The basic nature of leadership.

August 12th, 2011

“To become a leader, you must first become a human being.” – Confucius

Wisdom about leadership that spans millenia coincided for me this week. And it was the common thread of humanness in each reference that struck me as critically central to the development and cultivation of real leaders.

Confucius spoke the above quote above twenty-five hundred years ago. I read it in the revised and updated edition of Peter M. Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” cited in my July 22nd blog post. It’s the first sentence of the text subtitled, “What do we mean by ‘Leaders?’” and a portion of the section that, according to Senge, was the most widely read of the original “Fifth Discipline.”

Then I happened upon two blog entries that linked to this ancient Confucian wisdom beyond Senge’s influential work.

First up is Eblin Group co-founder and author Scott Eblin who was with about 20,000 other people on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in June when the Dalai Lama came out to talk about world peace. He relates the experience in his “Next Level Blog” entry and says that “the Dalai Lama’s approach to leadership and peace puts an emphasis on individual action and relationship building.” Eblin shares a few “highly paraphrased” ideas of what the Dalai Lama shared:

  • The biggest mistake people make is looking externally for happiness. Happiness starts with a calm and peaceful mind.
  • Too much formality creates barriers to communicating on a person-to-person basis. We should practice heart to heart interaction instead.
  • Warm heartedness leads to self-confidence. Humans are social animals. We need to interact. Self-centeredness is counter to true human nature.

I found those ideas central to a recent article by David Witt of the Ken Blanchard Companies, titled “Do you really care about your people?”  Witt writes that leaders sometimes get caught up in the “false dilemma” of feeling like they have to choose between focusing on people and focusing on performance. As Blanchard has advised for decades, Witt reminds us that the best leaders focus simultaneously on both people and results.

Witt presents the acronym CARE to help leaders at all levels remember to take the time to show their humanness for the people with whom they work and the people who report to them. These are Witt’s words:

Connect. Take the time to lift your nose from the grindstone today and check in with your people. How’s it going? What’s happening in their life? What are they excited about? You might be surprised at how long it’s been since you checked in, or how much has changed in their lives. Take a minute to reconnect.

Acknowledge. Listen to what people are telling you. Truly hear what they are saying.  As a leader, it’s easy to get caught up in telling instead of listening. How are your people doing on their tasks and key responsibility areas? Chances are that they are just as busy as you are. Take a minute to acknowledge the work they are doing and the effort they are putting into it.

Respect—the skills, effort, challenges, and needs that your people have. What are their strengths? What challenges are they facing? Where do they need help? What can you do to help them succeed? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your primary job is to evaluate performance. As a leader, your primary job is to help your people succeed.

Encourage. Everyone can use a kind word, a pat on the back, and a word of encouragement. Who in your group has been up against it, fighting fires, chasing deadlines, and making sure that things get done? Who seems burnt, or worn out, from all the work they’ve had to accomplish? Take a minute to show your appreciation, offer some encouragement, and let them know that you appreciate what they’ve been doing.

So I’ve been pondering these timeless ideas. And I believe indeed that our interactions with others must begin with our humanness. It takes heart and mind communication with people to bring out the qualities that lead to their best performance.

I hope you take the lead.








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2 Responses to “The basic nature of leadership.”

  1. Christine harris says:

    This acronym is a useful way for me to keep focused on the people in our school …not just the processes. I will try to develop a screen saver with it so it can act as a constant reminder. No matter how much we appreciate the effort that our team leaders put in on a daily basis, as leaders we DO get caught up in the big picture … It is part of the role. Thanks for the reminder about the importance of caring for the people in our teams.

  2. Julie Tarney says:

    I love the screen saver idea! I can think of several I’d like to rotate myself.
    Thanks for taking the time to write, Christine. I have a feeling your team appreciates you, too.