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William Shakespeare“No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en…”
Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Scene 1

The scene is Padua at the opening of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and young Lucentio has just arrived to begin his university education. He tells his servant Tranio that he intends to study “virtue” and to honor his father and his home town of Pisa that is “renown’d for grave citizens”.  Wise Tranio counsels the young man not to be too serious about his studies, saying “while we do admire this virtue and this moral discipline, let’s be no stoics…” He counsels Lucentio to have some fun, to mix music and poetry with the study of mathematics and metaphysics.  He closes his speech with the quote above which reads in full: “No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en: In brief, sir, study what you most affect.”

What is the lesson for leaders? It is simply this: make sure to follow your passion where it leads you and make sure others can too.  Here are some simple steps to help you do it.

Begin by being clear about your personal mission in life as you think about your daily work and your career path. If you don’t have passion for what you are doing, ask yourself why you are doing it.  Our motivations and sense of purpose change as we grow older and mature. As children we tend to define ourselves by asking “What do I have?” We long for the latest phone or video game or some other gadget that makes us feel important. As adults in the world of work, we tend to define ourselves by asking “What do I do?” Achievement is a big driver and having the right job confers status that says we have arrived.  Then getting promotion after promotion tells us we are making progress.  A little later, after marriage, a house and a family, we may begin to define ourselves more by relationships and ask “Who do I care for and care about?” Service to others at home and at work adds to our priorities and that can create stress.

At some point, however, when having more “things” has lost its charm and work is no longer a challenge and the kids are off on their own, we come to a place where we no longer define ourselves by what is outside of us but by what is inside.  We ask, “What will give my life meaning and purpose?” Have you ever known anyone who looked forward longingly to retirement so that they could just do what they wanted to do?  Is it possible to have the possessions, the super job, and the relationships and have some fun too?  Of course it is; but you have to decide to include the fun.

Tranio is not telling Lucentio that he shouldn’t work hard; he is telling him that he will profit most by doing what is meaningful to him.  As a leader, you owe it to yourself, your organization and those who work with and for you to bring 100% of your talent, energy and passion to the job you are doing.  Without a conscious awareness of our personal priorities, it is far too easy to lose sight of what is really important.

So, try this activity. Write down the things that you love in every aspect of your life. When have you felt fully alive and at your personal best? When have you felt joy at work, at home and at play?  Now identify how you can have a little of each of those experiences now rather than years from now.  All of us are busy, and you may only have an hour a week for “my time” or “our time”.  Simply deciding to do something you want to do rather than what you have to do can be liberating. Doing things that provide real satisfaction (including projects at work) can actually increase your productivity and energy for everything else that simply must be done.

The second lesson for leaders is that others at work need to find meaning and pleasure in what they do.  Work becomes more meaningful if I have some control over how I get the job done.  It is also meaningful if I think I am making a difference.  Many people feel taken for granted. You can influence the culture by valuing and recognizing people for who they are and for their contributions.  You can help your subordinates design a career path for themselves based on their own goals.  Giving good people a say in their next assignment makes business sense.  Without an exciting future, the good people will be working somewhere else at some point and you will be stuck with the whoever is left. You can also pay attention to what feeds your peers and those above you and help them too.

If you pay attention, you can have both profit and pleasure.  And you will be a better leader.

(This is the first in a series of leadership lessons from the works of William Shakespeare. I want to acknowledge and thank my son and daughter-in-law, David and Jan Blixt for their inspiration and advice on this post and the ones that are to come. David and Jan are both talented Shakespearean actors and directors whose knowledge of Shakespeare is both wide and deep. I continue to learn from them.)

Leaders in today’s complex world are faced with a paradox. People admire and reward leaders who show knowledge, skill and determination in the face of an immediate crisis.  Whether it is the response of our leaders to the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina or a shooting on one of our university campuses, leaders who act decisively to restore order are viewed as strong. Leaders who take time to consult others, reflect on alternatives and move more cautiously are seen as weak.  Leaders get the idea that their job is to be an expert and know what to do. The paradox is that this thinking, useful in a crisis, is exactly the wrong approach to addressing the complex longer-term adaptive challenges that face organizations.

Adaptive leadership is much more about mobilizing the organization to tap the collective intelligence of its people to create systemic solutions. These are solutions that no one person can come up with by him/herself.  Responding to systemic problems means disrupting deeply held beliefs and values and breaking from what has been successful in the past because it is not working anymore. It means getting people involved, especially through the use of large group methods such as the Whole-Scale Change approach. It means understanding that there is no one right answer to fixing public education or the healthcare system or restoring jobs in America. The leader’s job is to let legitimate competing ideas collide and then look for patterns of what works as a result.  It means purposefully getting people out of their comfort zones by articulating an urgent and compelling case for change and then creating a safe container for interaction that will let new solutions emerge.  Strong leaders get stronger when they know how to engage the system.

