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Entries for the 'Musings' Category

The Visionary Leader: Captain or Mid-Wife?

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

I find myself rethinking vision and leadership.

Who do you know who seems to see what no one else sees? Not because no one else has eyes, but because no one else is looking.

Visionary leadership is not about seeing something entirely new as much as it is about seeing what is already there unfolding in a way no one else yet expects. Just as our brains filter out most of the visual data in our field of vision so that we can pay attention to what is most important, so in our busy and complex lives many of us may not be able to see what is unfolding right in front of us.

The visionary leader is more rarely the source of brand new ideas. She or he is rather the highly aware and deeply reflective one for whom all persons, events, stories, dynamics, and trends are precious and meaning-laden data.

What distinguishes the visionary is the capacity to interpret this flood of information from a variety of vantage points. It is as if he or she is rearranging the tiles in a mosaic so that entirely different pictures emerge than the otherwise obvious one that everyone up until that point had been convinced was the only one.

What we encounter in many hierarchical organizations are positional leaders who aspire to be perceived as visionaries. (A common cultural bias.) They consequently “do vision” out of their hierarchical frame of reference, which is to act as the primary idea generator, strategy definer, and program creator.

The significance of distinguishing the personal skill from the organizational position lies in the very real possibility that the visionary leaders in your organization may not be the positional leaders. They may not even be on your radar screen. But they are there. Observant, reflective and influential.

Think about it. Think through the people on your team. Think through people in other departments. What if someone in the accounting department could see in the numbers new possibilities for how you went about your work which you couldn’t see from your vantage point in operations? What if your receptionist understood your clients’ needs better from his or her perspective of helping than your marketing team could from their perspective of selling?

And who has eyes and ears integrated enough with their heart and mind to watch these dynamics on a number of fronts and across a spectrum of personalities, roles, functions and processes? What kind of person does it take to see what ideas, directions and connections might be unfolding in enough time to participate in their emergence?

Maybe “mid-wife” would serve as a better metaphor for visionary leader than “captain.” I wonder.

What do you think?

I think the emerging mosaic deepens and sharpens a bit more.

This article flows out of recent conversations with Marion Skeete of LegacyMakers International. (These recordings are available on our web site and on iTunes.)
As conversation always enriches and challenges, I find myself here needing to pause, reflect and adjust my conceptions of visionary leadership in light of my discussions with Marion.

On your side

- Karl Edwards

Memorial Day Reflection: In the Mean Time <-> Until Now

Monday, May 31st, 2010

This is the day when we Americans remember that we enjoy peace at home, not because we have eschewed violence, but because we have been willing to stand up to those who would use violence against us and our children.

This is the day that we remember that protecting most of our children has resulted in the loss of many of our children.

While world peace is a goal worthy of sincere and dedicated efforts, in the mean time there will be those who hate, those who insist on wielding power at any cost, and those who are too proud, too narrow, too scared, or with too much at stake to put down the sword.

All of human history until now has been, “in the mean time.”

We will not close our eyes to this tragic reality, however tempting it might be to believe that we could merely will it away if only we opposed war or the military or governments or defense contractors loudly enough.

All of human history… until now.

Yes, we must strive for different, more peaceful, more accepting, more collaborative, more respectful, and more creative ways to share the planet. In the mean time, though, we will not under any circumstance allow anyone to harm our children.

Thank you to our service men and women whose task it is to stand in harm’s way so that we can work and play and love and live… in the mean time.

- Karl Edwards

Loving Monday: Going to Work Naked

Monday, May 10th, 2010

loving_mondayIt’s an interesting thought. Attractive to some. Repulsive to others.

Getting dressed in the morning can be such a hassle. Every day. The exact same routine. Time that could be spent at work (or in bed) is wasted on getting dressed.

I’m not talking merely of the chore of tracking down the missing sock, choosing which shoes to wear or which tie matches best.

I’m talking about what “look” you’re trying to create. What sort of part you are looking to play in today’s unfolding drama at the office.

Some of us are trying to look more professional than we feel. Maybe look older, maybe younger, smarter, more successful, more confident, etc. etc. Some of us are trying to fit in. Show that we belong and are of the status and caliber of everyone else.

That’s a lot of work each morning! Putting on an entire persona is no small task.

