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Leaders Can Shape Events

| January 12, 2021

by Brian McDonald

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates.  Brian may be reached at [email protected].]
Four Leadership Competencies Are:
Management of Meaning
Management of Attention
Management of Trust
Management of Self

Warren Bennis
Why Leaders Fail

In Warren Bennis’s book Why Leaders Fail he proposes that leaders have an opportunity to manage attention as well as manage meaning. Leaders have the position and a platform they can use to influence what people focus on as well as what people think. This is both an opportunity and a responsibility.
As we reflect back on the violent invasion of the US Capitol Building, it is painfully evident that what leaders say and encourage has consequences. As many have stated and MOR teaches “words matter.” Words can encourage, words can engage, or words can enrage.  What we say matters whether we are the President of the United States or whether we are leading a team or talking with our children. The words we choose along with the tone and the timing have an impact.

A leader’s ultimate responsibility is to do the right thing both strategically and ethically to ensure the organization is positioned to be successful in a constantly evolving world.  A leader’s role is to develop and guide the strategy needed to ensure the value and well being of the organization entrusted to them. It is not enough to do the right things from a strategic perspective without also ensuring the enterprise is doing the right things from an ethical perspective.
On January 6 President Trump failed this leadership test. The President by his words encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol. This is not an issue of political party affiliation, but a leadership issue.  The President in his continued insistence that the election was stolen when all the evidence proves otherwise – promoting a lie – is an ethical violation of the leader’s responsibility. The President in his remarks for days leading up to the gathering with his supporters incited certain followers to believe that a violent reaction was in some way a patriotic response to his having lost an election. This surely was a sad day in our country’s history.
Yet the resiliency of our democratic institutions is heartening. Despite this regrettable attempt at an insurrection the Republic stands, a new President will be sworn into office in a week. We hope the country can move toward a time when the words we choose reflect more of a dialog than polarizing debates.  We look to our leaders across the political spectrum as well as our religious and social leaders to adopt a different tone and encouraging message.
There are so many opportunities to learn and to grow from last week’s events.  Some lessons we may want to reflect on:

  • Leaders are always on stage.
  • The words we use matter, the tone we adopt conveys a sentiment.
  • Leaders can focus attention while providing meaning.
  • What we say can encourage, engage or enrage.
  • A leader’s role is to do the right thing both strategically as well as ethically.
  • If we initiate, inquire and listen we can promote more dialog and increased insight.
  • As a result of inquiring and listening we can find more places where we align as opposed to where we disagree.

As you think about the people with whom you interact they may need to process what is happening in our country, both last week’s events as well as the past year’s.  Lean in and create the space for dialog.  Acknowledge and facilitate. 
We need to ask how people are doing and listen.