Two historical examples that show the trap that strong expert leaders can fall into are Winston Churchill and Rudy Giulliani. Churchill was heroic as a leader in getting England through its darkest hour in World War II and then lost the first election after the war was over.  New York mayor Giulliani was heroic during the months after 9/11 using the same command and control style that had been so unpopular in the years before the attacks. In the period after the attacks, longer-term issues emerged that required a more adaptive style – one that Giulliani was not able to employ.  His effort to delay elections based on the idea that his leadership was indispensible was rebuffed. His later presidential campaign, based almost entirely on his heroic 9/11 charisma was unsuccessful because people were looking for a different style of leader.

The paradox of leader as hero is resolved only when leaders realize that different styles are needed in different situations. When simply restoring order is essential, there is no time for collaboration and people will follow.  When leading means getting the system to find its own answers, the job is to create the conditions where new adaptive processes, structures and relationships can emerge.  Good leaders need to be good at both kinds of leading and know when each is appropriate.  When I coach clients, we have this conversation so they can work on their own authentic adaptive leadership style. What is your “range” as a leader?  How do you decide what style to use in a given situation?  For most leaders, this is something to work on.

“True leadership only exists where people follow when they have the freedom not to.” – Jim Collins

I was coaching one of my nonprofit leaders today and found myself recommending Jim Collins slender (32 page) monograph called “Good to Great and the Social Sectors”. Wisely, he rejects the common notion that getting nonprofits to be “more like a business” is the path to greatness in the social or nonprofit sector. He notes that many widely practiced business norms lead to mediocrity.  What is needed for greatness instead is a combination of  conscious choice, mission focus and discipline. This puts a premium on leadership that can operate in the complicated nonprofit environment.  Here are five secrets to becoming a great nonprofit leader that I have drawn from Collins’ work:

Secret #1. Cultivate your “legislative” leadership skills. In “executive” style leadership, the individual leader has enough concentrated power to simply make right decisions and enact them. In the complex governance and diffuse power structure of nonprofits, no individual leader – even the nominal executive – has enough structural power or resources to make the most important decisions by herself or himself.  Legislative leadership relies more on persuasion, political currency and shared interests  to create the conditions for right decisions to happen. In the nonprofit world, leaders always have power, if they just know where to look.  There is the power of inclusion, the power of language, the power of shared interests and the power of coalition. Understand these sources of power if you want to succeed in the nonprofit sector.

Secret #2. It’s about the cause and not about you. The highest level of leadership (Collins’ Level 5 ) is a compelling combination of personal humility and professional will.  As one nonprofit leader is quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that Level 5 leadership requires being clever for the greater good.  In the end, it is my responsibility to ensure that the right decisions happen – even if I don’t have the sole power to make those decisions happen, and even if those decisions could not win a popular vote. The only way I can achieve that is if people know that I’m motivated  first and always for the greatness of our work, not myself.”

Secret #3. Get the right people on the bus. Given the low compensation for most work in the nonprofit sector, leaders must be able to fill the seats on their bus with, in Collins’ words, “people compulsively driven  to make whatever they touch the best in can be – not because of what they will “get” for it; but because they simply could not stop themselves from the almost neurotic need to improve.”  Demanding excellence is not easy in a field where it is hard to get qualified people at all.  This is especially difficult when you have “nice” people working for you who are holding a space that could be occupied by a “great” person. Still, accepting anything less than excellence dooms your organization to mediocrity.

Secret #4. Know what drives your resource engine. In Collins’ original best selling book, Good to Great:Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, he first presented what he called the “Hedgehog Concept” that urged piercing clarity about three intersecting circles vital to creating a great organization: 1) what you are passionate about, 2) what you can be best in the world at and 3) what best drives your economic engine.  In the social sector, the third circle shifts from being an economic engine to a resource engine. The critical question is not “How much money do we make?” but “How can we develop a sustainable resource engine to drive superior performance of our mission – not just money to pay the bills, but also time, emotional commitment, hands, hearts and minds?” Building that resource engine depends on mastering the next secret.

Secret #5. Build momentum for your brand. In the social sector, one of the great mistakes is to accept restricted funds to provide services that pull you away from your central mission. No single program can build a great social sector organization. Only excellence at delivering on the mission over time can do that.  Success builds success. The cycle is like pushing a flywheel that carries the organization forward: 1) Build your brand, 2) attract believers who have time and/or money, 3) build the strength of the organization with the right people doing the right work and, finally, 4) demonstrate results by gathering data about how you are making a difference and communicating it to the right audiences.  Do these things, day in and day out, year in and year out, and you will succeed.

All the great social sector leaders I know have these qualities of conscious choice, mission focus, discipline and the ability to get people to follow you because they believe in you and what you want.

Strategic planning is a common activity in most organizations, of course.  Despite its ubiquity, it is often not effective in getting the results desired. I have been wondering why that is.  Two things about leadership come to mind: 1) failure of vision clarity and 2) failure to both lead and manage implementation of the plan. This post is about the first failure.

