The Care and Feeding of the Heart: “Leaders, Leaders Everywhere, But are the Led Being Fed?” Part 4

downloadWelcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing chow, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race?

Before we get to today’s feast at The Training Table, “Leadership at the Coalface: How to Get ‘er Done.”, please remember the issues we’ve chewed on up until today:

Part 1—The heart of leadership; a leader’s fundamental principles and practices; the organizational culture is a reflection of an individual leader; and locating the heart of a leader by listening.

Part 2—The purpose, job #1 of leadership; a mode, model, and method for organizational effectiveness; the heart of the led: Why people come to work and how leadership can flourish the people and the business.

Part 3—It’s got to be “ME” down deep [way] before it’s “WE” at any depth; the freedom of leadership spiritual-emotional intelligence and development: “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36); the wellspring of knowing and loving self before leading and loving the led.

Today’s menu, Part 4—Today’s leadership is faced with leading a fatherless generation; therefore, a leader must aim be: a) An Articulator of Inner Events; b) A Man [or woman] of Compassion; and, c) A Contemplative Critic.

Leadership at the Coalface: How to Get ‘er Done. 

As a leadership coach and organizational effectiveness consultant, I had the greatest challenges and pleasure of doing business in the UK for a couple of years. The hard-working Brits had an unending supply of witty and gritty idioms and colloquialisms that I never tired of—as I was raised in a home of a dry, subtle, and wry sense of “British humor”.

One such idiom was “at the coalface”: A reference to the coal-dark face of a miner whose job required the real, dirty, ground level, roll-up-the-sleeves, and get-‘er-done reality and work of life.

Life experienced “at the coalface”—where the real and heart-rending challenges of living, thriving in a broken world as well as the joys of seeing God’s amazing grace along the journey—can often elude a leader who no longer cares to involve him or herself in the dirty and messy details of the business.

The rewards of leadership can oftentimes effect a leader’s perception of reality and self… Little-by-little, a leader can learn to be above it all… which is downright dangerous. In fact, I would venture to say that the vast majority of leadership in any realm or type of organization has lost touch with “the reality at the coalface”.

Rather than just the talking, planning, white-boarding, and theorizing about the business, lasting and life-changing leaders selflessly invest a significant amount of their time, talent, and treasure “at the coalface”:

Hands-on in the plants; talking to key customers; observing the end-user customer at the local store level; brainstorming with R&D; attending key customer focus group sessions; challenging HR to continually improve employee satisfaction while recognizing and rewarding Core Values; visiting with “the little guy”; meeting with business partners… AND ALL ALONG THE WAY being intentional about thanking all of these stakeholder entities for helping the organization achieve the Vision / Mission!

That’s worth repeating: LEADERS… ALL ALONG THE WAY are intentional about recognizing and thanking all stakeholder entities for uniquely helping the organization achieve the Vision / Mission!

Leaders: The Heart of the Matter is About Touching Hearts!

A “Level 5 Leader” (Collins) will naturally, intentionally make sure he or she addresses a stakeholder audience [might be 1 person, might be 500] by pointing out how their contribution—no matter how little or big—is helping the organization achieve the Vision / Mission… between 15-20 times per month.

Visionary leaders communicate at the coalface…

[Receptionist] “Donna, I love the way you answer the phone when anyone calls our main number! Every time you treat a caller in such a polite and helpful way you help us succeed in achieving our mission of “One Team, One Dream”. Thank you!”

[Grain plant manger] “Buster, the condition of these well-worn conveyor belts and grain elevators is just immaculate! Not only are you helping us keep our safety rating near zero, but you’re contributing to the success in achieving our vision “First Choice of Customers Everywhere” as well. Thank you!”

[Investment team] “Team, your fund and picks are performing at the top, top of the market. Great job! Not only are you making our group look great at corporate, but you’re contributing to the success in achieving our vision “#1 for Relationships and Return” as well. Thank you!”

[Athletic director] “Hank, the programs in the district look really strong this year: There are some winning records and some very admirable character and sportsmanship awards on the horizon. You’re making a real contribution to the success in achieving our mission “Vision, Victory and Values”. Thank you!”

[Line manager] “Maryanne, your line is now the benchmark for zero defects and teamwork scores. That’s fantastic! You’re helping the entire plant raise bar while also making a real contribution to the success in achieving our vision “Measureable Excellence Everywhere”. Thank you!”

[Pastor of spiritual formation and discipleship] “Vince, the content and enthusiasm you’ve influenced in the program is revolutionizing how the congregants view and steward their faith. Not only have we come so far in making disciples in the past few years, but you have contributed so much to helping us achieve our mission of “Saints. Sanctification. Service.” as well. Thank you!”

