Friday, January 24, 2014

Reflections on leadership - Part 01

Today I would like to challenge you with a simple quiz.
Take a look at Figure 1 and before proceeding further with the reading, write on a piece of paper who the people represented in the images really are.

Figure 1.

I guess that you have been able to recognize almost everyone in the given pictures. I also guess that your piece of paper should look something like this
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Winston Churchill
  • Napoleone Bonaparte
  • Ernesto Guevara de la Serna
  • Gaio Giulio Cesare
  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Martin Luther King

Well, that is not what I meant. 
Having identified those people, having collected some personal data or biographical facts, it does not really say much about them. It does not really say much about who they really were. Their names are actually just the garments with which they crossed this world. What I mean is that all the people depicted in Figure 1, share a unique, common characteristic.

They all have been leaders.

They lived in distant countries and at different times, delocalized both geographically and temporally. Some of them have been good, some of them have been wicked, some of them have been an example to follow for all mankind, others an example that reminds how villainous and dangerous a human being can become.
Politicians, champions of civil rights, soldiers, warlords, adventurers, spiritual leaders, does not really matter.
What it does matter is that all of these people, at a time of their lives, have been able to move the collective conscience, have been able to make fall in love millions of people with their ideas and values.
Even today, despite none of these leaders is still alive, we are not indifferent to their presence. Their visions still animate our discussions; their deeds resonate in our minds, populating our dreams and our nightmares.

But then, what is this thing that we call leadership? What is this kind of black magic that seems to be emanating from some of us? How could it be defined, if human beings so different from each other can exert it with similar proficiency on other people?

I do not have the answer, and I guess nobody has one as well. Perhaps a more pragmatic approach lies not in defining leadership as such, but, following an approach similar to what you would normally do for the definition of mathematical models, identifying the characteristics that we believe are desirable.

Always behave in such a way that other people feel like sharing part of their life experiences with you
In 2012 I attended the Project Management Institute North America Global congress. On that occasion, also thanks to a talk held by James Kane and another one held by Marcus Buckingham, I started my
first reflections on leadership matter. In the latter talk I mentioned, Mr. Buckingham involved the audience in a very simple exercise, that I will propose you now. The exercise had been intended for other purpose but I think that could fit also in this line of thought that I am following. 
Imagine that your life is a company and that you have been given mandate to build from scratch the C-board. Write on a sheet of paper the names of the people that will take a seat in the C-board. Feel free to add as many people as you wish.
Many people add more than 8/10 people on their C-board. Most probable choices are close relatives (living or not), old friends, university professors that have given a meaning to your studies, mentors met while moving the first steps  In your career… it doesn’t really matter who you chose. What it does matter is that, again, all the people you added have something in common. All the people that you would like to have in our C-board have played a major role in some periods of your life. They have been extremely important people to you for some reason. As a consequence, being granted a place in someone else’s C-board is an overwhelming honor and a great responsibility. 
Always act in such a way that someone, one day, will grant you a seat in its C-board. If this will happen, it is a signal that you have been a good leader.

Live the message you spread
You have to be an example not only with your words but also with your acts. If you do not believe yourself in your message, whoever will? 
Pay attention, please. You are not allowed a single mistake regarding this aspect. You have to be the angular stone on which the project will be built. Your reliability and the consistency of your acts must be beyond any discussion.

Since we are looking for leadership characteristics and we talked about mathematical models, it seems reasonable to require some sort of transitivity for the properties described in the preceding two paragraphs.

Would you likely share part of your life experiences with this man/woman?
Consider as a true leader a man or a woman whom you would offer a seat on your C-board. Consider as a true leader a person that you would allow to take part in decision about your life, about your children’s future. If not you are probably following the wrong leader.

Spread the message you live
This is the only way to be always truthful and always consistent with yourself. Obviously you always have the due to improve yourself but you do not have to fake what you are not. One of those people in Figure 1 used to say “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. Guess who?

Take care of the message you spread
Do not let anyone, involuntarily or voluntarily, distort your message. Take care of it as if it were a child, with perseverance and love. It will be what will remain of you.

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