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What Leaders are Learning

Leaders Need More Cowbell

Leaders Need More Cowbell

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. At the start of the month, the adult leadership class experienced regional economy day and the positive momentum in many sectors of our economy born largely on yes, leadership. The dramatic steps forward for the WSU medical school culminating in accreditation recently is emblematic how bold leadership from individuals in the region like Dr. Lisa Brown has changed the economic trajectory of Spokane. The theme of the day was foresight or vision, one of Robert Greenleaf’s ten characteristics of servant leadership. Leadership guru Larry Spears writing on Greenleaf speaks of the importance of foresight: “Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. It is also deeply rooted within the intuitive mind.”

For me, foresight is an incredibly important trait leaders need to cultivate. Followers put their trust into leaders and one of the core ingredients to this trust is that leaders know the right way ahead. Bret Simons comments in a July 2001 article “Leadership Foresight:” “Foresight is a learned habit, not a mystical gift that only a few oracles possess. Foresight is the discipline of systematically thinking through the unintended consequences of every decision you make. It requires the wisdom to purposefully surround yourself with people that you know won’t always see things the way you do and will have the courage to challenge you when they disagree. It requires the humility to admit publicly when you failed to foresee an unintended consequence of a decision and the grit to continually learn from your mistakes. Foresight demands real accountability and integrity.”

The challenge for leaders is while it is indispensable to excellent leadership, there is no checklist for creating it. A tenant of Leadership Spokane is that leaders are made not born, but predicting the future is much more art than science. Spears offers good insight to finding foresight by being reflective and being a student of history. Simmons adds the necessity of using those around you to help gain wisdom. Leadership consultant Debbie Zmorenski in her article “Why Leaders Must Have Vision” sums it up well: “To be a visionary, a leader need have nothing more than a clear vision of the future. The difficult task is communicating that vision with clarity and passion in order to motivate and inspire people to take action. A visionary leader who clearly and passionately communicates his or her vision can motivate employees to act with passion and purpose, thereby ensuring that everyone is working toward a common goal. The end result is that everyone contributes to the organization's forward momentum.”

Politicians are often asked to have the “vision thing.” For leaders, it is indispensable. If it is not a natural gift, leaders need to observe, reflect and seek sage advice to improve their vision. For Economy Day, as our adult leaders visited economic venues from the Grand Hotel to GSI’s Startup Spokane to the Shared Fellows space, entrepreneurial foresight was clearly on display. As the class concluded that day, I shared the famous Saturday Night Live skit “Cowbell” where Will Farrell “improves” the Blue Oyster cult music by banging a loud cow bell obnoxiously to the deep frustration of the band members. Christopher Walken playing a famous producer continues to break in and demand more cowbell to the continued utter dismay of the band. It is one of the most familiar SNL skits done. I use the skit to describe the foresight or vision trait because often in life, leaders just need a little foresight or vision to make it all work out. So, leaders remember, if all fails, add a little vision. Leaders do need “more cowbell.”

"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion." --Theodore Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame