Leading With Wisdom

Jann FreedLeading Leave a Comment

This post is longer than usual, but it will not become my normal practice.  I have tried hard to avoid talking about politics, but I feel now is the time to share some thoughts on leadership related to the campaign so that I can move forward.  I know it has become risky to talk about politics at dinner parties, church, or even informal social gatherings.   But as someone who reads, writes, teaches, and coaches about leadership–basically lives and breathes “leadership,” this is what matters to me at this time.

For years, I interviewed more than 100 thought leaders in the field of leadership.  In fact, I continue to interview people who are at the top of their field–either as authors and/or professors, and practitioners.  The themes that emerged became the chapters of my book Leading with Wisdom:  Sage Advice from 100 Experts.  For those unfamiliar with my book, the chapter titles are:

  • Leaders Know Who They Are
  • Leaders Don’t Let Ego Win
  • Leaders Connect With Empathy and Compassion
  • Leaders Admit Mistakes Fearlessly
  • Leaders Embrace Community
  • Leaders Model Resilience
  • Leaders Create Healthy Work Environments
  • Leaders Live Their Legacy

My conclusion after all of this research was this:

It is hard to be a good leader if you are not a good person.

I don’t want to talk politics and this blog post is not about politics.  It is not about whether we are Republican or Democrat.  It is about leadership and personal character.  My definition of a leader is someone who is in the position to influence the lives of others.  So in addition to managers/bosses, this includes parents, teachers, pastors, coaches, and others who fit the definition.

George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump several months ago on ABC Sunday Morning if what he tweeted out was true, Mr. Trump responded:  “I don’t know if it is true.  But I have 14 million followers and they need to figure out if it is true.”  If I said such a response as a professor or as a consultant, I would lose all credibility and respect. Yet, Mr. Trump continued to stand and people continued to support him.  And this is only one very small example.

If I walked into a college course or workshop and advocated for people to say what Mr. Trump has said, treat people how he has treated people (especially women and minorities and this has been well documented), and behave how he has behaved, I would not have a job for long.   The evidence that emerged of his comments, behaviors, and attitudes during the campaign would not be tolerated in most workplaces and should not be accepted in any workplaces.  In my courses for years, I emphasized that our thoughts are the basis of our words and actions.  We don’t say things unless we are thinking them.  Thoughts are powerful.

Warren Buffett is often asked on what criteria he hires.  He is known for saying he looks for three things:  integrity, intelligence, and energy.  He follows that by saying if people don’t have integrity, you want them dumb and lazy so they do less harm.  Integrity for Buffett is the number one characteristic for effective leadership.

I often talk about the “window and mirror” concept by Jim Collins, author of the classic book Good to Great.  When things go well, look out the window and give credit to others.  And when things are not going so well, look into the mirror and ask yourself what you might have done differently–how you can learn from reflecting on your experience.  When we do this, we don’t blame, point fingers, or bully others.  We don’t yell “rigged” weeks before we win an election.

Please review the list above.  I believe effective leaders–people who we want to work for and with–are role models who lift others up and lead with integrity, honesty, and compassion for others.

I encourage you to read David Brook’s column.  Even though it was written before the election, he outlines some of the aspects of character that I find troubling for the leader of our country.  Brooks is the author of a great book The Road to Character.  Most people would be fired for remarks Trump has made or they should be fired for creating a hostile environment.  A consultant friend of mine told me he is increasingly getting more requests for harassment workshops.  He said, “People feel as if they can say and do whatever they want in the workplace.”  We have also seen bullying increase on local college campuses–ISU and Drake.  In the recent Sunday New York Times, there was a cover story about hate and harassment in Iowa schools.  This is extremely sad to me as a leadership consultant who believes leaders should create places where people want to work–where students want to study, live, and thrive.

As a country, we were making such strides in diversity efforts and in creating healthy workplaces.  Now, I fear we are going backward.  For more than 25 years, I taught a college course titled “Managing and Valuing Cultural Diversity” where the focus was to help people find common ground and learn to work together effectively.  Ironically, two weeks ago I was at a conference and ran into a former student of mine from the 80s.  Totally unsolicited, she told me that my diversity course is the one she often reflects on in her work as a corporate attorney.

In addition to my focus on leadership, I am also immersed in learning about compassion.  So my comments are also influenced by the interdenominational course I am taking right now called JustFaith.  This course “envisions a vast community of faithful people, transformed by the Spirit and leading extraordinary lives of compassion.”  The campaign has made it more important yet challenging for me to focus on compassion when hate is emerging.  As a friend and family therapist said to me recently, “haters have been empowered.”  I find myself questioning and even becoming cynical as if compassion is an oxymoron.  And this makes me sad about myself.

For me, leadership development is about personal development–working to become a good person.  Leadership is also a relationship.  It is about integrity, compassion, empathy, trust, respect, and not letting ego win.  Leaders need to shed light on the workplace and not cast darkness–where people can thrive not just survive.

As we say in Iowa, Character Counts and we teach the six pillars of character to our youth in schools:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Caring
  • Citizenship

What are we teaching our children?  What are they hearing?  Seeing?  

Not only are children watching, but so is the rest of the world. 

If you are in a position to influence the lives of others, I hope you lead with wisdom.  I will continue to advocate the list above (the chapters from my book)–themes that emerged from true sages–wise, thoughtful, and caring people.  People I would follow.