Archive for the ‘Quintessential Leadership is an Art’ Category

Dr. Ned M. RossThe first – and one of less than a handful of people whose lives have intersected with mine in which I’ve seen an unwavering commitment to quintessential leadership – quintessential leader in my life was my dad. He modeled quintessential leadership  in everything he was, he did, and he said.

When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate it as much. Now that I’m older, I appreciate it – and my dad – more and more with each passing day.

My dad’s been gone almost 17 years, but his example and the lessons he taught me about what quintessential leadership is and what it looks like in practice have taken root over the years, with those roots getting more deeply entrenched and stronger with time and practice, and have now begun to blossom and bear fruit in my own life.

I wish my dad were here to see that, although it was hard to tell then, I watched, I listened, I absorbed, and I took everything to heart. His experience, his counsel, and his wisdom have permeated my mind, my conscience, and my life as I’ve tried them, tested them, proved them, and found them to be true.

The older me would tell my dad that he was right (the younger me had a hard time admitting that anyone else was ever right) and would never stop expressing my gratitude and my love. That, for my dad, will have to wait for another day, one that I am looking forward to very much.

In the meantime, though, I have the opportunity to pass the lessons on in developing other quintessential leaders. I don’t claim to have mastered them nor to execute them perfectly. But that is a front-of-my-mind-always goal and nothing I think, say, or do isn’t within the context of that goal. That, my friends, is the first step to becoming a quintessential leader.

One of the ongoing lessons my dad taught me was to show respect to everybody. In my words. In my actions. In every area of my life. I can still hear him saying “Be nice to everyone you meet on the way up, because you’ll meet the same people on your way back down.”

Respect can be a complicated thing for us as people and us as quintessential leaders. It shouldn’t be, as I hope to show, since respect is an outward manifestation of our understanding of the brotherhood of humanity and of the integrity of our character, but it can be until we understand the essence of what respect is.

Respect is not tied to our likes or dislikes, our feelings and emotions, nor to what we agree or disagree about.

Instead, it is an acknowledgement that each of us has the exact same value in terms of our humanness – at our most basic structure, each of us is just a little dirt and a little water mixed together, and when death, the great equalizer, comes that is what we all return to, minus the water – and in terms of our purpose and our potential.

Most of the people in leadership positions today lack respect for anyone else. They may show favoritism to their lackeys as long as they support and help them and push their agendas – which are power, greed, and control – but favoritism is fickle and disappears when lackeys are inconvenient or no longer useful.

Respect is not fickle, nor is it tied to what someone else can do for us. That is simply beyond the grasp of most people in leadership positions today. 

respect quintessential leaderDisrespect is in vogue. It is wrapped up in the forms of tearing others down, name-calling, and put downs. It is characterized by people exposing the “weaknesses” of others, ripping those weaknesses – and those people – to shreds, and then the disrespecters exalting themselves to show how superior and better they are than the lowlifes they just called out.

As shameful and as disgusting as this conduct is, those who do it have no shame and no remorse. In fact, with social media, they’ve found a bigger and more public venue in which to flagrantly disrespect other people. As a result, disrespect has become the norm, while respect is becoming harder and harder to find.

A recent example of this pervasive disrespect – and this is a pattern of behavior with this individual – from someone in a leadership position, but who is not a quintessential leader, brought this back to the forefront of my thinking.

Here are a few excerpts from an email this person in a leadership position wrote to somebody he disagrees with:

“…that you remain a congenital liar incapable of telling the truth.”

“You seem to fail to grasp that you were used as a useful idiot…”

“…you were too stupid to realize that you were being used.”

“I have no time for lying fools whose mission in life is to slander and spread division…”

“Take your vomit somewhere else and don’t waste my time.”

I disagree, for different reasons, with almost all that the recipient of this email says as well. However, I would never communicate with this person – or anyone else on the planet – in a disrespectful manner. The person in a leadership position, though, had absolutely no qualms about it. 

As quintessential leaders, each of is responsible for showing respect to everyone and to modeling that to the quintessential leaders we are developing. Since that’s our responsibility, what does it look like in practice?

Not everybody is going to like everybody else. That’s a fact of life.

My dad, I think, came the closest of anybody I know to liking almost every person he ever met. I can think of two people I know for a fact that he didn’t like, and there may be two others, but he never said one way or the other.

I, on the other hand, have a longer list of people that I don’t care for and would rather not have to be within 300 miles of on any given day (and, frankly, the same is probably true for them with me). It’s not that they are awful people or bad people, but our personalities and temperaments are so different that we just don’t sync up on any kind of tangible level.

Given the choice to spend any kind of extended time with them or face a firing squad, I’d most likely choose the firing squad. Both are excruciating, but one is fast and one-and-done. Social pain is difficult for me, so quick elimination – my own – is generally my preference.

However, whether we are more like my dad and there’s almost nobody we don’t like or we’re more like me and have a pricklier personality and temperament, we still are responsible for being respectful to everybody.

We all have emotions and feelings and sometimes we get hurt, we get angry, and we get sad at what other people do to us and say to us. Disrespecting them – revenge and getting even – is our default response tendency as humans.

But quintessential leaders never forget their responsibility to be respectful and to be reminded that we have also hurt, angered, and saddened other people in our travels through life, and we’ve been shown respect, along with mercy and restraint, at times along the way when we didn’t deserve it. We pay that forward. It’s that simple.

As human beings, it’s often easier to find things we disagree on than things we agree on. That, too, is part of life. Sometimes those disagreements are deep and intense. Sometimes they are so fundamental, moral-wise, character-wise, and principle-wise, that they force a relationship between or among people to break – at least for the rest of this temporary existence of physical life.

However, no matter how strong the disagreement, even to the point of breaking relationships for the remainder of our physical lives, we may have with other people, we are still responsible for showing them respect.

I suspect that when this life is done and the next iteration occurs that we’ll all find that all the things we thought we knew were in fact next to nothing (and that little splinter where there was a minute bit of understanding and insight was more wrong than right) and all that we argued over, disagreed over, and fought over was basically a waste of time because none of us got it right.

If that’s the case, then our responsibility for being respectful to everybody else – even if they disrespect us – should weigh even heavier in who and what we as quintessential leaders are.

So how do quintessential leaders show respect? What does it look like?

  • Never personally attack anyone else. You can disagree and be respectful. You can dislike and be respectful. You can experience negative emotions and feelings and be respectful. You can break a relationship, because it’s the healthiest thing to do, and be respectful.
  • Never tear anyone else down. You are not anyone’s judge and jury. You have never value purpose potential equals respectwalked in their shoes, so whatever you think you know about them is not even close to their whole story. Show mercy.
  • Never badmouth anyone to anyone else. This an emotional response to anger, frustration, and impatience with other people. It says a whole lot more about you as a person than it does about the person you’re badmouthing.
  • Silence can be a form of respect, especially when it comes to anyone that we are hard-pressed to find or see anything positive about. Just because we don’t see it or haven’t found it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Silence ensures that we recognize that everyone has value, even if we don’t know personally what it is. It is often the better part of wisdom.

What would you add to this list of what respect looks like?

More importantly, how are we doing?

Why Personality Types Matter When Building TeamsImagine a world in which every other person alive is exactly like you in how they are: thinking, speaking, and doing. With your temperament, your strengths, and your weaknesses. With the same things that can make you irresistibly charming (let’s all, since this is fantasy, go ahead and pretend that we have at least one quality that people find charming about us) and obnoxiously annoying. Everywhere you turn, you see an exact clone of yourself.

Do this sound like a great dream or an awful nightmare?

For me, it’s an awful nightmare. (more…)

Coach Dean Smith UNC quintessential leaderCoach Dean Smith, who led the University of North Carolina basketball program for 36 years, died on February 7, 2015 after a long battle with dementia. Throughout his coaching career and his life after coaching, Coach Smith embodied many of the characteristics of quintessential leadership.

He was not a perfect man, but none of us can claim perfection either. There were times when he wasn’t a quintessential leader, just as there are times we are not quintessential leaders.

