Posted by: gcarkner | November 22, 2013

Notes on Leadership

Brief Notes on Leadership for Graduate Students and Others

One of our PhD student colleagues in fisheries, Vijay Raj, attended a leadership conference with Dave Kraft recently and came to me the next week very excited indeed. I will relay some of his thoughts because leadership is an area in which we all must grow, even though it may not be on the curriculum of our degree program. We feel the tug of leadership when we teach an undergrad class or run a tutorial, lead a colloquium. I remember a special PhD student in organic chemistry at Queen’s University who saved us from implosion in second year. He was wonderful and patient and clear. He was deeply committed to us and our learning. I don’t know how I would have survived that course without him. His face and character remains a happy memory to this day.

You will be called on to lead with your Masters and especially your PhD. I’ve just connected on LinkedIn with Dr. Katherine Excoffon one of our alumni who is leading a virology lab at Wayne State University in Dayton, Ohio. She has stepped up to the plate of leadership and shows a model of what can be our future ( Faculty here have proved to be very helpful at modelling leadership; learn from their best characteristics. I have learned much from faculty here and elsewhere in my studies. Where would I be without them?

Reading good books on leadership is also a bonus; don’t leave it to the business students to think about leadership. A book called Integrity by Henry Cloud really impressed me a couple years ago, stressing the power of virtue in leadership, the impact of a person’s wake; Don Page’s book on Servant Leadership is very impressive in its breadth and depth and common sense. We see a model of the opposite of integrity, civility and servanthood in the mayor of Toronto and what damage it does to so many. Humility, passion, servanthood, emotional intelligence are all key virtues to cultivate as we develop our academic expertise.

Patrick Lencioni’s best-seller The Advantage was the book promoted at Vijay’s conference. He convinced me to read it immediately and I have enjoyed it and recommended it to several colleagues who are involved in supporting religious leaders. The book focuses on organizational health as a key advantage in leadership. The qualities of leaders is again emphasized. It is amazing how it parallels the virtues encouraged by the biblical authors and stories.

Here are three main points which Vijay relayed to me about leadership from his conference:

 1. Find your Identity in a Credible Life. Character is just as important as competence, and we all know how important competence is in today’s world. Know yourself; take time weekly for reflection and a long walk in solitude. Discern your sources of motivation; there may be some dark stuff there that will trip you up some day. Deal with your ‘demons’ while in grad school. Drill down into your true calling rather than floating with what is pop or trendy (here today and gone tomorrow). Go for the deeper life connected to eternal values that have proved the test of time. Good mentors can have an influence here; seek them out. Vijay remembered that Dave had spoken about how important it is to say No to several things, in order to say a deeper and stronger Yes to your calling. This is the area of personal formation (aka discipleship for Christians). “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch.

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to lose it.” Warren Buffet

2. Build a Vision for your Life and your Life’s Work. Ask God to help you discern it, refine it, and deepen it over time. Write it down and revisit it often. Cultivate it continuously (not obsessively) so it runs deep in your psyche and empowers you. I talk about this more in my blog post ‘Platform for Success’. This is absolutely critical and keeps you from being a flaky person, tossed around by the latest news or trend. To use an agricultural image, put the plow in deeper. I am fortunate to work with people of deep personal vision and it is impressive to see its impact and the productivity of their lives. “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Harry S. Truman

3. Build your Team. This is critical to give momentum and practical outworking of your vision. Your ideas, ideals and expertise are tested and engage reality–outside the university. You need on your team prophets (ideas people), priests (people-sensitive folks with an extra measure of emotional intelligence), kings (managers who get the job done, patent your ideas, and get it to market so that others can benefit). Some of us work in groups, but many of us work alone as grad students; thus, we are unconscious about the importance of team. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision int reality.” Warren Bennis

4. Communicate Effectively and Excessively. Lencioni emphasizes that once a team has boiled down their essential values and core vision, it is an ongoing task to communicate those values, so that the message of one’s vision goes deeper and begins to engage people on your team and beyond your team. One way to do this is through developing a robust Linkedin profile to let people know who you are and what you hope to offer to the world, ot what you are presently offering to meet a need or fill a niche. I like his language over-commnunicate, meaning drilling down into that vision and its strategic objectives, talking about it from many angles, working out its implications for those you lead.

I think that although this is not the final word on leadership, it offers a helpful balance. Nelson Mandela built a good leadership profile through suffering and perseverence. Hopefully we don’t have to stay in jail for 27 years in order to become a great leader. Al Gore has offered a masterful statement in his 2013 book The Future: six drivers of global change, on what is needed in six areas of leadership for the twenty-first century. This is a very courageous discourse.
~Gord Carkner

This is the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, an academic in Oxford and Cambridge who gave much leadership in the area  of  the Christian mind. The C.S. Lewis Institute keep his conversation going.

See Blog Leadership Freak for lots of insights:

See also Don Page, Servant Empowered Leadership.

According to Page, the Servant Leader:

  • Serves the followers for their benefit.
  • Primarily serves the interests of the followers above selfish interests.
  • Responsibilities to followers are more important than any positional entitlements.
  • Based on respect and love for the followers. Maintained through internal influence.
  • Willing to step aside for someone more qualified to lead. The position is held lightly.
  • Never pulls rank to get own way as that would be hurtful to the colleagues.
  • Accountable to everyone in the organization and outside constituencies as well.
  • Welcomes regular personal evaluations as a means of improving the ability to serve followers.
  • Loyalty comes through the inspiration in the heart and soul of the followers. Have a low turnover rate because people are valued for their contribution to each other and to the organization.
  • Primary interest is in the well-being of their followers for their sakes.
  • Puts the spotlight on others.

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