Writing on leadership has forced me to select, describe and list the qualities of the two best leaders I have experienced in my careers. This month we will begin with Alfred E. Lucas, a burly African American, now retired in St. Louis. Next month with Bishop Lawrence B. Casey, now deceased.
Al Lucas, the most avid and knowledgeable baseball fan I’ve ever known, was the Chief of the Metro Division of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, in Boston. He later moved on to a series of sub-cabinet posts in Washington. I worked in the Urban Division and during my first year the only relationship I had with Mr. Lucas – everyone called him Mr. Lucas – was talking baseball in the corridors and in the men’s room.
When the job announcement for the Deputy Director of the Metro Division was posted, five of us applied. Four were interviewed the first week and their interviews lasted for about forty minutes. My interview took place the following week and it lasted for two hours. I still laugh when I think about it. Al Lucas opened the interview with, “You’re not going to get this job, someone else is.” That was that. He added, “But I want you to be on my team. The Executive Director okayed your transfer; you start Monday. I just put four hours of reading material in your new cubicle. Give me your recommendations on Monday and type them yourself because the whole matter is confidential. I have to give my recommendations on this sensitive matter to the Governor’s Council and the Congressional Representatives on Monday at eleven.” The interview part of our meeting took less than ten minutes; we talked baseball for almost two hours.
I gave him my typed recommendations at ten o’clock on Monday morning. I presumed that he asked the other dozen or so members of his team to do the same thing. He didn’t. When I gave Al my three typewritten pages, he folded them, put them in his coat pocket, and asked: “What do you think of the Yankees trade?” We discussed the trade and then Al said, “Okay, get your suit coat; you’re coming to the meeting with me.”
After the meeting got underway, Mr. Lucas was asked by that august assembly for his recommendations on the defunding issues before them. He took out my typed recommendations, read them verbatim, and put them put them back in his pocket. Then he defended, explained, and sold them for the next hour. I was amazed and shocked. Not shocked that Al was such an eloquent speaker and was held in such esteem by all those present but that he was reading these recommendations for the first time. On the walk back, Al said, “Now you know how much I trust you. I want that back in loyalty and dedication to the team and our mission.”
From then on I became a student and probably a disciple of the Al Lucas’s brand of leadership. Everyone on the team was strong in an area that Al was not as strong but he had the ability and talent to orchestrate and lead the group. His ego never got in the way of trusting people and giving them the credit for their work and their ideas. He empowered everyone on his staff. He used your mistakes to teach, never to punish. He pushed hard and we had to stretch, but we had a lot of fun.
He was the epitome of a gentleman. I never saw him reprimand anyone in public; he showed the utmost respect for everyone. He was the master communicator, you always knew where you stood; when you talked, he listened and made you feel that you were sharing the most important information in the universe. He always said, “Thank you.” He made partners of us all; he was flexible, loved the challenges that change caused; he always did what he said he was going to do; and he led by example. I worked for Al in 1972-73 and one of the lasting benefits is that when we talk by phone, he still makes me feel great.
Korn-Ferry International, a leading executive search firm performed a survey on what organizations want from their leaders. The respondents said they wanted people who were ethical and who convey a strong vision of the future. In any organization, a leader’s actions set the pace. To be an effective leader your people must have trust in you and they have to be sold on your vision. One of the ways to build trust is to display a good sense of character. Character is the disposition of a person, made up of beliefs, values, skills, and traits.
- Beliefs are the deep rooted beliefs that a person holds dear.
- Values are attitudes about the worth of people, concepts or things.
- Skills are the knowledge and abilities you gain throughout life.
- Traits are distinguishing qualities or characteristics of a person, while character is the sum total of these traits.
In Learning to Lead, A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith ask, “What do most constituents want from their leaders?”
Purpose, Direction, and Meaning. We cannot exaggerate the significance of a strong determination to achieve a goal, together with the conviction, passion, and unique point of view that establish the energy and direction of the leader.
Trust. Leaders must generate and sustain trust. The trust factor is the social glue that binds commitment and promotes action necessary to produce results.
Optimism. All leaders need to be purveyors of hope. Their optimism fascinates other because it is so pervasive and so powerful.
Action and results. The last quality common to leaders is a bias towards action … Most leaders are pragmatic dreamers and practical idealists. They step up and take their shots every day, perhaps knowing that, as hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
As leaders, we need to understand these organizational elements better so that we can create and foster them where we work and live.
1. Alignment. Alignment with a common vision means have a sense of shared objectives and goals to which people can be dedicated.
