Countless leadership authors encourage leaders to be inspiring, visionary, and brave. Followers are attracted to these powerful and charismatic leaders like moths to a flame. That is hardly surprising: Who can, after all, resist a hero?
Interestingly, the image of a leader painted by these authors seems to lack common human emotions. Nowhere do I see fear, reluctance to lead, or insecurity. The leader knows he was born to lead. The leader knows she will be followed.
Or does she?
Enters Katniss Aberdeen, the heroin of the Hunger Games series. Katniss had no intention to lead. As she told President Snow in a moving scene from Mockingjay: "I only wanted to save my sister and keep Peeta alive" (if you know nothing about the Hunger Games Trilogy, you may catch up in this brief summary).
So why then does Katniss lead? As I reflected on the answer, I came across three clips. In the first, we hear about the origins of the "Mockingjay" (a mutant bird who imitates human sounds, a symbolic pin Katniss wore early in the series for protection).
The second clip requires an introduction, especially if you are not familiar with Suzanne Collins' books. When the leaders of District 13 ask Katniss to help inspire the revolutionaries, they plan a series of propaganda clips (called "propos"). Katniss tries to recite inspiring words written by someone else. The result is a total disaster, as fake and empty as the set. Watch as Katniss' friend and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, explains the problem.
Finally, Katniss is allowed to go to the front lines. She talks to the revolutionaries, witnesses their pain first hand. Fueled by anger and passion, she delivers an inspiring and game changing speech, warning President Snow: "If we burn, you burn with us!" (watch the final official trailer, with a brief clip of this speech).
The story of Katniss is not one of charisma or vision. Instead, Katniss becomes a leader through a powerful combination of survival and protective instincts, passion, and, above all, authenticity. Katniss can only be a leader when she is allowed to be real.
Perhaps most of these leadership books have it wrong. One can't really "learn to be a leader." Leaders are as different as the people who follow them or the causes for which they fight. Instead, we should focus on helping leaders find their core. Their passion. Their cause. Their personal Mockingjay.
What is yours?
Last week a friend posted on Facebook a beautiful "Flash Mob" video. A group of students from the vocal group Academia da Voz (Voice Academy) performed an impromptu rendition of "Somebody to love" at a university in the state of São Paulo, Brasil. Watch the video below. It will make you smile!
The video got me thinking about collaboration and community building lessons we can learn from flash mobs.
Total Immersion: Flash mobs don't take place in sterile stages, isolated from the audience. Performers are right there where the action is, unafraid to recruit new members and train them "on the spot."
Joy: Flash mobs are often joyful events, a beautiful culmination of hard work and preparation. Performers work for free, as a gift to the audience. Just look at the faces of the performers in the "Somebody to Love" video - they seem to be having an amazing time.
Collaboration: Flash mobs are no different than any other perfectly executed team project. The main job of each team member is to make other members "look good."
Planned improvisation: Something as beautiful as this "Somebody to Love" performance is the result of hard work. I can only imagine the number of rehearsals and planning sessions to get the performance just right! Flash mob participants, however, must be ready to improvise. After all, they will be performing in a public place, coping with the unpredictable reactions of the public. The whole experience reminds me of teaching advice I received from colleagues from University of Minnesota once - "Plan like crazy, then let it go!"
Courage: It takes courage to perform unannounced and unexpected. What if someone doesn't like the performance? What if someone is just busy and feels like the performance is an inconvenience? Flash mob performers ignore what ifs. They just do it.
What does all this have to do with community building? Well, first, one does not build a community from a sterile place. One must be willing to engage with community members, interacting with people in their natural settings. Joy is a critical ingredient - I can't imagine growing a community without a sense of energy, excitement, and pure fun. Collaboration and planned improvisation are vital for founders and early members, who must work together in the background to make things happen. Then, collaboration becomes critically important as the community grows. Finally, courage is an invaluable final ingredient. Everyone must be ready to take risks, tolerate some level of failure, and move forward when things don't work.
What are your own best practices for building a community?
In the young adult movie "The Maze Runner" a group of young boys are sent to a place surrounded by a mysterious "Maze." The Maze is impenetrable, dangerous, and populated by "Grievers" (robotic beasts). As the protagonist - Thomas - finds out early on, no one can leave this prison - or enter the Maze. Watch this clip, when Thomas is introduced to the Maze.
