership Class just completed its monthly class, Communication Day, focusing on the servant leadership characteristic “Persuasion.”

Leaders who lead with good cheer and positivity promote workplace productivity, resilience, problem solving, energy, better decision-making and increases in morale.

As leaders, cherishing wonder and creating it in the workplace is a means to ensure our horizons are boundless.

In addition to helping others by patting them on the back, gratitude helps the giver—lending truth to the adage, “It is better to give than receive.”

To build community, servant leaders need to champion other servant leaders. As community becomes harder to pull together, we need advocates training their replacements. Community building is a marathon process and the more runners passing the baton, the shorter the race becomes.

Beyond core values, military members are taught dependability, loyalty and adaptability. Every military member goes through the crucible of basic training where yelling, discipline and task accomplishment are driven into the military members.

Leaders who tackle wicked problems are coined social entrepreneurs. Fortunately for Spokane, we have many social entrepreneurs who are taking head-on our wicked problems, from poverty to homelessness to metal health to strengthening our infrastructure.

Servant leaders give of themselves to help others grow. This is not simple addition, but multiplication. Philanthropists inspire those they help to give back, which spreads to others to pay forward as well.

Oftentimes informal leaders are the most powerful in an organization eclipsing the formal leaders who are perhaps more brash but less effective in motivating followers to exceed their abilities.

Leaders with discernment see over the hill before even approaching the hill. Some leaders have discernment as a natural gift. Others develop it as experience builds in their life. Indeed, it is easy to see over the hill if you have summited the hill many times before.

To keep a positive heart, servant leaders need to remember their youthful optimism and pure beliefs. Cynicism is the enemy of innocence and optimism.

Reading inspires imagination. Our Arts Day is one of most popular days because it shows the power of creativity in helping leaders move ahead. Books stoke our imagination, showing us the world, possibilities and horizons we normally would never fathom. Science fiction certainly does just that but even nonfiction provides much to inspire our imagination.

This past week, a horrific tragedy occurred at a local high school, Freeman High School, when a student took a gun and shot and killed a fellow student and injured three others students. Schools are always sanctuaries, places of higher learning, free thinking and friendships. When attacks of violence occur, we all suffer with deep remorse made worse by the very realization that our schools represent our future and an attack on one is an attack on all.

Some leaders show leadership by their professional roles, some better than others. Other leaders emerge and it is these leaders who show characteristics of vision, perseverance, and conceptualization that make a significant difference in the lives of others.

When discussing servant leadership, the frame of reference is generally that of the leader and the natural aspiration to serve first. Like most things in life, there are always both sides of the street, and we should also consider those who choose to be led.

My final “one off” summer leadership lesson is the importance of leaders staying grounded but still showing moral courage to set the bar high for all. I have spoken on courage often but what this blog reminds us is the importance of small acts of courage to shift the entire conversation for the good.

Clearly, our roots give us our strength. This leadership philosophy seems reasonable, but is harder to follow in real life as physical and emotional distance from our early days creates barriers to staying grounded.

Traditionally, leaders pursue a strong leader model showing themselves as omnipotent which has the unintended side effect of distancing ourselves from our followers. Showing our true self, our vulnerable self is a means to once again narrow that gap.

The real challenge is the higher in leadership we rise, the harder the problems we are confronted with. Paradoxically, the more important our role is in an organization, the less likely we will be to ask for help. The strongest leaders listen to those around them.

As leaders, pushing the envelope and putting ourselves in uncomfortable if not fearful situations is the balance to grow as leaders.

Commitment is critical to effective leadership. Leadership boils down to influence and trust. Commitment is summed up by action over words. Leaders who walk the talk are committed to action, they are trusted and hence build influence.

The ideal of open-mindedness is clear particularly when solving difficult problems. The challenge remains staying open-minded when day to day problems keeps us focused on the mundane. A second challenge is that new paths and new ways of doing business involve more risk, a huge barrier to staying on the path of adventure and new ideas.

Organizations face growth, peak season, retrenchment and retooling for the next year. Gardeners are successful year in year out because they have the whole cycle in mind as they grow their gardens. Leaders should do likewise.