What if we went to work naked?

Go ahead and cover up your body, so we aren’t distracted. But don’t spend any time covering up who you are. Dispense with the showmanship, the masquerade, the pretending.

You will do a much better job coming across as you intend simply being yourself than you ever stand a chance of doing trying to be some imagined ideal of a leader, professional, or expert.

Think of all the time and emotional energy you will save not meticulously crafting this image each morning!

Being comfortably and unconsciously yourself frees your mind up to focus on the issues, people and problems that will confront you as soon at you get to work. As a result you will do a much better job of being present for and practically dealing with anything that comes your way.

You are the best thing you have to offer the team at work. Don’t cover it up!

Experience the freedom of going to work naked today!

On your side,

- Karl Edwards

Routine as a Resource for the Imagination

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Could routine be a resource for the imagination?

It’s a lot of work to pay attention to all things all of the time. In fact, there may be no room left over for anything else. Anything new. No room for the imagination. No free space for the unexpected solution or unanticipated brainstorm to emerge.

Routine allows certain core components of your life to fall into the background without falling off the map by deciding at one point in time where and when you will take care of those components all of the time.

By routinizing certain things you don’t have to pay so much attention to them anymore. Your mind is freed up. Freed up for other things. Freed up for new things.

If you tend to resent your routines, this is your chance to turn it around and make them your friends. View them as on your side instead of against you.

What other regular responsibility could you remove from your radar screen by putting it on your map? You’d have a shorter to-do list if you had a longer regularly-done list.

Imagine where you could go with all the additional space you just created for your imagination!

On your side,

- Karl

Loving Tuesday: Where Did Monday Go?!

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

loving_mondayWhere did Monday go?

It was here a minute ago.

Or so I thought. Next thing I know my calendar is telling me it’s Tuesday. What happened?

Do you ever have weeks like that? You have the best of intentions. The plans are in place. You are going to hit the ground running. You are going in focused, intent, and prepared.

And then reality hits.

A scheduled delivery is missing. An important deadline gets moved up. An important client wants an impromptu meeting asap. Two team members call in sick.

By the time you look up, the day is over and your beautiful plans are in shatters.

It would not be uncommon to be thrown for a loop. Our focus turned to confusion. Our intent undermined by discouragement. Our preparations tossed into the air like a deck of playing cards.

Or we can adjust.

Key, though, is not letting the unexpected sabotage us completely.

I recommend beginning by giving yourself permission to go outside and scream your heart out or pound your fist into the landscaping. Pretending you’re not frustrated when you clearly are is patently unproductive.

Express your frustration (safely, please). Get it out. But then… shake it off.

While probably not possible to merely start over as if it were Monday when it is now Tuesday, we can adjust.

Determine to adjust.

Take a fresh look at your focus, your intent and your plans. How can they benefit from what happened yesterday?

It’s Tuesday now. Gotta love it. Time to go for it.

What’s your alternative?

Loving Monday: Focus and Push

Monday, March 29th, 2010

loving_mondayA phrase I find myself returning to more often than not is, “Focus and push.”

There is a place for multi-tasking and working along a number of fronts. In fact, most leadership roles require as much. Systems thinking is an essential skill. The finances need monitoring, the schedules need to be maintained, the team must function with high levels of trust, energy and efficiency, and so the list goes on.

Just as important, though, is recognizing when the time is right to focus and push. When what is called for is a concentrated, single-minded, all-out effort on one single matter.

This week is one of those moments for me. Many important, valuable matters need to either be set aside entirely or merely brushed over in order to give my full attention to one solitary matter.

Focus is the capacity to hone in on what is crucial and keep one’s attention there in spite of the many competing priorities and distractions.

Pushing is the intentional organizing of one’s activities around a concentrated effort to make something happen. We are not going with the flow. We are creating the flow.

How do you discern when you need to focus and push? At which end of the spectrum do you fall: do you tend to miss these moments or do you tend to focus and push at the expense of attending to the broader, multi-faceted dynamics taking place around you?

On your side,

- Karl Edwards

Are You on the Inside or the Outside?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The circle. From the outside it looks impenetrable and exclusive. From the inside it feels open and inviting.

Those on the outside cannot figure out how to get in. Those on the inside wonder why they are keeping their distance?