A real, live, long-lasting, and transformational leader must try and get out of bed each day with a far deeper measure of wisdom and volition concerning what he or she faces in the world today.

“Leaders, Leaders Everywhere, But are the Led Being Fed?” 

The Problems are Deep: Leadership Must Go Deeper!

The title of this series at The Training Table is a play on words originating in a poem that may be familiar to many of you, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Even though the poem in its entirety is wouldn’t be familiar to many, one famous line has become a colloquialism about an apparent abundance of something that is, in reality, sorely scant, unfit, or unusable.

The famous line is, “Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” And, even though the analogy I hope to draw about leadership may not always be a popular one to hear, I hope that it might inspire a few folks in leadership positions.

There is a leader in everyone who has an influence on another person; and it’s critical that everyone leads in some way, shape or form. But some of you have a disproportionate amount of leadership influence and responsibility. This message is meant primarily for you.

This message is meant for leaders who resonate with the sort of definition of leadership that John Gardner describes:

“Leaders do not invent or manufacture motivation. They unlock what is there, awaken what is dormant, and tap hidden reserves. It is one of the tasks of leaders to ensure the continuous renewal of the systems over which they preside. The release of human possibilities is one of the most basic of social objectives and leadership goals.”

Can you see the depth and breadth of leadership focus and people-centeredness that is required to “…unlock what is there, awaken what is dormant, and tap hidden reserves”? Do you know in the deepest recesses of your heart what “the possibilities of human possibilities” really amounts to?

When did we play a dirge upon hearing of the demise
of generational wisdom?

The main message of Coleridge’s classic poem is one we sorely need to hear today as leaders: The wisdom of the aged and experienced passed onto the youthfully naïve of the day.  Or not…

As a leadership coach and mentor, I have a passion for being a catalyst for encouraging visionary, self-aware, humble, bold, responsible, and celebratory leaders.

A grounded and great leader can significantly help save our rapidly decaying culture at large; but also the corporate culture of spiritually, emotionally and inspirationally under-fed and gaunt employees in every industry or organization there is.

Leaders are called to feed people who are starving for ways to use their unique gifts and talents and be recognized for contributing themselves toward the end of achieving the vision of their organization.

All of humanity is inspired to greatness by seeing themselves as contributors to achieving a great vision. Helen Keller, who was blind from birth, once said, “There is nothing more pitiable than people who can see, but have no vision.” Leaders recognize their steward of the Vision / Mission.

Most leaders have an entire pantry full of ways to feed their people… but don’t have the “heart-key” to open the storehouse—first for themselves! And so, the led starve for a sense of purpose while the leader wonders why creativity, productivity, innovation and joy languishes. Yes, far too many under-led employees are “dead men walking” because of leadership and inspirational malnourishment.

Like the Ancient Mariner who looked upon a sea of wisdom and hard-earned experience going unused on the youth of his day, far too few leaders of today call upon past leadership greatness as the model, method and means of their own leadership legacy. This takes purposefulness, humility, patience and constant feedback. The storehouse of leadership greatness of our past is largely going to waste, my friends.

Akin to countless tons of food sitting and rotting on the docks and storage containers of war-torn areas of the world, a leadership feast to feed the led is sitting unused because the transitory nature of the urgent over the important; a war of un-dealt-with emotions within the heart and spirit of leadership; and the immediate gratification and greed of our culture that tempts leaders from being all they could and should be for the led.

Borrowing from Henri Nouwen’s great book, “The Wounded Healer”, I will leave you three main things the leader of the future must closely consider.

A Heart-Hitting Context of Our Day
Allow me to also provide a major caveat to the points below: Henri Nouwen’s input [in quotes] for leaders of today is placed in the context of leaders leading a fatherless generation… Or two.

I know this articulation of a reality in which we live and must lead the led will set many of you back on your heels wondering what the blazes this has to do with anything—if you even believe it’s true.

Today we live in a fatherless generation or two desperately searching for a new kind of depth and authority. Don’t be simplistic: The many implications of being fatherless doesn’t only effect our youth, but “grown up kids…” adult leaders AND the led… as well.

The process and the symptoms of their “desperate seeking” can be pretty grim… We need leaders to lead in a very, very big and specific way TODAY.

[As an aside, there is a very good possibility that we are so far behind the curve of having “more fatherless leaders in the culture than fathered leaders”. If this is the case, it’s incredibly hard—E.g., only by divine intervention—to “bend the curve back to normalcy”: More fathered leaders than fatherless. But, for anyone in MY sphere of concern and/or influence, I’ll keep on trying to help “bend the curve back to normal”.]

Please hang in there, marathoners for Christ. The implications of what leadership should or could look like in a fatherless generation are very real; any denial of the situation will simply exacerbate the challenge of fostering great leadership while hardening one’s heart as the means of avoiding embracing the truth.

