The leader helps us see what is possible,
especially when we do not have that vision in our experience.
Transformation does not just appear. It requires vision, thought, communication, respect, difficult questioning, and better listening. Transformational leaders help orchestrate that communal dance. They recognize that establishing a “shared vision” requires tough conversations. Everyone around the table (typically) sees his or her agenda item as the most important. They struggle to understand what “community” means beyond their narrow framework. Intentions may be good, but attention may not stray far from an individual agenda. The bigger picture can get lost in collective monologues.
One day in the gym, my personal trainer posed a question about mind-body discipline and fitness: “How do people walk around in something they were born with and not know anything about it or not be aware of what affects it?”
The same can be said for community leadership: “How do you lead a community if you do not take time to understand what affects it? How do you live or work in a place and not know anything about it or not be aware of what affects it?”
Two long-time community activists and leaders shared a few leadership skills and strategies with me on a mid-summer visit to their home. When I sat down with Linda and Michael Lanier, I wanted to learn how leaders get people to engage in reflective practice.
Linda Lanier’s storied leadership career included having served as the head of the Jacksonville affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Executive Director of the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, and head of the Jacksonville (Florida) Children’s Commission. She said effective leaders understand that they must say what everybody knows but few want to own. The leader sets the tone by “speaking truth to power and saying the unspeakable.”
That is, the leader must provide the safe, yet possibly uncomfortable, means for an open and honest discussion about tough issues.
Michael, a former behavioral therapist and recently retired as a hospital vice president for community outreach, said the leader needs to help his team move beyond passivity, navigate through emotion and upset, and be real by explaining the situation. He must help the parties at the table see a higher sense. They must keep their higher calling in mind.
“In the hospital,” he said, “I always went back to our mission. We had to help those whose lives had been interrupted by illness or injury.” He always kept that mission front and center for his staff and himself.
Michael and Linda believe that leaders need to tune into the vulnerabilities of the people sitting around the table. Ask them to help you (the leader) to understand the issue at hand by drawing on their wisdom.
Linda said effective leaders, “Draw out rather than pump in. They help people discover what they already know. And to do this you have to start with assumptions—do not start with the solutions. Always remember that all of us are smarter than anyone of us.”
But what about the defenses and walls people bring to the table. Don’t we have to deconstruct those before we build for the future?
“Those defenses present themselves for a reason,” Michael said. “And we must respect them and be mindful not to trip on them as we move forward.”
Linda was more direct, “Someone must be the grown-up in the room. The leader sets the tone.”
How can a reflective leader help her team set the tone, especially in a highly charged conversation? How can she be the grown up in the room? The Lanier’s strategies include:
• Reflect on what you (the leader) will say. Provide insights with transparency and support.
• Work diligently to make sure the people in front of you believe they are seen and heard.
• Take risks. Reveal your concerns while avoiding a “know-it-all” demeanor. In fact, at the beginning of meetings, Michael often wrote a one-word reminder across the top of his copy of the agenda: “Humble.”
• Be realistic about your expectations.
• Kindness is always better than righteousness.
Finally, Linda shared that leaders need to move beyond “hope.” While hoping for a better outcome is laudable, it will come up short if the people you work with (team members as well as clients) have no reference point for the vision. The leader needs to help us see what is possible, especially when we do not have that vision in our experience.
Once that vision of what we desire comes into focus, we then need to hold a belief we can access that pathway—that we have the wherewithal to accomplish the envisioned goal. But, if cause and effect are broken, it becomes difficult to move forward. That can stymie any community.
Reflective leaders help place cause and effect in proper perspective. And then they guide their team forward with consideration, conversation, and collaboration.
Tough? You bet.
Worth it? Definitely.
Video Recommendation of the Week:
For more about community building and sustainability,
look for my new book due out the beginning of 2019.
More information to come.
Make it an inspiring and grateful week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
For information about and to order my most recent book, Stories about Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here. A few colleges and one state-wide agency have adopted it for training and coaching purposes. Contact me if you and your team are interested in doing the same.
The paperback price on Amazon is now $14.99 and the Kindle version stands at $5.99. Consider it for a faculty orientation or a mentoring program. The accompanying videos would serve to stimulate community-building conversations at the beginning of a meeting.
Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition).
(c) 2018. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.