Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Authenticity", the Foundation of Leadership

Last week I had the chance, the fortune, to spend a few days with my friend Bruce who has ALS.  I have written about him before, see the entry "Always pursue the Truth";  and while his disease is taking it's expected, unrelenting course, my time with him was precious.  Over the course of a day or so, we had the chance to have some amazing conversations which ranged widely over topics that Bruce wanted to talk about.  There were three conversations though that have stayed with me, that have affected me deeply, and over the course of the next few weeks I am going to write about all three.  The following is one that has to do with "Authenticity" and "Leadership".

As I commented on in earlier entries, Bruce was my first boss out of business school and proceeded to have a very significant career at a major, publicly traded, consumer products company.  He held a number of senior executive roles across his career and had the responsibility and accountability for a multi-billion dollar business and a large organization in his last role.  I am not sure what prompted him during my last visit, but somewhat out of the blue, Bruce brought up the topic of "Leadership" and asked me what I thought about "Authenticity" as a leadership characteristic.  Rather than diving into a rambling "sermonette" of my opinions on the subject, I had the good sense to ask Bruce what he thought about this idea of "Authenticity" in a leadership context.  Even with his voice restricted by a respirator, he started to talk about "Authenticity" as a critical variable in leaders.  That organizations knew immediately whether their leader was being "Authentic" or not .  In those moments of "Authenticity" , Bruce felt that organizations trusted their leaders dramatically more than when there were impressions of Leadership "Inauthenticity".

I asked Bruce how he evaluated/measured "Authenticity".  His comments rang true to my experience, but I was having a hard time trying to figure out how you might evaluate/assess this characteristic.  He said very simply, "alignment between words and actions".  He talked about an executive that he worked closely with who "talked a good game" about caring for and being focused on his team; but his actions showed that he really cared for and was focused on himself.  A clear example of misalignment between words and actions... a clear example of a lack of "Leadership Authenticity."As a result,  the organization doesn't and probably won't trust this leader very well.  Obviously a limiter to performance. In many  ways it would have been better for everyone, including the broader organization, if the executive in the example wasn't trying to portray an image that was so different from who he really is.  

Since returning home, I found an old article from 1997 written by Kevin Cashman, titled "Authentic Leadership".  The following is a quote from the article that articulates Bruce's point well:  

The foundation of leadership is authenticity. How do we go about expressing ourselves more authentically?  I constantly challenge clients to ask, “Where is my leadership coming from?”  Do our actions originate from deep within ourselves, or are they coming from a more superficial, limited place?  Is our leadership arising from our character, the essence of who we are?  Or is it only coming from our persona, the external personality we’ve created to cope with life circumstances.



As I mentioned above , I am not sure what prompted Bruce to want to talk about this topic; but I have always found Bruce to be an amazingly "Authentic" person, friend, and boss.  This conversation gave me more to think about regarding the alignment of my words and actions, my "Leadership Authenticity". I hope that it might be a trigger for you too!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can we have it all?

I recently had a marvelous dinner with a dear friend named Susan who I hadn't seen in almost a year.  Too long!  In our far ranging conversation, we talked about her being at a recent event where a moderator posed the question : "Can we have it all?"    That question has stayed with me over the past day or so and what I have been ruminating about is, what does "all" mean?  What does it mean to you, and how is that different from what it might mean to me?  What does it mean to me and my family today versus what it might have meant when I graduated from high school or college?  While the questions piled up, unfortunately (but not surprisingly) no simple answers came.   I tried to answer, "if I had it all, what would it look/feel like?"  What I was surprised about was that three images/ideas started to take shape: a painting/drawing, a song, and a speech.

First, I have included a visual of Picasso's "Dance of Youth", a drawing that has inspired me for years.  I have had the fortune to work at an office that had a signed print of this inspiring piece.  On those tough days at work, I would take a break from my work or a meeting and take a moment at the print, trying to envision a world where youth of all races dance around the dove of peace.  A very dear friend named Chris gave me a copy of this drawing and we have it in the front hall of our home, hoping to inspire our friends, our children and ourselves! 

Second, I have included a copy of MLK's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  I have written about the specific words that talk about the "isness" versus the "oughtness" of mankind.  Strong words that give us all hope that tomorrow can be dramatically different, and better, than yesterday!

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Nobel Peace Prize 1964

Acceptance Speech

Martin Luther King's Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1964

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.

Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible - the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.

So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man's inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live - men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization - because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners - all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty - and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1964, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1965

 


Finally, I think about the recording of the Indigo Girls (with Girlyman) singing the marvelous hymn, Findlandia.  With the music from Sibelius, and the lyrics from a 1934 Methodist Hymn "This is my Song", the unbelievable harmonies of this recording stir in us the belief that: 

May truth and freedom come to every nation;

may peace abound where strife has raged so long;

that each may seek to love and build together,

a world united, righting every wrong;

a world united in its love for freedom,

proclaiming peace together in one song.


Now I am not certain that everyone would define their "all" in this same way.  No mention of fame or fortune. No mention of achievement, beauty or advancement.  But for me, these three inspirations: a drawing, a speech and a song, all illuminate the common themes of peace, love, and optimistic possibility... my definition of "all" tonight!