As our nation pauses to celebrate our 241st birthday, I reflect on how well servant leadership melds to our historic values of freedom, first celebrated on Philadelphia’s town hall steps or colonial street corners. One of the most recognized sentences in American history says it all: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Beyond identifying strengths, the hardest part for any leader is the fact that oftentimes we cannot start with blank sheets of paper in building a team. Leaders show to an organization where followers or teammates are already identified and the freedom to move employees around is not always possible. Leadership is always an art more than science and in these routine circumstances finding a means to sharpen strengths and mitigate weaknesses is how teams can truly rise. Understanding this challenge is the first step to maximizing team cohesion an d synergy.

The central tenet our parents teach us is trust. Randy Conley in his June 2014 article “A Father’s 10 Lessons About Leadership” says it well: “If you want people to give you their full commitment and passion, you have to earn their trust. You can get people to follow you by virtue of your power or title, but they’ll only do so out of compulsion or fear.” Trust is essential for long-term effective leadership.

My title, “Leaders Appreciate 2017,” alludes to us always appreciating the moment. Life can be short and it is a truism that we should always appreciate our health and time we have together. But the title is a salute to my class of leaders in 2017. I am a big proponent that leaders learn and this year was no different on how I have learned so much from our leaders we are privileged to serve with.

Leadership theories share many common characteristics among them vision, perseverance and the ability to communicate. Servant leadership, on the other hand, has several unique characteristics among them listening, healing and empathy. I offer that “sacrifice” is another implicit characteristic as servant leaders by definition have the natural feeling to serve first.

Accountability, while not often mentioned outside of public service circles, is part of a leader’s DNA because at its core is trust. Without trust, a leader is weakened and has only to rely on position to achieve results.

Mother’s Day is such an important day because mothers have such a profound impact on each of us. They are the epitome of leadership, defining by how they live countless leadership examples. Truly, mothers demonstrate time management skills daily, help us heal, have empathy, listen and never run out of passion. Mothers lead by example their entire lives.

Leaders never operate in a vacuum. Leaders magnify their impact when they are able to convene others together for a greater good. The dreaded weekly staff meeting is not all bad (most of the time)—it is a means to have a meeting of the minds which ostensibly should benefit the company.

I read an analogy that leaders often have to ride through white water. Leaders do indeed ride through white water but they also smartly aim the kayak to find smooth waters. When faced with choppy waters, leaders try to shape the terrain for the better.

Two weeks ago, our adult leaders celebrated Arts Day and the importance of creativity. It is always a fun-filled day – I always leave more inspired than ever about the importance of creativity within leadership, a focus I have blogged on several times. I was struck by a statement outstanding artist and entrepreneur Luke Baumgarten made discussing whether economic activity follows the arts or whether the arts follow economic revivals.

I personally believe that good behavior is inherent in servant leadership. How can you serve and inspire others if you are leading them stray. That said, the mounting ethical complexities in our society suggest it is an issue to address directly. Arguably, ethical leadership is the foundation of servant leadership.

Business author Ron Carucci in a December 2015 Harvard Business Review article “Great Leaders Know They’re Not Perfect” points out 69% of new business leaders feel unprepared for the jobs they will assume. The challenge of this deficit is that leaders often overcompensate by pretending to be over prepared to their followers, which falls flat if and when they mess up

Last Friday, an epic sporting event occurred which in retrospect reminded me how import it is leaders to always remain classy. The winningest program in America, the women’s University of Connecticut basketball team lost after 111 straight victories. Losing in overtime on a final shot, this unexpected loss became a major sports story over the weekend even as Gonzaga made an incredible run to its first men’s basketball championship. Seeing how the women players handled the loss, many who had ever experienced a loss at Connecticut, was inspiring.

Watching the flurry of March games, I am always inspired to see the winning teams jell because that is the ultimate goal of any leader, to bring a team together to do more than was thought possible. In our American culture, stretching for extremes is always a trend, but the Gonzaga basketball team reminded me that balance can often lead to the best results.