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Advice for Those Called to Leadership

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In this week’s CBS Money Watch blog post,  I refer to one of the most important aspects of leadership: that people feel a call to it, in the same way people report a sense of calling to the clergy, to teaching, or to helping the less fortunate.  It comes down to a phrase attributed to Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

If you think of leadership and those words resonate with you, here’s what should you do.

First, and most important, surround yourself with people who will not allow your ego to go wild.  Have them read this blog post and give them permission to kick you in the leg (metaphorically) if they see you taken over by your ego.

Second, immediately read (or listen to) the chapter in Tribal Leadership on “the epiphany.”  It’s chapter 7  in the book version , and in the abridged audio version.  (The audiobook is free.)  There is some technical information you need about this common leadership experience, and also some reflection that is necessary.

Despite what bad advice you may have heard, ego is not transcended, overcome, caged, prayed away, or integrated.  It’s not a cancer, and it’s not evil.  It’s part of every adult’s being, and it has a purpose.  Like any other part of ourselves—our intellect, our passions, our deepest yearnings—it can be overfed.  A person whose ego is in charge falls into a pit of blindness, when everyone around them can see they’ve become possessed by their self-obsession, but the person can’t see that.

Third, get in a tribe of people who, like you, are called to leadership, and busy doing good in the world.  Doing good can be running an organization, leading a social movement, or even leading themselves.  For those few executives who are also called to leadership, you might consider applying for a program Mark Taylor and I are going to start next month.

Fourth, focus on your values, not on the goodies that you may have as a result of leading.  Your values are your touchstone, your decision-making guides, and they will not fail you as long as you are true to them.

I wish leadership were not associated with power, money, and fame.  It would make this line of work much easier.  But the point is: leaders are public people, by definition.  If they are in certain parts of the economy, they are well paid.  If that becomes the reason for continuing to lead, you’ve fallen into the pit of blindness.  And, without your sight working, you won’t see what’s happened until it’s too late.

If you are reading this blog, you, like me, have to deal with the blindness that comes with the dark side aspects of leadership. Continue to follow your values and seek the insight of others, and you will continue to thrive as a leader.

Have you heard the call of leadership? If so, I hope that you’ll share your experiences below.

About the Author

Dave LoganAs Co-founder and Senior Partner, Dave’s job is to connect people to members of the CultureSync tribe and then get out of the way. That’s a long way of saying he doesn’t do any actual work, other than consulting, writing, giving keynotes, or hiding from everyone at CultureSync by teaching at the USC Marshall School of Business, where he’s been loitering since 1996. When people try to make him sound credible, they say things like New York Times #1 author of four books, consultant to three dozen Fortune 500 companies, and PhD in organizational communication from the Annenberg School at USC.View all posts by Dave Logan →

  • Katrina

    Dave, really insightful writing and timely. Some organizations today expect everyone to be a ‘leader’ which I admittedly question because what I saw happening was people all of a sudden feeling under valued and trying to become something for which they weren’t ‘called’.

    On the other hand, I also believe there are quiet or stealth leaders – those for whom power, money & fame are anathema to their view of leadership, those who’s names aren’t marquee names at a global, national or even local public level per se. I believe that these leaders have chosen to ‘do good’ in a smaller sphere because they reject power, money & fame.

    My uncle Monte comes to mind. Uncle Monte was a decorated Korean & Vietnam veteran. After his time in the service he settled in the small community in Kentucky where he was born and raised. He was a key influencer & leader in bringing emergency dispatch & 911 service to that county. I’d wager that everyone over the age of 21 in that county knew Uncle Monte. He certainly didn’t do what he did for power, money or fame but because he saw too many people he loved (people from his home town) suffering because they couldn’t get emergency care in a timely fashion.

    Thanks again for the thought provoking questions.

  • Mihkel Oja

    Thank you.

  • Nolcha Fox

    Thank you very much for your insightful article. I wasn’t called to leadership so much as dropped into it kicking and screaming. In retrospect, I was probably the only one in my team dumb enough to take on the challenge because it was the only way to make things better. Do you have any words of wisdom for reluctant leaders?

