Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Leadership Interview

My dear friend Rialin wanted to interview me about LEADERSHIP! Here is the interview:

#1 How would you define leadership?

This is a huge question. Shelves of books have been written on leadership. I've read a lot of John Maxwell's thoughts about leadership. He believes that there are certain "Irrefutable Laws" of leadership, and I tend to agree. The Law of the Lid states that an organization will never rise above the level of its leader. The Law of Solid Ground emphasizes how a leader MUST possess competence, connection (to those in the organization) and character. Other laws are self-explanatory: The Laws of Navigation, Respect, Intuition, Empowerment, Buy-In, Priorities, and Sacrifice. I believe an effective leader demonstrates all of these characteristics, and I strive to do the same.

My "leadership love-language," though, is competence with a strong dose of compassion thrown in. I can't follow idiots. I WON'T follow idiots. And if someone doesn't truly care about their people or their organization, I will check out quicker than green grass through a goose. I'm DONE!

Let me also say that the power of position is the weakest form of power there is. Many leaders are so weak that they must solely rely on their position as "the boss" to compel people to do what they are told. I have been in organizations where I had more power in my little finger than "the boss" had with his/her title. So, "position" does not equal "leadership" no matter how much ineffective leaders wish it were true.

#2 How do you influence people?

In light of the fact that I mostly spend my time influencing 14-year-olds, I might not be the best person to ask...

I love the saying, "I'm a human BEing, NOT a human DOing." I think the most powerful way we can influence others is to BE. We can spin in circles and appear very busy doing for our people, our organization, and our world. But that could mean one is anything from a leader to a doormat. Leaders do serve (i.e. teachers), and servants CAN lead (i.e. teachers and Mother Teresa.) But what you DO does not define you as much as who you ARE, and I believe people know pretty quickly whether or not there is any depth in their leaders. My students, sadly, may not remember that one can never find a subject in a prepositional phrase, but they'll sure remember the time I put my arms around them, squeezed them tightly, and told them if they didn't study for a test I was going rip their arms out of their sockets and beat them with the bloody stubs. THIS, they absorb: They know they're loved, and they know they better bust a hump. That's leadership.

#3 Why are people a pivotal part of leadership?

What else are we going to follow if not people? I think what's interesting, though, is to analyze an organization from top to bottom and see who is REALLY in charge. Power is not linear from the top down. Your leaders will rise to the top, and they could potentially come from anywhere--it's what they do. Every time. It makes us realize that a collective group of people--an organization--is a living, breathing entity. It's born, it grows, it thrives, it declines, and it can certainly die. When different people emerge as leaders, they play those "pivotal" roles in the success or the demise of their group.

#4 Is there a difference between leadership and management?

There is. Management is the DOing. Leadership is the BEing.

#5 Are there times when you're a follower?

No. I insist on leading. It's all I ever do. I have to be in charge, or I can't be part of the organization.

Sense the sarcasm? Of COURSE, I follow. I follow all the time. All good leaders do. In fact, the "following" thing had to precipitate the "leading" thing. I didn't pop out of the womb and scream, "Hey, follow ME, everybody!" In fact, I'm such a fan of strong and effective leadership, I will gladly follow someone who is in 8th grade IF they inspire confidence in me by being competent and compassionate. I will gladly follow someone who proves effective leadership, and when it's my turn to lead, I'll step right up and know there are people giving me the same respect.

#6 What's the transition?

I think the transition occurs all the time. If the organization is living and breathing and moving and being, then it's almost like a well-orchestrated dance between various leaders who emerge and then step aside for someone else for the good of the organization--to fulfill a purpose bigger than any one person.

#7 Why is empathy important to leadership.

Very simple: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. An old cliche, but true. Personally, I'd like to believe that I would have bolted or revolted in Germany with Hitler at the helm. I cannot follow anyone who is lacking in the heart-department. I know that I am a valuable component in any organization, and I will NOT invest my time and talent and energy in one whose leader is missing some kind of "sensitivity-chip." (Ode to Jennifer Aniston there.) I do not wish to make these people more successful by my contributions, not to mention the fact that I cannot respect anyone who does not love deeply and deeply love. Likewise, I will not lead without compassion. Life is too short, and God is too great.

#8 Why is communication important to leadership?

Here is my answer:

Enough said?

#9 Why is assertiveness important to leadership?

I'm not sure it necessarily is. If assertiveness inspires confidence, then when a leader steps out, his/her organization will follow. Otherwise, he/she is just taking a walk.

Assertiveness can be effective--don't get me wrong. But I think subtlety can be effective too. And offering some incentives can do the trick sometimes. Sometimes a firm hand is what is needed, and sometimes a leader has to pour a little sugar on a situation. It just depends. I think the string that runs through all these scenarios is confidence. Perhaps the better question here is "Why is CONFIDENCE important to leadership?" And I'm not talking about the kind of confidence that "Bikini Girl" showed up with to the American Idol auditions. And I quote, "I'm going to be the next American Idol because... because... because... I AM!" to which I responded in a loud voice to my television, "Honey, somebody in that room is going to be the next American Idol because THEY CAN SING!" Eventually the poor girl had to put some clothes on and sing a song--when she did, she went immediately home. She was not confident. She was a dipshit. (Can I say that here? Feel free to edit...) Anyway, people know the difference. She was VERY, VERY, VERY assertive! She gave Ryan Seacrest a kiss on the lips that could've made a gay man straight, but compelling she was NOT!

I think assertiveness is really overrated. And I think people try to show up to situations with confidence they don't really have. Confidence cannot be conjured. It must be developed. It takes time, and it takes WAY more than a bikini and stiletto pumps.

#10 Are leaders born or made?

