The Leading Edge - "Field of Leaders and Dream makers"

Leading is easy, the hard part is getting people to follow. - Yogi Berra

Leading is easy, the hard part is getting people to follow.

-          Yogi Berra

I recently attended the International Leadership Associations’s wonderful 10th Annual Conference: "Portraits of the Past, Visions for the Future" that included some of the best international minds, scholars and resources.  I resisted the temptation to buy several of the books with tantalizing titles displayed.  I have yet to internalize—much less finish— the pile of books on that subject that I have purchased over the past year.

One of the main honorees at the conference was Warren Bennis.  Warren is always on the short list, if not at the top, of authorities on leadership in the world.  On a personal note, he is my mentor (as he has been to hundreds of other lucky mentees during his career).  The most satisfying aspect of our relationship is not just to know him, but to feel known by him.

As he was being introduced and then when he spoke, it was clear that the audience deeply trusted, believed, had confidence in, enjoyed (if not adored) and respected him.  As I left the conference it occurred to me that perhaps the key to effective leadership was evoking those experiences in followers.

How as a leader do you spawn those feelings in those you lead?  Here are several tips that would do it for me and that would cause me to sign on as an enthusiastic follower:

1.      Trust

a.      Speak the truth – People will forgive an honest mistake, they won’t forgive you if you lie.

b.      Do what you say you’re going to do – Follow through means never having to say you’re sorry.

c.      Be transparent and candid along the way – As Louis Brandeis said, "Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant;" never be hesitant to let it shine on you.

d.      Take full responsibility for the consequences of your actions and those of people working for you – The buck stops with you, don’t pass it.

2.      Confidence

a.      Be clear and concise – as opposed to confused and confusing.

b.      Be prepared to the best of your ability – Don’t shoot from the hip and don’t be afraid to say you’ll get back to us when you don’t know, but then get back to us.

c.      Know how to get things done – By getting the right people in the right positions, doing the right things.

d.      Have a track record of already getting done positive measurable results – And for the benefit of others (vs. your own ambitions) that you represent

3.      Enjoyment

a.      Be comfortable in your own skin – Comfort and discomfort are contagious.

b.      Put a smile on other’s faces – And cause others to feel that they put a smile on yours. 

c.      When you smile, have it touch your eyes (and when possible your heart) – The eyes are the royal road to the soul and not a bad lie detector.

d.      Don’t take yourself too seriously – Laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you and not at you, and we could all use a good laugh.

4.      Respect

a.      Know what’s important and what isn’t - Have the wisdom to know the right the thing to do, the integrity to do it, the character to stand up to those who don’t, and the courage to stop people who won’t.

b.      Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should - When possible, have your personal house in order (you can still lead if people discover your having engaged in personal indiscretions that don’t substantively and negatively affect them, but their positive feelings for you will be sullied by wishing you hadn’t).

 To borrow a quote from the iconic film Field of Dreams, if as a leader you engender in followers trust, confidence, enjoyment and respect,"People will come" and enthusiastically follow. 

We need look no further than the campaign and election of President elect Barack Obama to see how true that is.  Whether or not he can build a field for our dreams remains to be seen.  We’re all hoping that he will.

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  • Mark Goulston

    Jeff, Thank you for your very thoughtful post. Regarding Mr. Friedman, I agree with you that "journalists" have a place in this world although their work as well as that of scholars needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It's like the push in medicine to go to "evidence based" approaches. They make sense, but their still is an art to medicine that means it cannot be fully reduced and explained by an evidence based approach. By the way, I think Friedman is not exactly correct that the world is flat. The world is wired, but it won't be flat until there is an equilibration of mind sets, skill sets and infrastructures.

  • Jeffrey Krasney

    Mark, I agree with your analysis; and choosing to cite Yogi Berra's vivid comments allowed me to smile. As such, I wanted to issue a contrarian view regarding a leader in his field, with whom I proffer is a distinguished dream-maker (though not a scholar), who I contend has one of the best minds -- domestically or international minds; specifically, when he chooses to articulate his views on globalization through his writings.

    “Challenge Everything”-- As a result, I wanted to challenge one of my professors, who had expressed whether Thomas Friedman has a place in business school discussions, regarding the topic of globalization. One of her blistering comments was the following, “Mr. Friedman is not a scholar; but ‘only a journalist.’ And his (Mr. Friedman’s) commentaries on globalization and the like should be taken as such.” I remember sitting quite stunned and astonished, when she uttered such a comment. Nonetheless, every individual is entitled his/her opinion. Still, I wish to take exception to her comment regarding Mr. Friedman, and his impact on stimulating intellectual awareness with respect to globalization.