  • http://www.rightbraindiscovery.com Connie Chesner

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you for a wonderful post to CBS and also for this follow-up blog. Your presentation and approach to the idea of a “call” resonates quite strongly with my life experiences. In many cases, I find “I can’t help myself” and despite the drawbacks I encounter at times, I must forge ahead and lead. I think this came to full fruition as a driving force for me when I first volunteered to take on the Presidency of my Homeowner’s Association. I’d done this type of leading throughout my life, but this was the first time I jumped on knowing I’d encounter no pay, long hours, endless streams of problems and complaining from owners and renters, and more. Yet, I’ve served in the role happily for 9 years now, taking pride in the way I’ve transformed the budget, the projects, the sustainability of our community. Even if I dropped off the Board itself, I would likely find myself taking actions to volunteer and help out on projects or problems. I always seem to be that person unafraid to take on the head role and shore up spirits and motivation.

    My understanding was further solidified when the opportunity to start my own consulting company came in 2009 and I could see almost no other path outside of taking the reigns. I’ve never looked back and am thrilled at where I’m headed. Somehow, working for others, even founding departments and spearheading projects was still restricting for who I felt I really wanted to be; how I wanted to express my identity to the world.

    Which leads me to a question that your postings brought to mind and to which I believe you will have unique insights to share. Your book (and Chapter 7 you recommend) appears to deal with folks in organizations who are called to leadership. Yet, leaders exist outside of organizations too, in the world of entrepreneurs and business owners. To me, these are very different roles and challenges. As an entrepreneur and owner, my business savvy and leadership can drive forward, but without the corporate parameters those in organizations face my horizons can overwhelm (or energize).

    As one consultant and business founder to another, can you share with me a few thoughts on how leaders in these less structured roles might differ from those within corporate structures and what support factors they might consider to engage?

    With Thanks and Appreciation,
    Connie

  • Drew Walker

    Grat posting David,

    Refreshing and broad brushed approach.
    I agree that true leadership is a calling.
    Making the world a better place, forging ahead with a vision, an idea, a goal of magnanimous intent, a capacity to encourage, coach, draws forth a deep concience amongst those around you and beyond, are very special feeling.
    I have been connected on two occaisions. Once during my education and once professionally.

    Working “with” a great leader or realising your own leadership potential are both extremes of the holy grail.

    I certainly look forward to finding the inspirational leader who inspires me.
    There are lots of “bosses” around, but few true leaders.

  • http://www.franchise-info.ca Michael Webster

    Dave, interesting point. Many people feel that they are called, but few really are. Survivorship bias is always going select for those leaders who feel they were called.

    I have devised a small test – a simple training exercise- to see if you can lead and create a group if many people don’t believe that the group will form, and so doesn’t.

    http://www.franchise-info.ca/cooperative_relations/2011/08/are-you-an-effective-team-leader.html

  • http://www.culturesync.net Dave Logan

    Everyone, thanks for the great comments. To Michael, this test is really fun! To Connie, leadership doesn’t require formal authority, meaning it can function even across organizations, or when no organizations exist.

    Thank you all for giving so much reflection to this topic.

  • Steve Wilson

    Thanks Dave for a great article and the advice. I don’t know if I’m necessarily called to leadership (need to watch that ego) – but definitely to action. And a willingness to take action often results in leadership opportunities – people will follow someone with a vision and a plan. I often find myself internally responding to a need – either professionally or in my personal life – with “..if not me, who; if not now, when..”. Thanks again.

  • Allan Thompson

    Dave, I am in the end stages of a PhD in Leadership Studies; our librarian sent your column on ‘calling to leadership’ to us and after reading it, I want to say thanks for a column that resonated deeply. I’m one of those that answered a definite calling of the Lord at an early age and been grateful for it, to develop the next generation of servant leaders. I feel very strongly that a balanced leader should have character, competence, and calling (sounds like a preacher, I know). From a biblical basis I look at 1 Tim. 4.6-16 for that trio of concepts; from the world of science I recommend your readers grab a copy of Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence and become as fascinated as I was to see him describe how we are biologically wired to relate to each other, and read it in light of your column today. If everyone would realize how they are “wired” (for those of us that believe by a Creator, or otherwise) and just live in those strengths (sounds like Marcus Buckingham coming out) or their ‘calling’, I think it would be glorious.
    Thanks again for making my day and affirming my call.
    In His service,
    Allan

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