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7 Joys of Leading

| September 20, 2022

by Brian McDonald

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates.  Brian may be reached at [email protected].]
What is one of the joys you have experienced as a leader?

This Tuesday Reading is focused on the leader’s role and the rewarding times when you can step back to experience the joy that accompanies certain aspects of the role.

In asking some of my colleagues about the joys that can come with leading and filtering this through my own experiences, here are seven things a leader may do that can bring joy.

1. As Leaders We Have the View from the Top & Can Make Decisions That Matter

As a leader, whether of a project team or department or school, you can make decisions that matter. Seeing all aspects of the project or the organization and envisioning the possibilities, developing the vision, and creating the alignment can be incredibly energizing and rewarding.  Engaging people in discussion of the desired future state can be exciting, encouraging and make people optimistic about the future. Bringing this to fruition can bring an even greater sense of satisfaction and joy.
2. As Leaders We Are Able to Engage Others and Deliver the Needed Outcomes

As a friend and colleague Jack Wolfe shared, “Leaders are in the business of producing strategically impactful results, you can’t do this absent a vision, the main goals behind that vision, the path to achieve those goals, or the team at least reasonably aligned with those goals.  There is nothing like a big win to raise confidence, raise morale, and encourage a team to go on to bigger and better things.”

Another friend, Kathryn Ann Moler, the Dean of Research at Stanford who recently stepped back from being the Transitional Dean for the new Doerr School of Sustainability, shared: “the best thing is getting to enable a lot of wonderful people and feel that my investments of time, attention, and caring are so greatly amplified by the amazing academic community.”

3. As Leaders We Get to Mentor, Stretch and Develop Others

Everyone, when asked what brought you the most joy as a leader, responded that the best thing about being a leader is having a positive impact on the lives of others.  As one colleague shared, “Giving stretch opportunities and supporting staff with coaching and training, then watching them achieve more than they thought they could, is one of the most rewarding things about being a leader.” Another senior leader said, “it was taking the time to mentor individuals and teams to be better positioned to succeed personally and professionally.”   
Another person shared, “seeing people grow is a huge joy. Realizing people grow primarily via their expanded experiences on the job, you want to work with them to develop clear goals, give them the freedom to achieve those goals as they best see fit, and watch them develop the capability and the confidence.”
As we invest in developing leaders at MOR Associates, we take great joy in seeing people build new capabilities, develop increasing confidence, go on to do more great work, and in some cases move into more significant roles where they can have a bigger impact.
As Laura Patterson a colleague at MOR shared, “Seeing the people who worked for me go on to become senior leaders at other universities was very rewarding and one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career.”
4. As Leaders We Too Are Learning & Growing Through These Experiences

Every new strategic opportunity, new challenge, new role, or new responsibility can lead to continued growth for us as leaders. Leaders who have a growth mindset are purposefully engaged in tackling new opportunities and learning from these experiences. MOR suggests people take the time to pause and reflect on these experiences to ensure they are picking up on the insights that can be gleaned from both successes as well as failures.
As John Dewey, the philosopher and educational reformer said, “we don’t learn from our experiences; we learn from reflecting upon these experiences.”
Each time MOR Associates launches a new cohort of leaders we share up front that we look forward to learning and growing with you. There remains much to be learned from the many participants, as well as from the cohort, as they become a supportive leadership community invested in each other’s success on this journey.
5. As Leaders We Position the Organization to Be Successful in the Future

By investing in the development of other leaders, we are ensuring the future of the organizations we steward during our time in these roles. As a colleague and friend Tim Slottow shared, “The institution will always depend on its future leaders to steward institutional success. No matter how much positive impact I had on an institution in my tenure, the future is truly dependent upon the next set of leaders.” 
6. As Leaders We Address Issues of Equity and Other Systemic Challenges

Leaders can address what may be long standing issues pertaining to pay inequities or how processes such as recruitment, interviewing and hiring are done. As Mark Askren another MOR colleague shared, “one of the joys in leading was the ability to take action to reconcile historical practices that had created some inequities over time.”
7. As Leaders We Create an Environment Where People Can Lead from Anywhere

Having worked with hundreds of very different organizations over the past four decades, it was painful to see top down, autocratic cultures where people were told “just do your job.” The people who came to work wanting to contribute new ideas or better ways to do the work weren’t respected for their initiative and felt stifled.
On the other hand, helping develop the leadership approach and the environment where people can lead from anywhere is not only core to MOR’s mission, it is the most rewarding opportunity I have encountered over these past forty years. To paraphrase a George Bernard Shaw quote, “this is the true joy in life, being committed to a purpose recognized as a mighty one.”


This Week’s Survey

Next week we will conclude this series of articles with the 7 Joys of leading from where you are in the organization.  What’s your greatest joy in leading from where you are?  Please enter that joy in this form.  Your input will be used to help shape next week’s article.


From Last Week
Last week we asked: Which of these seven truths do you feel is the hardest part of leadership?

35% said Being Bound by Decisions or Direction You Didn’t Choose
26% said Terminating Anyone’s Employment
12% said People Who Don’t Agree and Criticize the Decisions or You
12% said You Can’t Right All the Wrongs
9% said Making Difficult Decisions
4% said Delivering Bad News
2% said Meeting People Where They Are versus Where You Are

There was a lot of agreement across our responses, with over 1 in 3 of us saying the hardest part of leadership is being bound by decisions or direction we didn’t choose.  This is especially difficult when we strongly disagree with the direction yet need to get aligned in helping bring it about.  The other top response was over 1 in 4 of us identifying terminating a person’s role as the hardest thing we have to do.  In each of these cases, while we may be carrying out part of a broader vision, the immediate impacts can be especially challenging to work through.  We’ll address in a future Tuesday Reading how we as leaders can work through the hard things given these challenges.