Leadership - by Susan Hastings
Changing Perspectives on Leadership
“A leader is someone others want to follow ….” That is my favorite definition of a leader and has been since I first heard it 20 years ago.
I’m finding that my perspective on leadership is changing – and has been changing for quite awhile, though subtly. As I try to develop my spiritual nature more; to go inside myself for answers more than seeking them outside; to be more gentle both with myself and others; to go with the flow more and control less, I am feeling a different perspective on leadership.
Do know that I have not mastered the above – no, not even close. But it’s my intention to do so and two of my favorite words are intention and attention: having an intention to change and then putting the attention on the intention.
And little by little, I am noticing changes. I do – and have done – a lot of work in the field of Leadership. I give workshops on it; I’ve written articles about it, I’ve been told I’m a leader. But somehow what that really means has never had the depth of understanding in the way it does now.
I read about a study done several years ago that said the 3 most common problems in business were poor attitudes, poor communication skills and poor technical skills – and the easiest of these to change were the technical skills!
What about attitudes and communication?
Attitudes are contagious. I doubt if there is any disagreement about that. In fact when I ask that question in my classes, whether indeed attitudes really are contagious, I always get a “yes” and nods of heads in agreement.
I think I became most aware of that, on a personal basis, when I noticed how different my own children responded to me when I was in a good mood versus a bad mood. When they came home from school and I was in a really up, positive mood, they would be, too. But if I was feeling down, had had a “bad hair day” or whatever, that was reflected as well. It didn’t mean there were fights or even grumpiness; it just wasn’t the light heartedness of a happy mood.
And for some reason, I remember once when I was car-pooling a bunch of kids to ski lessons. One day, I was just floating on air, I have no idea why this was different than any other day, I just remember feeling that way. The atmosphere in the car was electric. It always was good – kids were looking forward to skiing – but this day there was just a different tone … and I was the one setting it. It’s interesting to me that I remember that incident when my kids were the ages of their own kids now!
So what does this have to do with Leadership? Because a leader is someone others want to follow. And we all want to follow someone with a positive attitude – whether it’s a leader of a corporation or a sales clerk behind a counter.
We all make a difference with our attitudes. It is either positive or negative. I remember hearing a quote once many years ago in my Visionary Leadership training which said words to the effect of “There are people in whose presence we flourish and grow, and others in whose presence we whither and die.”
It’s a choice which category we fall into. Always a choice. Just remembering those two choices and checking in with myself where I am at any given moment helps keep my heart open to help others “flourish and grow”.
Yesterday I got a call from the CEO of one of our local hospitals asking for a reference for my partner and colleague, Alex. Alex is not an official partner but I refer to him as that because we have collaborated on many workshops together and we just feel like partners to – and for – each other.
When I was asked by Federal Railroad Administration to come up with a third phase for my Leadership Institute, I thought of Alex. FRR had been enthusiastic about the first two phases and wanted more. I decided I wanted to collaborate on this third phase; there were many people I could have asked but Alex was my chosen one.
Why? Because Alex is the kind of leader that others want to follow, learn with, collaborate with, coach and be coached by in a team approach.
When the CEO, Harry, asked me if I thought it was a detriment that Alex hadn’t had managerial experience, I was silent for a few moments. And then I answered “No, Alex is a leader, not a manager. He leads by example; he listens, deeply listens, to what an issue really is all about, and then comes up with an approach of how to handle it. He coaches and guides, never forces or pushes.”
“Well, how does he handle tough people, those who will inevitably push back in our changes and new initiatives that we will be doing?”
Again, silence on my part. “I’m quiet because I honestly can’t think of any time that I’ve seen him have to handle disagreeable people because people just don’t want to be disagreeable with him. Again, he won’t push back. He will just listen. He will take a stand and is not afraid to do so, but it will only be after he has taken the time to understand another’s perspective and become very clear, after much thought – and, if necessary, research – on what, and why, that stand is appropriate.”
Have Alex and I had our conflicts over the years? You bet! We drive each other crazy at times. But always we know we are coming from our hearts in trying to understand each other, even if we may also be coming from our egos. As I said to Harry “There are times that I think something is good enough to write or present, time to wrap it up, but Alex will think there should be something even better. I would get exasperated sometimes as there always seemed to be another I to dot, or T to cross. When is the end the end?! But guess what? He was always right and the end product was always better as a result.”
“But how has he learned all of this if he hasn’t had managerial experience? He got along so well with all the people he met here. As a matter of fact, he’s risen to the top of my list as a result.”
“He goes within himself for answers, he’s very intuitive and he’s always coming from his heart – as well as his expertise.”
I closed – and had opened - by saying “I hope you hire someone else!” To which Harry replied, “I think you’re going to be disappointed then. I plan to call him this afternoon and offer him the job – your saying you hope I don’t just clinches it for me.”
Do I have mixed feelings? Yes. It’s a loss for me to know we will no longer be creating work and service together, and I am surprised as tears spring to my eyes. But am I happy for him? More than I can express. This is a dream for him – and it will be a dream come true for the hospital as he, in his gentle way, will guide, coach and yes, lead his staff to new heights as their vision becomes their reality.
Yes, Alex is a leader others want to follow. It isn’t about force, controlling, micro managing, “my way or the highway”. It’s the essence of whom Alex is that make others want to follow him.
Oh, I didn’t tell you: Alex is younger than my youngest child, but I learn from him all the time. It’s not about age; it’s not about degrees, it’s not even about experience. It’s about wisdom, wisdom that comes wrapped up in a big heart that isn’t afraid to show how big it is, a heart that can balance with the mind – the trinity of body, mind and spirit.
That’s the kind of leader Alex is in all his authenticity.
A leader whom others want to follow.
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