Monday, June 24, 2019

Leadership Insights on a Sunday Morning

I've been doing a lot of thinking about leadership and different leadership styles.  Do we trust the teams that we've hired to do good work?  Or do we feel that they won't do good work unless we're constantly checking on them?

As various people have chimed in on their ideas about how faculty should be managed, I have realized that I operate out of a place of trust: we've hired good faculty who cover the course objectives in masterful ways, and I'm going to stay in the background and let them do their work. 

Yesterday, I listened to an episode of On Being that looked at whether or not we can bring our whole selves into the workplace.  This part seemed worth recording:  "There are times in which those who have power need to speak with authority. But too often, we mistake and conflate that action for the day-to-day “directing” of people’s lives. And I think that leadership is much more subtle, much harder, and ultimately, more life-giving, more fulfilling. And that is, the leader’s role isn’t to be the authoritative figure telling everybody what to do and how to do it, but to be the model for creating a container in which their best possible work can get done and to perhaps remove obstacles from the paths that are in front of their colleagues so that they can then grow into their best possible selves. That feels very strong, very firm, and not particularly authoritarian."

The whole episode, an interview between Krista Tippett and Jerry Colonna was full of important insights.  Colonna noted that just as most of us are working out our childhood family dramas in our grown-up relationships, we're often doing that at work too:  "And so the middle way is to recognize that none of us leaves our personal stuff at the door, that we are always seeking to replicate structures from our childhood, and, by reinforcing that we have a shared sense of purpose, a shared sense of mission, and a shared commitment to work, we can use that as a kind of exoskeleton structure so that, internally, we can each do our work but not expect the organization to solve the wounds of our childhood. When we use our work environments to try to heal our wounds, we are actually opening ourselves up to even more pain and suffering."

Later, Colonna quoted Parker S. Palmer, a favorite of many of us who listen to On Being:  "Again, our friend Parker Palmer likes to say that violence is what we do when we don’t know what to do with our suffering. And I think that corporations, businesses, have a well-earned reputation for inflicting a kind of suffering on our communities and our planet; and I think that a lot of that stems from the fact that the leaders in those corporations don’t know what to do with their suffering, and so they inflict it on others. And so we see a kind of callowness, a kind of inhumanity, constantly perpetuated."

They circled back to the central question of how we know we're doing our best work and bringing our best selves to work. Colonna said, "There’s a line from David Whyte, which we use all the time, my colleagues and I, which is, “Good work, done well, for the right reasons.” And when I can lay my head down on the pillow at night, saying to myself, “Good work, done well, for the right reasons,” then I feel that I have done enough, and I am enough. And when I can hold that, then I understand that that is the kind of leader I am. I am not the kind of leader that is rapaciously seeking more, more, more. And when I can feel my way into that, then I know that the kind of adult I am, the kind of man that I am, is a man who knows — dare I say it — when to rest."

What an eloquent way of looking at leadership!  How I wish more people had these ways of leading.

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