Ah, the million dollar question! I have no freaking clue. I think there is some natural ability involved. Leaders, for the most part, have just a little bit of "rock star" in them. Maybe not Mother Teresa, but... maybe she did? I'm usually a big believer in environmental formation--I'm a teacher, after all. I see it all the time where individuals are products and sometimes victims of their surroundings. But maybe it is the leaders who emerge and rise above their surroundings and that IS the definition of a leader? I don't know. It's just a thought. I do not know the answer to this question.

#11 What are your top 3 traits that make you a good leader?

Three, huh? I usually try to show up to my life with two: excellence and compassion. Those two are part of my life's mission statement, and I try to keep them forefront in my mind in all that I do. Other than those? Organization? Ambition? Humor? Comfortable shoes? I know where every comma goes? What? I don't know.

I think I'm still in development. Maybe there IS a third trait, and I'm still working on it. Maybe that's it: I'm open to personal growth. I'll have to get back with you on this one.

#12 What is your leadership style?

This question is akin to the previous one. I'm sure I HAVE a style... I don't like to get locked in to any one definition. Do I HAVE to answer this one?

#13 How do you resolve conflict?

Funny you should ask. Being married, I have a plethora of examples. My husband not-so-great at resolving conflict. I, however, am STELLAR at it. (Insert laughter here...) I will tell you this with conviction: Everything that I do and everything that comes out of my mouth in the midst of a conflict is intended to bring the situation toward resolution--not dissolution.

I don't think conflict is an innately bad thing. From it comes growth and new perspectives and change. But I don't like disrespect. I don't like when situations get nasty. I don't LIKE to fight, but I won't necessarily back down from one either. I'm not a fighter who has learned to make peace. I'm a peacemaker who has learned how and when to strategically step up and lay a situation out if I have to. It's not my favorite, but I'll do it when I believe that my efforts will improve the life of an organization.

#14 How do you stay organized?

Cleanliness is next to Godliness and clutter is from the devil and his minions. Period. Keep it CLEAN! Lists are good. Prioritizing is important. A good filing system is handy. And none of it means anything if your desk looks like somebody dropped a grenade on it and shut the door.

#15 How do you empower others?

My job description is empowering others, and there are as many ways to go about it as there are people to empower. I, specifically, deal with individuals who do not feel particular empowered in any academic arena and who are already behind the eight ball, so to speak. I teach mostly at-risk kids whose heads are not normally in the right "place" for success. This goes back to the question about assertiveness. Sometimes I have to be assertive. Sometimes I have to be subtle. Or the balance between that firm hand with a little bit of sugar. The flexibility and a quick mind is key.

I think the hardest part of empowering people is "turning the lights on" for them. If I can't get them to see themselves how I see them, they're not going to be fully empowered. And you know what I think rocks that boat more than anything else?


People can't be empowered until they improve their self-perceptions and one way I can help people improve their self-perceptions is helping them produce something of value. Maybe it's figuring out where all the commas go, or maybe it's helping the kids at the elementary school learn to read. Whatever a person's strengths are, I know that we need them on this planet which is why God gives those strengths to different people, and it's a sin to waste them. I help people not waste their lives.

#16 How do you stay refreshed as a leader when the enthusiasm fades?

I don't run on enthusiasm--my own or anyone else's. It's nice, I'm not disputing that. But I'm pretty principled by nature, and I do what I do because that's what I believe is right. I refrain if I believe that it's wrong. Of course, this is the gospel according to ME, and there are times that I lack perspective and make decisions based on what I BELIEVE to be right when some time and patience proves that I wasn't right at all. When that happens, a leader must walk through her own shortcomings. THAT can really bum a girl out! And sometimes leaders do get tired. Just sheer exhaustion can break a leader in half. I know I get to a "saturation" point where I start dropping the ball in significant areas of my life, and suddenly I don't seem to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. When that happens, it's important to set some boundaries, delegate responsibility to the key people that you have empowered, and take a powder. Go on a retreat to renew your mind and your body and your spirit. Give up the whole "Messiah Complex" BS. There was only one of those--you're not it. And speaking of which, believing in redemption outside yourself gives you someplace to go for renewal. I hear people say a lot, "Your strength is within you! Find your peace inside yourself!" Hmm. That's an interesting perspective, but I know when I'm tapped. I know when I've got nothing. My faith tells me that there is Someone a little bit bigger than I am, and I try to tap into that. Ultimately, I try to STAY tapped into that. But leaders have to remember that sometimes that's the very Voice telling you to get the rest you need.

#17 How important is work-life balance and how do you maintain it?

I don't let work spill into my life, and I don't let life spill into my work. Balance is extraordinarily important, and I think this question piggy-backs off the last one. When one's life is out of balance, every part suffers. This balance must be protected. A good leader knows how to set boundaries and how to "refresh" as aforementioned. Being effective, in and of itself, is enough to fuel a good leader for the most part and lends natural energy to his/her efforts. I believe a good leader can anticipate when life starts to throw curve balls, but a good leader can also navigate through those inevitable times and put his/her life back in balance when necessary. That's part of what makes a person a leader.

#18 What do you hope your legacy to be?

Tradition tells us that John, the "disciple Jesus loved" as he's described in the Bible, was not martyred as the other disciples were. Instead, he was supposed to have lived well into his golden years--long enough to bend his body and allow his mind to become clouded. He walked with a shuffle and muttered one thing continually: "Love one another. Love one another." It is all he would say. "Love one another." During a rare and lucid moment, his caretakers asked him, "John, why do you repeat 'Love one another' and nothing else?" He replied, "Because if it is all we do, it is enough."

I think I would be happy if the legacy I leave is to teach people to 'Love one another.' Indeed, if it is all I can accomplish in this life, it is enough.

#19 What will your gravestone say when you pass?

Daisy Rain Martin
Beloved Wife, Mother, Friend
She loved well.