If you’re having difficulties seeing what the possibility of a fatherless generation has to do with the challenges of leadership, please drop me an e-mail and we’ll unpack it a bit. But don’t simply allow a “huh, interesting…”, “I’m too busy…”, “way over my head”, or “not my problem…” to suffice.

1) A leader is… An Articulator of Inner Events
Having a deep sense of self-awareness while living in the inner place of existential angst is the number one attribute of enduring leadership.

Having been there themselves, “leaders must be able to clarify the immense confusion which can arise when the people in their midst enter the place of their own internal world. As soon as leaders feel at home in their own house, discover the dark corners as well as the well-lit spots, the closed doors as well as the drafty rooms, the confusion begins to evaporate, our anxieties will diminish, and we will become capable of the creative work we are called to do.”

A key words in the leadership descriptor and process above are “self-discovery” and “articulation”. Do you know our own inner story well enough to share it with others with humility, boldness, creativity and laughter?

“The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself. But he is able to slowly and consistently remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit of shared humanness and creativity to enter in.”

Future leaders must first have the courage to be an explorer of the new territory in him/her self and to articulate his discoveries as a service to an inward-focused generation.

This is indeed the first feast of the heart of those whom all leaders are responsible for—in service of the led: An explorer and articulator of inner events.

2) A leader is… A Man of Compassion
“Through leadership compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that other men feel resides in our own hearts as well. That the cruelty the world knows all too well is rooted in our own impulses. Through compassion, we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friend’s eyes; and our hatred in their bitter mouths. When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we could have done the same.

For a compassionate leader, nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying. This sort of compassion has authority because it does not tolerate the pressures of the in-group, but breaks through the boundaries between languages and countries, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. This compassion pulls people away from the fearful clique into the large world where they can see that every human face is the face of a neighbor.”

As we chewed on the last we met at The Trading Table, leadership author Daniel Goleman (“Emotional Intelligence”) defines this sort of leadership compassion as, “Having first gained self-awareness, the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.”

Leadership empathy is a useful synonym. This principle and practice of compassion has immense authority in a fatherless generation!

3) A leader is… A Contemplative Critic
“A leader as a contemplative critic is a self-aware and compassionate articulator. He has the ability to reveal the first lines of a new world behind the veil of everyday life. This leader keeps a certain distance to prevent becoming absorbed in what is most urgent and what is most immediate. But that same distance allows the leader of the future to bring to the fore the real beauty of man and his world, which is always different, always fascinating, and always new.

The leader as contemplative critic can be a leader for a convulsive generation because he can break through the vicious circle and cycle of immediate needs asking for immediate satisfaction. He can direct the eyes of the led who want to look beyond their impulses, and steer their erratic energy into more creative channels.

The leader as contemplative critic is not needy or greedy for human contact and praise, but is guided by a vision of what he has seen beyond the trivial concerns of a possessive world. He does not bounce up and down with the fashions of the moment, because he is in contact with what is basic, central and ultimate.”

The leader as contemplative critic has a vision and he understands the sort of stewardship the Leader / Vision-Keeper is responsible for.

Committing to Engage in the Quest for Great Leadership

Let me say from the heart of my heart that I believe there are many potentially great leaders in our midst but, reflective of the culture at large, most are approaching their job as leader with, a) very little self-awareness and accountability as a leader, b) the wrong premise and priorities as a leader and, c) in a very shallow and overly simplistic fashion.

Most leaders of our day are nothing more than stewards of their own manifold and complicated emotional ambivalences, fears, and inadequacies. And this a full-time job that allows for little room to fulfill what leaders are hired to do: Execute the vision/mission of the organization.

I hope this message of remembrance, warning, exhortation and encouragement will challenge some leaders to Go Deeper!

I hope that many will see that the heart of leadership is a matter of the heart.

Finally, there are seven main responses that will course through your heart and spirit as you have read this Feast of the Heart delicacy about leadership. The seven responses are called “the seven D’s”.

Your heart (core beliefs) and spirit (emotions) will likely be vacillating between denial, doubt, discouragement, diversion, defeat, delay and delight.

Please note, my friends, that one word in the seven is the anomaly: Just like the sort of leadership our culture most needs—but has the potential of realizing with some work at a deeper level!

My deepest hope is that the unabated delight God takes in the leader as one who delights in getting down to the coalface often and is:

  • an articulator of inner events,
  • a man or woman of compassion, and
  • a contemplative critic… becomes your dominion, delight and leadership legacy starting “Today… (Psalm 95:7-8).

‘Till we meet at The Training Table again next week, chew, digest, ingest, and share with someone else who will care enough about you to help you change over time.


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