Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Leadership Journey

Lao Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We begin this journey when we first come into the world. We first learn to recognize our surroundings, adapting to new colors, shapes, and things around us. We are surrounded by new and strange faces, faces of people that will help us to figure out who we are and to become along the way. We take our steps in learning how to talk, crawl, walk, and run. Things may be awkward at first and we may mess up or fall down, but with time and patience we get better and succeed. In addition, our parents, family members, and teachers educate us on the ways of the world, how to be a good person, the importance of family and friends, and teach countless lessons that impact our lives and decisions that we will make. We carry these lessons with us as we grow and our experiences shape the type of person we want to be. As leaders we go through many of the same steps. In the beginning we are the eager student, wanting to learn all that we can, looking up to mentors and other leaders for guidance. We are constantly learning, adapting, and forming our identities as leaders. We take each experience as a tool to improve our skills, remind us of mistakes we want to avoid, and help us to build a foundation. Once we have experience and are comfortable we are able to lead others, imparting the knowledge we have gained to help shape their identities as was done for us.

The purpose of this paper is to explore what I believe to be the most important principles of effective leadership and why they are so critical to the success of a leader and their organization. In addition, I will also cite information based in my experiences, and research from several experts in the field of leadership.

Every morning when you wake up and look in the mirror, who do you see looking back at you? Is it someone you know? Do you know what they believe in? What they stand for? Who are they? Believe it or not all of these questions are integral in your leadership journey. You can’t possibly know what kind of leader you want to be if you don’t know who you are or what you stand for. Thus, the first principle of effective leadership is to find your voice by clarifying your personal values and limits. How is this done you may ask? To do this you have to explore what Kouzes-Posner refers to as your inner territory.

You have to take a journey into those places in your heart and soul where you
bury your treasures, so that you can carefully examine them and eventually bring
them to display…You must know what you care about…Otherwise you are just
putting on an act (Kouzes-Posner, 2002,p.52).

After all, if you don’t know what you value or can’t communicate what you are passionate about, how can you expect others to follow you or do the same? The journey into your inner territory is a difficult one as you may face negative experiences from your past, lessons that haven’t been completely learned, or weaknesses you may not be ready to conquer. Just know that in the end, the destination is well worth the journey. I say this not just to make a point; I am speaking from personal experience. In my journey I was forced to face the pain from abusive relationships, disappointing mentors I cared about and valued, reconnected with my passion, and brought to light values that I would refuse to compromise, no matter the circumstances. Through this experience I have grown, know who I am, and have a better idea of how to inspire others. I found my voice and what I wanted to say. Without these steps I would not be able to achieve the next and second principle.

The word vision has several definitions. Ranging from the act of seeing to having the ability to see the future, however the most important definition is the one that a leader assigns to it. As leaders we want to make a change and impact others, but we cannot lead our followers if we don’t know where we are going. In addition, the leader must take stock in knowing their followers. It isn’t enough to know their names, where they are from, or base your relationship in the superficial; instead the leader needs to understand their needs, wants, and their expectations. And in turn, don’t forget to share yours with them. Kouzes-Posner reinforces this when they state, “to enlist people in a vision, leaders must know their constituents and speak their language. People must believe that the leaders understand their needs and have their interests at heart” (Kouzes-Posner 2002, p.15). Once the leader takes all these things into consideration a vision can then be formed. The vision should, as Yukl states, convey an image of what can be achieved, why it is worthwhile, and how it can be done (Yukl 2006, p.296). After the vision is formed, it is also very important that the following steps be taken:

1) Involve your constituents
It is important to include your members, regardless of their position. Whether you realize it or not, your decisions can affect everyone in the company or organization, so it’s best to have their opinions from the beginning.

2) Identify objectives or values associated
We don’t have all the answers so this way we are able to hear different perspectives from a diverse grouping of people. This way you can find a shared grouping of values and ideas to reinforce the mission of the organization.

3) Look at past processes and ideas; see if they can still be applied.

4) Ensure that your vision is realistic
If you’re followers believe that the vision can’t be achieved they won’t be fully invested in its success. In addition, if they feel that it’s not challenging enough to be worthwhile they will be difficult to sway as well. The key is to ensure that the vision is realistic, challenging, but achievable at the same time.