Now - Thomas' prison is not that bad - that is, it's not that bad as far as prisons go. It works. The boys have learned to cooperate and trust one another. They grow their food and have shelter. They may hate their imprisonment, but they are alive. And then - as you can imagine - Thomas tries to convince them to leave. He is strongly opposed by another boy - Gally. Gally plays the role of the staus quo keeper, rule protector, efficiency manager. Gally desperately wants things to be as they were.
I wonder when we are Gally. We try so badly to keep things as they are that we fail to see that we live in a ticking bomb. We see rules as sacrosanct and fear anarchy is we ignore them for good cause. We become guardians of someone else's ideas, defenders of policies that used to make sense and no longer do. We think we're defending the organization - and could, instead, help destroy it.
What do you think? Can you find other parallels between leadership and The Maze Runner?
Recently I distributed a survey to the members of HRCI Voices - a LinkedIn group for those certified by the HRCI or interested in procuring a certification. The group currently has about 5,600 members and is growing rapidly (only a few months ago there were approximately 1,700 members!).
I included in the survey the following main open-ended questions:
In general, participants seemed supportive of both the HRCI and the HRCI certifications, expressing their willingness to maintain and promote their existing certifications. Many were highly critical of and disappointed with the SHRM move to create a new certification process. Several urged the HR community not to "jump on the bandwagon" of the SHRM certification just because it's free and easy.
As far as what the HRCI can do for its community, members asked for more communications, transparency (many want to know exactly what happened), and, in particular, support for recertification activities. Members asked the HRCI to connect to providers of educational activities and share information on learning opportunities. There were also various calls for the HRCI to support local HR chapters by pre-certifying their events and requests that the HRCI focus on speed and quality of service.
What do you think? Would you add anything to these findings?
A preliminary summary of the findings is included below.
Take yourself back to the days in which you were offered your most important jobs. How did you feel? You were likely excited and hopeful, happy to have the opportunity to prove your own worth. You may also have been determined to not repeat any past mistakes or political faux pas.
For most of us, the first day at a new job may include a complex array of emotions - enthusiasm and fear, confidence mixed with a nagging feeling of "oh boy, what did I get myself into?" It is unlikely, however, that you would start a new job disengaged.
Engagement - a close connection between who we are and what we do - involves three main components: physical, cognitive, and emotional engagement.
Now, consider the following consequences of the above definitions:
Unfortunately, "stuff happens" at work. Maybe you were given more to do than you could handle. Maybe your energy was drained by lack of resources, excessive demands, and confusing requests. Maybe it felt unsafe to be you at work - you may have faced the pressure to pretend to act or feel like someone else. Finally, maybe you simply discovered that your job did not match your interests or capabilities.
My question today is: When did you become disengaged ... and why? Perhaps if we could understand the sources of disengagement, we could:
When did you lose "the light in your eyes"? Can you tell us about it?
A disclaimer: You may want to share experiences from days gone by, rather than your current experiences - remember that anything posted online tends to stay there.
The newly released Disney movie "Maleficent" is another must see - yes, even for you who don't have young kids. Actually, the beautiful symbolism of the movie might be totally lost on children - this is a movie for grownups to enjoy. Watch the trailer below.
Warning: Spoiler alert - if you don't want to know anything about the movie yet, go watch it first, then come back to this blog. I won't tell anyone the ending, though.
In this new take on the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent was once a beautiful fairy who loved flying over her beloved moors. She also loved Stephen, whom she had met as a boy. Young Stephen, however, had powerful ambitions. He wanted to become king. When the dying king promised the crown to whomever slayed "the winged creature" Stephen took his chances. He attracted Maleficent to his side, pretended to love her, and clipped her wings. Thus, when Maleficent issued her powerful curse on Stephen's child, she was acting out of revenge and bitter grief.
Aurora grew up to become a sweet teenager, beloved by all. Watch the clip below, when Aurora tells Maleficent how she sees her.
I won't say more so as not to spoil the movie experience for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Instead, I'll address the "two Maleficents": The evil and powerful fairy whom everyone fears and the loving protector Aurora sees. Who is the "real" Maleficent? The villain or the hero?
Arguably, both - and there lies the beauty of the movie. Maleficent reminds us that leaders are not all good or all evil. Instead, leaders could be molded by love and grief, support and hostility, excitement and disappointment.
This "human quality" of leaders has three interesting implications.
First, no amount of "development" will trump the complexity of human nature. The same leader could be a hero to some and a villain to others. Good and evil may lie "on the eye of the beholder."
Second, the good of a leader may depend - at least in part - on others. Like young Aurora, some followers may have the power to transform villains into heroes.
