November 14, 2011

How To Lead

Leadership is not about finding a parade and walking in front of it.  Leadership is a collective action of many people within a community toward a positive good.  

Leadership for a Healthier World does not believe that we should keep secret the principles of how to lead.  Below is the leadership framework I use to teach others how to lead:

Leadership for a Healthier World (LHW) teaches five basic principles of Transformational Leadership, a term coined by leadership scholar James McGregor Burns.  “[Transformational Leadership] occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality… it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both.” 

Classic examples of transformational leaders are Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  LHW teaches this philosophy with the specific intent to create transforming, positive social change in the context of the health crisis of obesity and diet-related disease. 

“I’m here and ready to learn.”
This is the beginning mindset of successful leadership.  Half of leadership is just showing up.  The other element is a willingness to learn.  As Burns notes, Transformational Leadership is a reciprocal relationship between the leader and follower.  Leaders must be willing to be shaped and influenced by followers and the changing environment related to the goal.

Leadership thrives where there are no clear answers.
In his landmark text, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Harvard researcher Ron Heifetz, says that when, “No clear expertise can be found, no single sage has general credibility, no established procedure will suffice… these are the times for leadership.”  In the context of the health crisis, there are no clear pathways for success.  As such, teaching and empowering leadership is essential to creating a new path forward.

Leadership is an action.
Another principle from Heifetz is that leadership is an action.  “Rather than define leadership either as a position of authority in a social structure or as a personal set of characteristics, we [define] leadership as an activity…. the activity of a citizen from any walk of life mobilizing people to do something.”  Defining leadership as an action empowers every community member to be part of the solution.

Values are the language of leadership.
At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. greeted the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial saying, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”  He does not mention civil rights legislation.  He speaks of freedom and justice.  That is the language of leadership.  Connecting higher values to the end goal of health-improvement is critical to success. Values provide us the reason why we must change and community members are best able to identify which shared community values will provide the greatest motivation for that change.  Values guide decisions, and decisions become actions.

Leadership is a process of community.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists… [and] when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’” –Lao Tzu

The act of service to others is inherently an effort of community that is also self-sustaining.  When leadership is defined as an action, our paradigm shifts from the question of identifying “who is the leader?” to the more sustainable, “who is leading next?” Each LHW project that is launched is a short-term effort to create a transformational health-improvement environment.  When one project is followed by another project and followed by another, a community can create a much larger, sustainable movement made up of small individual efforts.  Many hands make for light work.   

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