2. Empowerment. What we mean by empowerment of all involved really has to do with people sensing they are at the center of things, rather than at the periphery; that everyone feels they make a difference to the success of the organization.
a. Proper leadership empowers the workforce. An empowered workforce is one that is committed, where workers feel that they are learning that they are competent.
b. They have a sense of human bond, a sense of community, and a sense of meaning in their work. Even people who do not especially like each other feel the sense of community.
c. A feeling of one’s significance to others is extremely important.
d. In organizations with effective leaders, empowerment is most evident in four themes or feelings:
01. People feel significant
02. Learning and competence matter – leaders value learning and mastery
03. People are part of a community – where there is leadership, there is a team
04. Work is exciting – where there are leaders who empower, the work is stimulating, challenging, fascinating, and fun.
3. Learning culture. A learning, inquiry-based culture is one where ideas and information come through unhampered by people who are worried or fearful.”
What about vision? Bennis and Goldsmith answer: “There is at least one ingredient that every leader shared: concern with a guiding purpose, an overarching vision. They were more than goal directed; they were vision directed … Vision animates, inspirits, and transforms purpose into action.
Leaders are the most results-oriented individuals in the world, and results get attention. Their visions or intentions are compelling and pull people toward them. Intensity coupled with commitment is magnetic. These intense personalities do not have to coerce people to pay attention; they are so intent on what they are doing that they draw others in.
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We think of it this way: Leaders manage the dream. All leaders have the capacity to create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new place.”
What engenders trust?
1.“The leader has a vision for the organization that is clear, attractive, and attainable.
2. The leader has unconditional empathy for those who live in the organization.
3.The leader’s positions are consistent.
4.The leader’s integrity is unquestionable.”
How about strategic thinking? There is an old saying, “Unless you are the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”
To extend that thought: For the leader, the scenery is always changing, everything is new. Because, by definition, each leader is unique, the circumstances are perceived uniquely. Out of the leader’s role in dealing with the chaos of our times and the constancy of change comes the demand that leaders be strategic thinkers. A well-developed strategy allows leaders to think of solution to problems that may not have manifested yet. A strategy takes the leader out of the reaction mode and provides for creativity and initiative.”
Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in their book, Leadership on the Line, believe that the lone warrior myth of leadership is a sure route to heroic suicide. “One of the distinguishing qualities of successful people who lead in any field is the emphasis they place on personal relationships … The critical resource is access, and so the greatest care is given to creating and nurturing networks of people whom they can call on, work with, and engage in addressing the issue at hand …
There are six essential aspects of thinking politically in the exercise of leadership: one for dealing with people who are with you on the issue; one for managing those who are in opposition; and four for working with those who are uncommitted but wary – the people you are trying to move.
1. Find Partners. Partners provide protection, and they create alliances for you with factions other than your own. They strengthen both you and your initiatives. Finding the right partners can be tough. Partnering on an issue means giving up some autonomy, causing both you and your potential partners some degree of reluctance about getting together.
2.Keep the opposition close. To survive and succeed in exercising leadership, you must work as closely with your opponents as you do with your supporters.
3.Accept responsibility for your piece of the mess.
4.Acknowledge their loss. You may be asking people to close the distance between their espoused values and their actual behavior.
5.Model the behavior. Don’t ask the employees to do something that you wouldn’t do, e.g., do something that looks safe to you but dangerous to them.
6.Accept casualties. An adaptive change that is beneficial to the organization as a whole may clearly and tangibly hurt some of those who had benefited from the world being left behind. If people simply cannot adapt, the reality is that they will be left behind. They become casualties.
Lou Brambilla, the retired CEO of Community Newsdealers Inc., a division of the Boston Globe, and a former client, is now the Director of Development for the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center. I told him about this article and then said, “Hey, Lou, you were a CEO for a lot of years, how about giving me some bullets about leadership. Here they are:
- A good listener.
- Learn from the employees (I like to find something positive that an employee does, then capitalize on it).
- Leads by example.
- Pick your battles and train others to do the same, don’t nit-pick.
- Let people vent.
- Let employees challenge decisions. But sometimes employees have to trust your judgment and understand that you can’t always share the reason for your decisions.
- Whenever possible allow employees to help with decisions, even the ones that may affect them. This is easier said than done.
- Make sure the proper training is in place.
- MBWA (manage by walking around)
- Good visionary.
- Good analyst.
- Not afraid to make the tough decisions and deliver the tough messages.
- Always be visible.
- Train someone to take your job.
To be continued…