effectiveness, Leadership, Learning, Sample Tools, vision, visual mapping

Not necessarily digital

I was told last evening to keep my presentation short. In other words, the fewer words the better. I knew that there was an overly-tight agenda.  I had doodled a few words in the morning but I didn’t know if there would be a projector. So rather than taking the time to create a slideshow, I used the photocopier.

If I were more confident I would draw this while speaking. Doing it this way though means that people have a take-away. The principle is that what we remember what we see better than what we hear. This is the doodle and an approximation of the script:


It’s the year 2020.  The leaders have a vision.  They see us with 225 people in the parish church every Sunday (compared to 150 now) a balanced budget  about $150,000 higher – and the place full of people.   They went to our parent body over here on the right. (I held up a copy of the full proposal)  The diocese has similar goals and they have money to help.  So they did – the carrot is money for new staff. We will expand from one-full time and two-half-time people to three full-time and two half-time.  That’s a big jump in a single year.  The stick is accountability.  That comes with a coach who guides us for the seven years.  He helped us clarify what we want to do – which is to:

  • Have more members
  • Have more money
  • Make our parishioners disciples who reach out –  and by their example welcome and nourish others. That’s our mission.

Our next budget reflects these goals along with a road map for 2014.  The road map, called a work plan, describes what to do, who does it and when.Each goal has its own swim lane.  We report to the coach every quarter.  The last doodle bottom right is the org chart. (I held the real one up). It shows all the key players.  You are on the edge supporting the inner circle along with your working groups.  I’ve attached a sample of the 2013 work plan so you can see how it’s laid out.  We’re still improving the one for 2014. I’ll send it to you in digital format to save paper.

Even though I couldn’t spell accountability correctly, the points got made – in 273 words.  While this is a specific context, you can adapt the pattern to your own needs.  Try a word count on a typical written report and compare. It’s not what you write or say that matters,  The real test is whether anyone hears, reads, gets it or remembers.

character, Edwin Friedman, effectiveness, Leadership, purpose

Empathetic leadership?

The need for empathy has been voiced repeatedly in recent leadership literature.  So it is always interesting to have an alternative view.  I came on one recently that struck a chord based on recent experience, where I had to exercise leadership in chairing a volunteer board.

The view is that of Edwin Friedman, an ordained Jewish rabbi and family therapist, As a founder of a Jewish congregation in Washington DC he was also an advisor to many other congregations, both Jewish and Christian. His penetrating and often humorous observations cuts through much of management and leadership jargon and he appears to preach what he practises.  A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix was originally published in 1997 and has been recently republished with commentary by some of his adherents.

Friedman observes that empathy is a surprisingly new word – not even appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary published in 1931.  Sympathy, on the other hand has a 450 year track record and compassion goes back to 1340. Friedman sees empathy as an example of the herding instinct that characterizes 20th century anxiety. He notes that saying this is probably going to have him immediately accused of heresy.

He notes that being caring and sympathetic is an essential component of leadership and at times is an appropriate response.  What he questions is whether feeling the pain of others at an intense level makes them more responsible or actually allows them to victimize the entire group.  His whole book is addressed to parents and presidents in a rather candid way of suggesting what our response has an effect no matter what the level.

Some of this rings true for me. I found that an entire board became overly involved in the pain of a new project in a way that ultimately affected both the continuing organization and the project in a negative way. The board as a whole was accused of being dysfunctional when one might have wondered whether all members were equally willing to take responsibility. Those who had more resources became the focus of giving by the other component. What happened is that those asking became better at taking. While everyone was willing to admit that the new project was immature, we seemed to fall into the trap of immaturity among the individuals including myself to focus on empathy rather than on responsibility.

And that would be Friedman’s prescription in such as situation. One can’t change others.  One can only take responsibility for one’s self.  As a leader one may then be accused of all kinds of things, including a lack of empathy. It is taking responsibility for the direction in which things are going that is the real role. Ultimately it is about personal integrity. Friedman calls this the non-anxious presence.  It means not being held hostage by those who do not support the over arching vision – and at the same time not checking out. but staying in touch.  More on this to come.