Each feeling that the other isn’t taking action to close the gap and viewing themselves as already doing all they can.

In the workplace, “the circle” can be one of the biggest challenges to adding staff to the team. It’s one thing to give a new employee a desk, a phone and a job description. It’s quite another thing to incorporate them into the working community.

Even the most welcoming of departments will have their own language, their own jokes, their own unspoken rules, expectations and ways of going about their various jobs. These idiosyncrasies of this particular community can take quite a bit of time to pick up. In the mean time, one can feel a stranger in the midst of close friends.

The key to change is being able to get into each others’ shoes. To see and feel from the opposite perspective. Look out from their vantage point and understand their experience.

No matter how open you feel your work community is, if you were aware that a newcomer experiences the rhythms that you most treasure as barriers, you can take steps to intentionally draw them in and show them the ropes. And if you are new to the community and feeling excluded, being aware that their unspoken “rules” and code languages are the precious culture of work that these people have come to love and value can help you exchange the feelings of being left out for feelings of attraction to a new way of being community.

In the other person’s shoes, we see what is not evident from our own perspective. We may find that we all, in fact, want to work together and the circle need not be the barrier that it has been.

Are you on the inside or the outside of the circle? How might your perspective be reframed by taking the other person’s point of view?

On your side,

- Karl

Distinguishing Between Voices

Friday, February 5th, 2010

whisperingFriend or foe?

Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. When it comes to voices, some of the most damaging words we hear come from those closest to us. And it isn’t uncommon, on the other hand, for the harsh criticism of those opposed to us to be the most helpful of all.

Yes, it’s important to distinguish between friend and foe. The acceptance, loyalty, and faithfulness of friends is an irreplaceable foundation for survival, much less success.

Also important, though, is to be able to distinguish between voices. Even the well-intended input of those most committed to our well-being may be misplaced. Just as the substance underlying the input of our opponents cannot be dismissed or disregarded simply because they have ulterior motives.

How do you listen for the nuggets of substance hidden within the insecure and harsh attacks of those who do not understand how to wield power?

How do you hold your ground against the misplaced kindness of those who, while intending good for you, are in fact diminishing, second-guessing and/or undermining you?

It’s not as black-and-white as trusting the nice people and avoiding the mean people, is it?!

A Timely Word of Thanks

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

ThankfulnessI thought I was alone.

I thought I was afraid.

I thought I would falter.

I thought I would fail.

Until I felt your hand.

Solid and sure. Tender and warm.

Courage and compassion

Kindled like memories

Of an ancient story.

And I knew.

I knew I could not falter and would not fail.

I will never be alone. I do not need to be afraid.

Thank you.

- Karl Edwards, Thanksgiving 2009

I’m Putting Yellers On Notice

Monday, September 7th, 2009

boss-yellingIt’s over. We’re done. No more.

Labor Day 2009. The day leaders stopped yelling.

Yelling as a “tool” for leaders is one of the great excuses and abuses that persists in the workplace.

It’s an excuse, because yelling is a cover for one’s own inability to either control one’s temper or come up with effective communication alternatives. While occasionally necessary to communicate seriousness, dissatisfaction, and/or anger about work-related dynamics, it is positively never necessary to use yelling to do so.

It’s an abuse because yelling uses the cover of power to get away with a behavior that would not be tolerated from those with less power than you. Because the cover of power is yelling’s only outlet, it is a form of bullying and therefore cowardice.

It’s over.

I‘m putting yellers on notice. Your day is over. Get help or get out. Muster the courage to learn effective alternatives or make way for those who can.

We’re done.

I’m putting anyone who makes excuses for these verbally violent leaders on notice. These are not our great leaders, and those who lionize them as such must stop. You are intentionally ignoring the evidence. While publishing books that claim short term results, you ignore the long term costs and consequences of the high turnover, low morale, bare minimum work efforts, self-protective resistances, retaliatory subterfuges, and antagonistic cultures that spread like cancers throughout these organizations.

No more.

It’s a new day. It will be a day characterized by mutual respect, lofty aspirations, meaningful accountability, shared commitments, trust-based collaborations, and concrete results that outperform anything we’ve ever seen before.

What sort of leader will you be? Not one who yells, I trust.