5) Consistently refine your vision
A successful vision is flexible and has the ability to evolve over time. As we know the world is constantly shifting and it is important to move with this shift and adapt. By being flexible you will increase not only the effectiveness of your vision, but also the credibility (Yukl 2006, p.300).
If all the steps have been followed you are now ready to continue your journey with the third principle, inspire action.

Take a minute and think about the people who have inspired you in your life. Why were they so inspirational? What about them made them so different from others? How have they impacted your life? As leaders we have the opportunity to inspire change, both good and bad. For example, leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela have inspired us to embrace equality, diversity, and fighting for what we believe in. Leaders like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Bautista reinforced division among the races, religions, and cultures, and inspired heinous attacks on humanity. What do you want to inspire? To best answer this you have to look at how to inspire action among your constituents. In order to inspire action a leader must first, build trust and encourage team work within the organization. Through collaboration, increased face to face interactions, and team building trust will not only be created between the leader and follower but within each other as well. It is also important to use positive reinforcement and acknowledge all successes, both group and individual. If things do not go as planned it is also important to not berate your followers and instead see all mistakes or losses as learning experiences, also reinforcing mutual trust and support. The second step is to empower your followers and allow them to take ownership in their responsibilities and the group’s success. Learn to delegate, by assigning tasks, followers feel directly invested and involved. Third, allow them to be involved in key-decision making processes (ie; hiring, marketing the organization and sharing information that will impact the company’s future) this will lead to an increase in self-confidence, determination, and effectiveness (Kouzes-Posner 2002, p.281-282). Fourth, train, train, train, and create a climate where your constituents feel like they are consistently learning about the processes, the organization, and each other. My supervisor is truly the King of this principle and I trust him whole heartedly. He consistently empowers me to be involved, shares important information when returning from meetings, praises me for my accomplishments, protects me if things don’t go as to plan according to upper management, and helps us to improve through training and mentoring. No matter how tough of a day I have I know that I can rely on my supervisor to lead me in the right direction. All of these steps and processes may seem lengthy, but they are essential in your effectiveness as a leader, especially the final principle, encouraging the heart.

In looking back at my past and the places I have worked there is a central theme that runs through every experience, this theme is value. In three out of the four jobs I also had amazing managers that treated me with the respect that I deserved, valued my work, supported me professionally and personally, and genuinely cared for my well-being. In their own ways they inspired me to keep climbing no matter the obstacles and to never doubt my abilities. Together we celebrated our victories, identified what we could be doing better, and built relationships that still stand today. All of these things were accomplished because my managers spoke, encouraged, and acted from the heart. It is important that as leaders we act as the cheerleaders to our followers and ensure that they know that their work and commitment are appreciated. Put yourself in your followers shoes, if your work and you are taken for granted consistently would you be motivated to do your job well? No, probably not. As a leader you must be emotionally, mentally, and physically invested in your followers. Otherwise, a leader without followers is merely someone just someone taking a walk.

No one is this world is the same; we are blessed to be different because we bring different perspectives, viewpoints, experiences, and stories to the world table. As leaders we lead in different ways and travel down different roads to reach our destination. No road is better than the other, they are simply different. I have shared with you my leadership philosophy and it is time to starting thinking of your own. You may have completely different approaches to leadership. Just know that no matter what approaches you choose, remember to treat others with respect, value their insight and opinions, celebrate your victories together, and remember that as leaders we are never alone, we just have to be brave enough to invite others along for the journey.

About Mariam

Life is sweet

Life is sweet

And they lived happily ever after

And they lived happily ever after

One day a beautiful Jewish girl met a nice Jewish boy and made their mothers very, very, very happy

One day a beautiful Jewish girl met a nice Jewish boy and made their mothers very, very, very happy

About Me

For those of you who know me, writing has always been one of my passions, with the exception of my Masters or any ridiculously long testament within the wide world of Academia. I've only had the pleasure of blogging a couple of times, mostly for a few classes in graduate school, but figured it was time to organize my numerous thoughts and musings with all of you out there in cyber land. I created this page because my mind is always running and often times my thoughts get lost in the hubub. Plus, my friends have always said that I'm a great storyteller, so I'd love to share them now with you. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this... Throughout the past 33 years of my life I've seen, heard, and experienced so many different things as well as had many adventures and dream of so many possibilities. But in short, what it comes down to is this..I'm just a little Jubana trying to make a difference in the world. Everyday I live my life to the fullest and have fun doing it. Life can't always be about work or how much money you make. There's so much more to life than that.