Vision clarity is the ability to describe in detail the world you want to create in say two to three years. What will be different in the way the “mission critical” work gets done? What will be different in terms of how decisions are made and how both power and accountability are distributed? These questions need to drive the leader and everyone reporting directly to the leader. Too often, broad outcome measures are stated in the vision. For instance, “We will ncrease market share” or “We will mprove quality or profitability” might be part of the vision without a clear idea of what things would look like if those were actually obtained.  Vision statements are often used as bumper stickers and that’s okay. That is not enough, however. There should also be a detailed shared “story” behind that vision statement that will give everyone a clear idea of what we aspire to as an organization.

One way to get to that vision is through timed writing. Have your team write for 20 minutes on the following topic:

“It’s one (or two)years from today and you are pleased and proud of the progress our organization has made in fulfilling its mission. Signs of progress are everywhere as you look around.  Describe in as much detail as you can what you see. Be specific about what people inside and outside the organization are thinking, saying and doing differently. How are people working together differently? What can you point to that is proof that we are making progress?”

Writing for 20 minutes is hard but necessary, even if you have to write, “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say…”.  The more you write, the deeper you go as one image leads to another unlocking aspirations for the future in tangible ways.

Next, have each person on your team read what they have written to the group. It takes about two minutes to read what it takes 20 minutes to write. Now look for common themes and combine the best of the vision descriptions in a way that speaks to your group. That collective vision helps ensure that the group is aligned and builds energy to achieve a vision that will energize and engage others.  If you have that, it is much easier to identify strategic goals to close the gap between where you are now and your preferred future.

Where does your motivation come from? When faced with leading a team working on something important, where does your attention tend to go?   Take this poll see where your motivation for action comes from. There is no right answer to the poll. But, understanding this aspect of your personal style can help you be a better leader by building on your strengths.  Read on to see how accurately your response described your leadership style.

How responses reflect leadership style:

a) Having goals is motivating. I set goals and tell my team to “Go for it!”

If this was your choice, chances are you need clear goals to stay motivated.  Your leadership style will be based on achievement and the challenge of “climbing the next mountain”. You are good at managing priorities and expect those who work for you to do the same.  You need to keep moving forward and sometimes get frustrated when others point out the problems or difficulties that lie in the way.  You also need to be careful of losing motivation when major goals are achieved.  Once you reached a certain level of success, you may find that your attention wanders until you can identify another challenge to tackle.  Notice how hard it is for sports teams to repeat after winning a championship.  Once players have that ring, they don’t feel as hungry.  With your goal-oriented leadership style it will be important to find and communicate new challenges for you and the members of your team that share this preference. You will also need to be aware that some of your team may have different motivational styles like those below. You will need to adjust your approach when trying to motivate people who are not like you.

b) Success requires anticipating problems. I tell my team, “Get it right the first time.”

If this was your answer, your leadership style may reflect your natural motivation to avoid what is unwanted rather than attain a goal.  You like solvng problems or preventing them. You may tend to be more analytical and less likely to encourage taking what you see as unnecessary risks. Your style will stress planning ahead to avoid problems (like going over budget or missing a deadline) and your teams will be seen as being counted on to deliver when it matters.  Your style may conflict with others who think you are slowing things down. Still, you are as committed to achieving goals as anyone. You know that goals helps prevent having your team become distracted or disorganized. If you were a football coach, you would stress that championships are won by the team that makes the fewest mistakes.  You will need to be careful about demotivating your team by not noticing the things they are doing right.  Some of your team may need to set and achieve their own goals to stay motivated.

c) I am all about results. I tell my team, “An 80% solution today is better than a 100% solution tomorrow.”

If this answer appealed to you, you may find yourself in the middle between the two answers above.  You are goal oriented and mindful of the dangers of the pursuit of perfection.  You are motivated by getting what you want (like hitting a production target) and avoiding what you don’t want (like having to work on the weekend).  As a leader you are likely seen as practical and realistic in gettng the job done. The message you send to your team is to get to an 80% solution quickly because waiting to get that last 20% can often mean that nothing gets accomplished or it will be accomplished too late to matter.  In many fields (such as product design) being first to market is a critical advantage. You will need to take care not to give the impression that you  tolerate mediocrity however.

Reflecting on this one aspect of your leadership style – motivation – can give you insights into how to get more out of yourself and your team.  Notice that certain professions or activities tend to attract certain kinds of leaders.  Software start-ups often are led by goal-oriented visionaries while medical professionals are all about preventing or curing disease.  What types of leaders do you think do best in sales or in quality control? Think about your own style and the kind of work you do.  How can you use that knowledge to be more effective?

Note: To learn more see “Words that Change Minds – Mastering the Language of Influence” by Shelle Rose Charvet.