But when Coach Smith’s life as a whole, both on the basketball court and off, is considered (and that’s the only way to consider anyone’s life, including our own, because no one – including each of us – gets it right every single time), it’s clear that his goal was to be a quintessential leader. And the results of his commitment to that goal are evident to this day.

I grew up in North Carolina. But me being an UNC basketball fan was not a given. My dad got his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest and he taught physical therapy at Duke University and did a year of pre-veterinary schools studies at North Carolina State University. My mom studied medical technology at Duke University, which is where she and my dad met and made their lifelong commitment to each other. (more…)

As quintessential leaders, we need to be aware of how constant connection to digital technology negatively affects us as leaders and the people on the teams we lead.

If we don’t understand what this looks like and how it manifests itself and we don’t find a way to ensure that we have a balance between real life and digital life, then we will not be able to be quintessential leaders. It’s that simple.

Going Gentle Into That Good Night

internet going gentle into that good night neurological changesThis is the first of a multipart series of reviews that I will write on The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection written by Michael Harris in 2014.

I have written on the main point of Harris’ book in “Dementia of the Preoccupied: How Multitasking and Being Attached to Technology 24/7 is Creating A Dementia Effect on Society” and “The Quintessential Leader Perspective On the Art – and Beauty – of Silence,” which everybody should take some time now to read.

The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael HarrisI would also highly recommend that everyone read The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection. At about 200 pages, it is completely doable for the shorter attention spans (one of the side effects, as I’ve noted and Harris notes, of a life immersed in digital technology).

Michael Harris and I…

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martin luther king 1966

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Greek word agōnízomai, from which the English word agonize comes, means to struggle intensely. Real change involves real agony. As Dr. King so astutely observed, change is not inevitable.

Inertia is our natural state. Inertia is comfortable. But inertia is also stagnant. Too often, we settle for inertia as our state of being because it’s easy and because that’s the way we (or someone before us) have always done things, have always thought about things, and have always been.

Inertia, as all of us who’ve studied physics know, requires a lot of force to overcome. But, for change, the force comes primarily from within us in the elements of desire, choice, and action combined. (more…)

still waters run deep the art of silenceThere is an expression that “still waters run deep” that is often applied to people who tend to be mostly silent and low-key in their exterior lives that belies much complexity, thoughtfulness, and depth in their interior lives.

In other words, these people are masters at the art – and revel in the beauty of – silence. They enjoy the sound of silence. They crave more silence than not. And they are completely comfortable – in fact, they are most comfortable – in and with silence.

Before we discuss the art and beauty of silence, we must clear up some common misconceptions.

First, the art of silence doesn’t mean never talking (or writing), nor does it mean a lack of passion when talking (or writing). It’s not an either/or trait, unlike the way a lot of this-or-that, all-or-nothing generalists tend to portray the art of silence.

Second, the art of silence doesn’t indicate weakness, shyness, fear, or being intimidated. Too often the art of silence is portrayed as an inferior trait. Nothing could be further than the truth!

Third, the art of silence doesn’t mean not listening and not hearing. In fact, it means just the the opposite. Unlike talkative people who have great difficulty (and many times are completely tone-deaf) listening to and hearing anybody else because they’re so busy talking themselves, people who are masters at the art of silence hear and see everything that is said or done.

The difference is the art of silence, which includes self-control and self-discipline, knows when and/or if to respond to things that are said and done, which is why the art of silence is a quintessential leadership trait.

While the art of silence comes naturally to some people (introverts, for example, as described in Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), it is something that can be learned by everybody.

How do quintessential leaders use the art of silence? And why do quintessential leaders use the art of silence? Those are the two aspects of the art of silence that we will look at today.

One of the ways that quintessential leaders use the art of silence is to filter out distractions. Distractions come in many forms, but one of the most prevalent and hardest to avoid and/or ignore is incessant talking.

Some people who talk incessantly just need to talk all the time. And if they can find someone who will engage with them interactively, then they have even more to talk about.

Some of these people can’t abide any kind of silence, so in the absence of external noise, they talk to fill the void. Everything that comes into their minds comes out of their mouths.

