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Three things I learned about leadership from a book jacket

August 8, 2016
Borderless Leadership

Think well. Write well. Do well.

Those three words distill S.C. Gwynne’s book jacket endorsement of Sebastian Junger’s newest book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Gwynne advises us to read Tribe for three reasons: “the clarity of (Junger’s) thought, the elegance of his prose, and the provocativeness of this chosen subject.”

As one who has written more than his fair share of book blurbs, I can attest that when it comes to insight I typically look inside a book rather than to its back jacket. That reservation aside, Gwynne, himself an accomplished author/historian, aptly sums up Junger’s effort in Tribe. Junger thinks about the differences in culture and why peoples in the mayhem of war will feel more alive than those of us in the modern world. Junger writes with skill; he is a marvelous storyteller who seasons his theories and statistics with powerful narrative muscle. Junger provokes deep consideration for reasons behind the alienation we feel in our world compared to the connectedness that people feel when their culture is broken by violence and war.

Not only did Gwynne get to the essence of Junger’s current work, he gets to the heart of what those of us who write should be doing: thinking deeply, communicating clearly, and doing something important. I would like to think that what I write now and have written in the past measures up to Gwynne’s mantra but if I were honest with myself I know that have not always measured up.

And in doing so I am like the many fine leaders I have coached. It would not be for me to call them out. I know that they would call themselves out because the best leaders are those that possess two powerful qualities: self-awareness and humility. The first lets us know our shortcomings; the second keeps us honest about them.

For that reason Gwynne’s praise for Junger’s book serves also as a challenge to those of us who seek to make a positive difference, which in essence is the role of every leader. So with apologies to Gwynne I will massage his prose into three short declaratives for leaders.

Think deeply. The whirl of today accelerates movement but it does little to facilitate thought. In fact it may harm it. We are so busy doing we do not think so much about what we do and why we do it. It therefore falls to a leader who disciplines self and team to slow down thinking so they breathe deeply. This applies to assessing assumptions as well as looking beyond organizational horizons to discern trends that may affect what happens now and in the future.

Communicate clearly. People are looking for direction. Only someone who understands their needs can connect in ways that provide meaning. Good leaders are those that can frame a message terms that people understand because it echoes their aspirations. Such framing occurs through patient listening and intelligent observation.

Provoke action. Mobilizing others for common cause is a leader’s chief responsibility. Doing it well demands the ability to connect intention with purpose. When that occurs, people want to get on board and do what they can to help because, as historian James Macgregor Burns writes in his book, Leadership, the values of the leader are echoed in the values of the follower. The leader-follower combination acts in unison to fulfill mutual goals.

Thinking, communicating and provoking. Three simple words that when channeled appropriately can focus a leader’s attention on the issues both present and distant, generate ways to address them, and then provoke self and others to take action.

Such a process applies equally to a CEO seeking to galvanize employees to transform the company as it is to a front-line manager helping her employees meet a deadline. The stakes may differ but the intention is the same. It falls to the leader to mobilize others to action around a central purpose.

Not bad advice from a book jacket.

John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, is an executive coach and the author of MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.

Source: Forbes

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