Tag Archives: code of conduct

Defining Leadership

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. — John Quincy Adams

I have been spending four days a week talking about leadership with university students since January. This converts to much considering what it means to lead and how to do it well. Over the past couple of weeks, the students and I have been exploring in depth the traits of leaders we admire.  Yet, completing that exercise left us all feeling like being an “outstanding leader” was well beyond our personal grasp!

Our class results contend that we like to admire our leaders. We want them to be strong, courageous, emotionally intelligent, organized and adaptable. We desire their passions to inspire us into action. We hope that they will motivate us to be our best. They should speak and write well. Yet, upon self-reflection every one of us had noticed that we don’t always measure up to our imposed standards.

My students remind me that this “name your favorite leader traits” game can discourage them from showing up as leaders. How can they consider themselves viable when they are sometimes weak, terrified, coarse, disorganized and fixed in their positions? “If I can’t make the grade, why play and fail,” some of them asked.

Meanwhile, I believe that they are all leaders and they all need to plunge into the work of facilitating change. I keep reminding them of my favorite definition of leadership from Margaret Wheatley, “A leader is anyone who wants to help at this time.” Since each student wants to be of assistance on their campus and in the community, they are leaders, like it or not.

To address the super hero leadership requirements we defined and being human, the students and I have been appreciating Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership. Bill has a marvelous way of acknowledging that we each bring different approaches, strengths and weaknesses to this job of “helping at this time.” He invites to show up, regardless of where we begin AND to try to rise to our best. Bill explains, “After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity. It’s being yourself; being the person you were created to be…Authentic leaders are dedicated to developing themselves because they know that becoming a leader takes a lifetime of personal growth.”

Using a personal example, I know that the best instructors are ones that have healthy detachment from their students’ performance. To effectively lead a classroom it helps to:

  • Teach at your best,
  • Encourage your students’ best, and
  • Not get thrown off if others don’t rise to your encouragement.

However, this week I wanted to verbally slap the student who, yet again, had not read the assignment and was nodding off in class; not very leader-like or lady-like behavior. I didn’t yell (thankfully), but I was mad that I took way too personally that student’s lack of preparation and focus.

Bill George’s words remind me that not only my wish to remain centered, but also my clear frustration, is authentically me. Acknowledging that I was not feeling very Gandhi-ish, is both kind to myself and it calls me directly to keep trying to practice healthy detachment and creative instruction.

Basically, as my son Cody likes to say, “It’s all good.” I believe it’s good that we set high standards. It’s good that I sometimes get thrown off, so that I can recognize what my standards are and how I get tripped up. Also, it’s good that even though I am far from perfect, I am still trying to help at this time. I don’t know if I’ll ever find appropriate detachment anywhere in my life, but it’s good, according to George and to most spiritual traditions, that I’m just willing to try.

This week as you lead in any way, pay attention. What traits would you like to display and which ones are you using? Instead of backing off from leadership or beating up on yourself because you missing the bulls eye you’ve created, allow where you are and what you care about to guide you. I personally appreciate your “help at this time” and that we all keep practicing!

Here’s a fun leadership video following the theme of today’s post by Derek Sivers that I thought you might enjoy as you consider helping.

Are they playing well?

Madoff, Blagojevich and now Denmark’s Stein Bagger. A month ago I wouldn’t have recognized, nor known how to spell, these names. Today, however I believe I can include them in a post with no explanation. The cast of characters in our new global drama expands weekly as a widening swath is cut to reveal what lay underneath our financial abundance. Here’s a short clip to dish up a visual metaphor:



The charges of corruption, deception and run away greed are not considered good operating strategies by any culture I have studied. Yet, before the latest revelations, we might have seen these leaders as top players in finance and politics. They were successful. Famous. Powerful. Made themselves and others lots of money. They were adept, quick and creative. Some might have said that these guys were “playing well” in their selected field.

Madoff, Blagojevich and Bagger’s alleged actions help me to further clarify what the tag line “playing well” means from a cross-cultural perspective. To what should we aspire and what should guide our actions?  Two seeming paradoxes appear when I seek to explain how to play well: 

1)    It’s not if you win, but it is all about winning and losing.

2)    It’s not how well you play, but it’s all about the strategies you employ.

It’s not if you win, but it is all about winning and losing. When we play well we are not focused on winning at all costs. When I am willing to forgo my internal or universal values, even if I have won, I lost. The treasure at the end is seductive, but I have yet to find an example where the bounty is worth what is exacted internally. Sounds preachy, but this is also practical for self-survival. By no longer following the base code of conduct for our tribe, we effectively cull ourselves from the herd. For example, abiding by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct as a lawyer, I would have the legal community standing behind me if I were to be questioned. Focused on winning at all costs and betraying those rules, I would find few watching my back.

It’s not how well you play, but it’s all about the strategies you employ. When I started studying conflict resolution, my initial interest was to be graceful under pressure. Frankly, I wanted to “look good” when times were bad. It didn’t take me long to realize I had chosen the wrong goal. Studying those who truly played well, I noticed that they were focused instead on learning and finding solutions that would support the greatest whole. Those who play well often get to look good as a byproduct, but that is not the accomplishment they seek.

In my experience, the top players’ objective is to seek a solution where all can win. Sounds lofty, but again it is very practical. Since you are in the community, you win too. Also, if I’m working for your good, and I abide by a solid code of conduct to get there, you will probably stand behind me if I am ever in trouble. The bigger net we cast, the larger community within we then reside and are nurtured. Win-win solutions can appear to be impossible, yet even in the seeking we plant seeds for future opportunity. An obvious example is Martin Luther King playing well forty years ago and creating new paradigms that are still emerging today. When we play well, we take care of not only our community and ourselves, but potentially generations to come.