    First, to convey explicitly and without hesitation that Mr. Friedman is “just a journalist” is hard to rationalize and validate. For I submit, Mr. Friedman’s writings are writings which have the ability to shape strategies, and may have the potential to transform industries, markets and; yes, business in all of its splendor. Let me ask somewhat rhetorically, would you also refer to Shakespeare as ‘only a short story writer’; Barrack Obama as ‘only a community organizer’; or Bill Gates as ‘only a college dropout.” Additionally, the New York Times, the paper in which Mr. Friedman tenders his findings seemingly has pre-arranged and agreed to furnish Mr. Friedman’s writings a substantial amount of real estate on its op-ed page, each week.

    Looking more closely, perhaps I might appreciate why such a perception has been shaped -- even though such an utterance misses a real opportunity for growth to embrace new ideas; an ability to tap into the imagination of students, who might choose to ask inspiring questions; not to mention spurring creative insights and resourceful approaches to management, strategy and disruptive innovation. For instance, in one of Mr. Friedman’s latest columns, he unflinchingly directs his commentary to those within the Congress and auto industry that “…they should change their ways now, become marginalized; or die.”

    Nevertheless, I understand such conventional wisdom (that is, looking outside of the business academician or intellectual) may be viewed as safe; perhaps, even prudent. Still, I would proffer challenging that particular professors’ students, by unleashing a differing point of view; especially from those contemporaneous individuals whose writings have particular value and affect widespread strategies ranging from: alternative energy technology; health care; education; and the like, that are apparently ripe for newer undertakings. Rather than constrict students to readings in a specialized genre; why not unleash a broader manner of thinking, which may stimulate – rather than choke -- creativity.

    I would further submit that settling for rather than seeking passionate potential wherever the source/s may be found stymies enthusiasm, from beliefs that are unyielding. I would argue to advance creativity, one must capitalize on overcoming deeply ingrained norms, such as only looking for individuals within the business context (or genre), who are PhDs or who are viewed or termed “as scholars” within various business fields. In essence, rather than dismissing an individual, simply because s/he may not have the so-called right mix of a certain scholarly requisites; which I contend would be a serious mistake; why not seek out those individuals, whose writings motivate us; keep our minds challenged; and frankly, are simply smart.

    Even though Mr. Friedman may “only” be perceived as a “journalist” (in this particular professor’s judgment), Friedman is not only relevant, but also significant within the business world; whenever one talks about the concept of “globalization.” To me, when Mr. Friedman stressed the statement that “the world is flat,” Friedman purposely chose an insightful metaphor for the inner-connectedness of the “new world,” as we know it. Mr. Friedman attempted to share with his readers that the world has (now) become a much more inner-connected place over time; but as he keenly observed, the world accelerated such a process through the electronic revolution and the Internet, over the last fifteen years.

    One of the key areas Mr. Friedman chose to highlight throughout his writings has been the financial markets. As Mr. Friedman reported, today, New York is connected to Tokyo; which is connected to Dubai, which is connected to Shanghai which is connected to Singapore. One might never have imagined the sub-prime mortgage crisis would affect the entire world’s financial structure; which in turn, has placed the world’s economic markets in financial peril. As a result, the major financial institutions have been reluctant to lend credit to anyone and/or enterprises throughout all parts of the inter-connected world. In other words, despite Friedman’s lack of a scholarly approach, his observations about globalization remain acutely accurate, critical and quite chilling (especially when Mr. Friedman chooses to support his findings with contemporary data and statistics that leave little doubt about Mr. Friedman’s veracity.

    Finally, I would ask rhetorically, to whom would the professor choose to advocate or recommend the valuable real estate space, the New York Times has been inclined to save for Mr. Friedman? The world is changing at a feverish pace; and as such, it is critical to embrace strategies that are inspirational; yet, methodical which lead to newer visionary – Best Practice – approaches, no matter the business context. Certainty as Mr. Friedman frequently articulates, the “new” flat world attracts those, who value meritocracy; rather than mediocrity. The truth is when one refers to globalization one can not but reference Mr. Friedman and his works. Thus, I would hope my professor may choose to cite those individuals, who may intimate first-hand knowledge; and reach out to those individuals; even though, those same individuals may be outside the scholastic comfort zone.