What Leaders are Learning

Leaders Do Right

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. As majesty of the Olympics fades, the inspiration will stay with us as greatness leaves an indelible mark on history. Good leaders do the same thing – leave their mark. As we spin up for the next class of Leadership Spokane, I will review some of the cardinal characteristics that great leaders exemplify. One of the characteristics I have not stressed nearly enough is ethics in leadership. Obviously, leaders should do the right thing. One of the reasons I have not stressed it as much is it seems so obvious. It is central to all 10 Robert Greenleaf servant leadership characteristics; the underlying theme that leaders must have core values to serve others.

Yet, many leadership theories do not explicitly state the obvious. Leaders need to be trusted to be effective and to be trusted, they need to do the right things. The challenge for all leaders is that there is a lot of gray in the world. Leading others is more art than science and there is gray in the world. This fact is compounded by the human psychology that clouds situations. Dr. Michael Hartsfield in his article, “Leadership Reflection: Leaders Do The Right Thing: A Popular Phrase or Real Practice?” highlights that independent thinking is made harder by Sir Francis Bacon’s study of confirmation bias or more recently Peter Senge’s study of mental models. Senge says, “Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” In other words, as leaders judge the right direction, their past connections potentially cloud decision-making when ethical decisions may clash with past assumptions. Leadership is hard, and one of the hardest acts is to separate oneself from the crowd, to distance oneself from past mental models and try and make unbiased decisions in a world where bias confronts us every day, in social media, by friendships and by ideology. Max Lucado reminds us: “A person who wants to lead the orchestra must turn their back on the crowd.”

The servant leader poem The Contract by William Ayot gives a visual illustration on how leaders need to stand tall doing the right thing: “The man, the woman, the leader, the boss, standing up there when the wave hits the rock, passing out faith and confidence like life jackets.” Leaders not only stand tall when the wave hits the rock, they should be living core values but also inspiring them. Trust is the basis of that contract between leader and led. Any leadership theory should shout out the importance of core values and ethics even when not the popular decision. Without question, to maintain that trust, leaders do the right things.

Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right. ~ Warren Bennis