In earlier posts we covered Life-long Learning (L), Internal Locus of Control (I) and Fulfillment (F), which ultimately brings us to a fourth and final step in the Leadership Enrichment LIFE-cycle (LEL-c): EXCELLENCE. Nowhere else does our focus on becoming a better leader in relation to others become more important; for a couple of reasons.
First, it is extremely easy to forget or overlook our own intrinsic worth and value and thus to place too much reference on others in the wrong way (e.g., approval orientation) when it comes to our pursuit of excellence. Second, it is equally easy to lose perspective and place insufficient reference on others, forgetting that they are central and basic to moving upward and outward with passion, patience and perseverance to create or achieve something of value for and with others–the very etymology of leadership. So we’ll need to keep focus on ourselves and others as we enrich our leadership through the pursuit of excellence.
Embedded in the pursuit of excellence is the idea that Achievement yields to Leading in ways, and with means, never before available to us. And when I think of achievement, three primary contributors come to mind: Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty (Life Styles Inventory), Brian Tracy (Psychology of Achievement) and Dr. Jim Loehr (Mental Toughness). I’ve personally made investments in, and successfully reaped rewards from, each one over the years. Phenomenal works! And I still find myself referring back to them for refreshers.
But when it comes to measuring and tracking the development of achievement from personal thinking styles to group styles to organizational culture and effectiveness, there is nothing better than the Integrated Diagnostic System that Dr. Lafferty at Human Synergistics International® (HSI) created. Clay, as he was known by many, believed “personal [and organizational] effectiveness builds on achievement.” After years of research, he found that our thought-sequences in achievement (i.e., achievement-orientation) have a strong correlation with personal effectiveness. In fact, individuals who think in achievement-oriented terms are “…more effective, reach higher salary levels, experience less stress and physical illness, and are generally more respected by their peers as having accomplished something.” (Lafferty)
Perhaps the most significant contribution to my personal leadership development (and overall approach to elevating organizational leadership) were a handful of ideas about achievement that Dr. Lafferty shared in The Roots of Excellence, a 1987 video produced by HSI that truly changed things for me and the organizations I serve [exposition added]:
- Passion for Personal Excellence [not winning at all costs or perfection]
- Belief in Cause and Effect [the opposite of luck, fate, chance and magic]
- Belief in the Idea that Individual Efforts Count [self-set goal-getting, not just goal-setting]
- Moderate Risk Taking [small, incremental improvement; no stretch targets or BHAG’s – Big Hairy Audacious Goals]
- Desire and Design for Feedback [from others and the system, regardless of form or delivery]
This video is extremely rare and hard to obtain, since it is no longer being produced. So for anyone wanting to dig a little deeper, I’d refer you to my book: Real Leadership! Are You Ready? where I decompose and clarify each idea beginning on Page 79 under the section dedicated to achievement. For space, I’ll only expand on the first idea, Passion for Personal Excellence, by defining it as a healthy preoccupation with, or attachment to, the tough, uncompromising, never-ending struggle to do what is right in order to get better at whom we are and what we do. It is the antithesis of ignoring who we’ve allowed ourselves to become.
In the final analysis, achievement is about celebrating private victory before heralding public victory (Covey) and recognizing that humility comes before honor (Solomon), or as one man quipped: “Independence precedes interdependence.” In terms of Leadership Enrichment, excellence in achievement (a personal/ internal work) will ultimately produce achievement in excellence (an organizational/ external result).
No one understands this better than servant leaders. This particular type of leader recognizes that they are the subject of leadership while clearly maintaining a resolute focus on others as the object of leadership. They first attend to becoming better at who they are and only then focus on what they do for and with others. After all, one must first have in order to give, and this process of “giving themselves away” yields new opportunities to lead at levels never before available. Servant leadership also helps us maintain a proper perspective on ourselves and others in the pursuit of excellence. Here’s how it works.
Doing the right things the right way (e.g., extremely well) for others is the core of service, and it requires the heart of a servant. Being effective at doing the right things with others, however, as they opt-in voluntarily and begin to follow your lead, automatically introduces economies of scale, skill and scope which were previously not there, and this new achievement unleashes the potential for greater, more positive and long-term impact. This is the core of leadership, and it requires the heart of a leader. Together, the servant (for others) and leader (with others) powerfully combine to fully enable others to become Servants, and then give away the best versions of themselves as Leaders for and with others.
Servant leadership is based on what some have called the “follower principle”: Good Followers Make the Best Leaders. So goes one title of Michael McKinney’s LeadingBLOG posts. Michael writes: “There is no better way to learn leadership than by being under someone else—leading from the second chair. As ironic as that may sound, it’s true. Learning to lead under someone else provides you with the opportunity (the necessity) to learn to lead without coercion. You learn to let your leadership speak for itself—authentically.”
Taking this a step farther—though I’m not certain it was Michael’s original intent—there is an inextricable link/connection between Leader-Follower-Servant. Leaders serve! Servants follow! Followers lead! I also believe this works if stated a little differently: Leaders follow! Followers serve! Servants lead!
I believe that it is safe to say then, that there is no practical difference between leaders and servants; at least not when it comes to the kind and degree of sacrifice required to secure right and effective leadership and produce positive long-term results. Those who want their leadership to thrive and transform their organizations will sacrifice and serve.
Those who truly serve will be: (a) capable of leading, (b) appointed by others to lead and (c) recognized as having a positive impact on those around them. Those who don’t serve others as they pursue excellence may rapidly find themselves suffering the consequences that naturally occur when personal achievement becomes exclusively a matter of individual performance. Consider what John W. Gardner wrote on this particular challenge for America during the Industrial Revolution in EXCELLENCE: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too?: “It soon became apparent that emphasis on individual performance can be pushed to extremes; and we now know that there are hazards in such extremes. “Everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost” is a colorful saying but an unworkable model for social organization. No society has ever fully tested this manner of organizing human relationships—for the very good reason that any society which carried the principle to its logical conclusion would tear itself into pieces.”
Yes…we truly need to keep a proper focus on ourselves and on others as we enrich our leadership through the pursuit of excellence.