Are you planning a leadership development process for your organization? Then consider this. Maleficent did not become a better leader after completing a 360 assessment or participating in a leadership training workshop. She did not hire an executive coach. She simply had the gift of a follower who loved her.
Remember the followers. They are leaders too.
Don't you hate it when two organizations you respect and enjoy are on opposite sides of the fence - and you feel that you have to "take sides"? I suppose this is one of those times.
I do respect SHRM. In particular, I have had wonderful experiences with members of the Iowa SHRM Council Board and the Central Iowa SHRM.
Over the last few years, however, (in my capacity as Director of Certification for the Iowa SHRM State Council) I have worked closely with the HRCI. I have become acquainted with their work and with the seriousness of their efforts. So yes - I am saddened (and considerably surprised) by the national SHRM's move to create its own certification. Here are my reasons:
Call me old fashioned but I like the idea of a "separation of powers" between those who develop and maintain a certification exam and those whose business model includes preparing candidates or providing recertification credits. Here is why:
SHRM has not yet shared with its members a strong enough reason to justify such a major shock to the system. Confused candidates or certified professionals may stop trusting the certification process in general, regardless of who offers it.
Do SHRM's hopes for a "competency based" test convince me? Not yet - at least not until I receive more in-depth information. The word "competency," after all, involves a complex combination of skills, traits, attitudes, and knowledge. Is SHRM really going to test competencies? Or just knowledge of competencies? I guess we'll need to wait and see, but a truly valid and reliable competency based test is extremely hard to build. SHRM might need to incorporate in the testing processes the review of real work products (an analysis of portfolios, perhaps?), and other time consuming (and likely costly) methods.
SHRM is our association - we, the members, should have a say in something as important as the launch of a new professional certification. Instead, SHRM chapters have been operating in the dark, working hard to promote the current certifications to employers and candidates. Frankly, I feel betrayed.
So here is my message to the national SHRM. You play a valuable role to your members and to the HR field. Right now, however, you are sharing a poor example of strategic planning, communication, and cooperation. HR professionals should be able to play nicely in the sandbox.
I wonder if these competencies will appear in the new certification exam?
An important "postscript": I plan to keep my SPHR certification, which I very much value. I'm proud of this certification and grateful for all the doors it opened for me in the HR community.
For the record, I do not plan to seek the new SHRM certification. In fact, the idea of "transferring" a certification (something SHRM has suggested) makes absolutely no sense (perhaps it only makes sense in the minds of marketing colleagues). Do I plan to obtain further HRCI certifications? Absolutely - GPHR is next on my plans, as soon as I take care of tenure requirements at my university.
I guess it comes with the territory. If you teach leadership, conduct research on leadership development, and "breathe" leadership materials, you start seeing beautiful examples of leadership everywhere. So today I thought I'd start a new "theme" for my blog: I will bring in 100 examples of great leadership from various movies or TV shows.
My first choice is "Dead Poet Society" - a brilliant 1989 Peter Weir movie with Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, and Ethan Hawke. If you haven't seen this movie, you should rush to rent it (or better still, purchase it for your library - this one is a keeper!)
Here is a brief synopsis: John Keating (Robin Williams) is a charismatic teacher in an all-boys school. Keating encourages the boys to live fully, enjoy literature and art, make their lives extraordinary. Watch as he tells the boys to "seize the day":
Mr. Keating's methods are unusual - for instance, in order to inspire the boys to use a different perspective, he tells them to step on his table.
Yes, Mr. Keating is an inspiring "once in a lifetime" leader - but he's not the one I pick as my first leadership example. After all, not everyone can be that exciting, original, or simply brilliant. Mr. Keating is one of a kind.
I invite you to meet a different kind of leader. This person does not need extraordinary gifts or charisma. All he or she needs is courage. I'm talking about Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), a shy young boy who would probably be overlooked by any high-po seeker or recruiter.
Returning to the story: Ultimately, Mr. Keating is "too much" for the school establishment - too strong, too original, too out of the box. The school administration uses him as a scapegoat and fires him.
In this final scene, Todd Anderson leads his classmates in a final goodbye to honor his teacher. Watch as Anderson "grabs" his leadership moment.
In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz explains that leadership is not who you are - it's what you do. And leadership, Heifetz continues, is not even what you do all the time. It's what you do when you must motivate people too confront change.