There is no editing and there is no evaluation of timing, appropriateness, or audience. The words are simply there and they must be uttered immediately out loud.

Because there is no content control for people who need to talk, there is often inciting and offensive content in what they talk about as well.

The other kinds of people who talk incessantly are people who think out loud to process their ideas. These people are also looking for engagement because they want external feedback as they work through the process.

the art of silence and the beautiful of silence quintessential leadershipThe same lack of content control, timing, and appropriateness may accompany this.

More likely, though, the biggest distraction in this kind of incessant talking is the drawn-out, rambling, unorganized, and sometimes incoherent process of formulating ideas out loud (people who are masters of the art of silence go through the same idea-formulating process, but they do it internally, not externally).

Quintessential leaders use the art of silence to stop the distraction of incessant talking by refusing to engage in the moment (incessant talkers need engagement, so if someone won’t engage, they’ll move and find others who will).

Quintessential leaders also use the art of silence in this situation because if their flow of productivity in working/thinking/life, which requires complete focus and attention, gets interrupted, they will lose a lot of time in the future to get back into that flow, if, in fact, they are able to. In other words, the total cost of not using the art of silence far outweighs any benefit of immediate engagement. 

However, for some idea formulations (either in terms of importance, experience, and/or coaching), quintessential leaders are very willing to participate, but the timing and the scope must be negotiated and agreed upon in advance.

And there are two crucial reasons why.

The first reason is because quintessential leaders will have the time to come fully prepared for discussions like these. The second reason is so that quintessential leaders can carve out a piece of time to give the person and the process their undivided attention.

Another area where quintessential leaders use the art of silence is the area of dealing with challenging people. No matter what teams we lead in life, there will always be a challenging cast of characters among them.

Challenging people may be uninformed and biased-by-spinning loudmouths. They may be instigators. They may be argumentative. They may be talebearers (includes gossiping). They may be extremely needy. They may be drama queens or kings. They may be attention-seekers. They may be manipulators.

In whatever form challenging people appear (and I’ve listed some of the major areas above), quintessential leaders must be adept in using the art of silence in the right way at precisely the right times to effectively neutralize and/or eliminate the area of challenge.

There are two things that all challenging people are looking for in terms of satisfaction with these kinds of behaviors. One is total engagement. The other is total agreement (or a really good knock-down-drag-out argument).

Quintessential leaders give them neither with the art of silence.

Silence has several positive results.

First, quintessential leaders are modeling the right behavior – in effect, coaching them in “this-is-what-it-looks-like” – for their teams to learn as they encounter challenging people along the way.

Second, the art of silence immediately shuts down the challenging person. It also removes them and their influence from the team, because if there is no satisfaction in one place, challenging people will quickly go looking somewhere else for it, since that’s the driving need behind these behaviors.

noisy discordant screeching A third way that quintessential leaders use the art of silence is to create enough space between them and everything and everyone else to create a place in their lives where they can retreat to as often and as long as they need to. This place is a place of assured peace, safety, comfort, and….wait for it…silence where quintessential leaders go to recharge and regroup.

Quintessential leaders don’t disconnect from life when they go to this place. They are fully engaged in everything that is important in life in necessary, productive, and practical ways.

However, they are completely distanced from all the unnecessary, all the impractical, all the frivolous, and all the jingly-jangly-clanging noise that comes at us from every direction and makes up our modern existences.

This is a personal and internal requirement for quintessential leaders, because this place must exist for quintessential leaders to be quintessential leaders. How often and how long the stays are will vary from situation to situation and individual to individual. But they must occur regularly.

If they don’t, then quintessential leaders become unquintessential leaders because they will lose sight of the big-picture, the vision, the focus, and the effective use of the art – and beauty of – silence.

And they will end up simply being another discordant note in the ever-increasingly-screeching and ear-splitting symphony of noise that has become the never-ending soundtrack of our lives.

Are we effectively using the the art of silence or have we forgotten and are on our way to becoming an insignificant off-key note that is lost in a maze of unpalatable noise?

I can answer that for myself alone.

What is your answer?