Some people (Mr. Keating, perhaps) find leadership natural. They grab it as easily as they breathe. These people lead because people naturally look up to them, follow their steps, ask for inspiration.
That's great - we need these folks. But these are not the only people we need. We also need those of us who are not brilliant, natural leaders. We need us to seize the day, grab the moment. The moment to make lives extraordinary. Not our own, really - but others'.
We have a lot to learn from Todd Anderson.
Simple is good. At least that's the message we get from countless KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) recommendations we receive over our life times. Complexity is time consuming, ergo bad. Give me an A+B=C solution and I'll praise your knowledge and efficiency.
I suppose. Except that when it comes to ethics things are far from simple. First, take a look at psychologist James Rest's* "Four Component Model." All four components are necessary if one is to behave morally.
It's possible to get stuck in one of the components. First, we may be blind to the ethical dimensions of a situation (moral sensitivity). We may believe, for instance, that the issue is "just a business one" or is too simple to be considered "moral." Second, we may recognize the morality of the situation but not have the ethical tools to identify the "right answer" (moral judgment). Third, we may know what the "right answer" is but may be unwilling to follow it (moral motivation). Finally, we may be willing to do the right thing but be unable to do so at the last minute (moral behavior).
The next question, therefore, is: What makes us more or less able to go through the four components of morality? Now we turn to the work of Thomas Jones**. Dr. Jones suggested that all four of Rest's components are related to the moral intensity of a situation. In order to estimate the intensity of a situation, we must consider:
According to Jones, we are not likely to pay attention to situations of low moral intensity. For instance, if an employee believes that something has very low consequences and those consequences are very disperse, he/she is unlikely to activate any thoughts of morality. As an example, a person who would ordinarily never steal (not even from a complete stranger) could make a long distance phone call on the company's dime, take home a block of postits from the office supply cabinet or simply fail to focus on work tasks while at work. A normally ethical CEO might ignore the likely but very far way (200 years from now?) environmental impact of current organizational policies.
Why does this matter? Let me offer a few possible implications of ethical complexity:
So, after reading this, tell me: Is simple really good?
I'd love to hear your thoughts: What ethics interventions have you either experienced or implemented in your organization? How have they worked?
* Rest, J. R., & ez, D. N. (1994). Moral development in the professions: Psychology and applied ethics. Psychology Press.
** Jones, T. M. (1991). Ethical decision making by individuals in organizations: An issue-contingent model. Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 366–395.
*** Tenbrunsel, A., & Messick, D. (2004). Ethical fading: The role of self-deception in unethical behavior. Social Justice Research, 17(2), 223–236. doi:10.1023/B:SORE.0000027411.35832.53
Lately I have dedicated considerable time and effort to a study on impartiality and ethical decision making among HR professionals. The data for the study were collected a little while back with one of my then graduate students, Tim Kozitza. I'm currently working on the data analysis with my brother, Professor Carlos de-Mello-e-Souza, from Seattle University. The purpose of the study is to investigate two main questions:
As I write the first question, I can already hear my readers' "duh" response. Of course, you'll say, people are likely to favor their friends. Next question please.
Not so fast. First, the sample will include HR professionals only - we plan to eliminate from the sample participants who do not work in the field of HR. Most HR professionals will agree that "fairness" is an important value in the profession - you are expected to treat employees impartially and in accordance to organizational policy. For instance, the SHRM Code of Ethics states that HR professionals should "develop, administer, and advocate policies and procedures that foster fair, consistent, and equitable treatment for all." Second, the sample includes a large number of individuals with managerial responsibilities - and managers are also expected to be fair and equitable in the allocation of resources and application of organizational policies (we will be reviewing the data to see the impact of managerial role). Third, the dilemma proposed in the survey was a professional one. It did not involve outside friends, family, etc. One might expect "fairness" to be a more important motivation in the world of work than in one's social interactions.
The second question, however, is undoubtedly the most interesting one. Clearly, not everyone is likely to favor the friend. We are exploring variables such as personality traits, gender, and managerial status as we review the data.
Before I see the final results, though, I'm spending some time reflecting on the limits of impartiality. Yes, we advocate for it. We insist that we are capable of it. When push comes to shove, however, how impartial are we really? For instance:
In other words: When we think of "impartiality" we often think of big and clear decisions. The true test of impartiality, however, could lie in the little ones. These little decisions, however, might matter. They might make a difference between someone's success or failure.
What do you think? Can you bring examples of moments in which you favor those you love in the little things? What is the impact of your own partiality? What solutions might you offer?
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.