Tag Archives: leadership

Reading Notes: The Powers to Lead Ch. 3

Powers to lead

Leadership Types and Skills

We often describe leaders in terms of charisma, but this is difficult to pin down as a cause of success. Leaders are often called “charismatic” only when they are doing well. Charisma is more about the followers-when they are looking for dynamic change they will follow someone who articulates that change well, and in that moment the leader is called charismatic. Then one of two things can happen- either the leader maintains focused on her own vision or she remains focused on listening to and reflecting the changing vision of the group. The first path can get tyrranical and disastrous.

This leads us to the difference between transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leaders focus on the mechanics of getting things done, and transformational leaders focus on the moving towards a broader vision that is empowering for the group.

Transformational leadership requires a couple of skills:

Emotional Intelligence: is about understanding one’s own emotions and having empathy for others. This is vital for the listening and communicating that leaders need to do.

Communication: both broadly to groups and in small conversations. This is largely about rhetorical skills, but it’s also about the ability to put together a good narrative.

Vision: The ability of the leader to clearly articulate the a solution to the needs of the group. Visions which lose touch with these needs, or with the feasibility of a solution, can be problematic.

Organizational Skills: This is about the day-to-day of task management, but more importantly it is about the design of information flows and decisionmaking processes within an organization. 

Machiavellian Political Intelligence: The set of political skills required to build coalitions to achieve a vision. This can be about Machiavellian bullying so long as the end game is the goal and not the assertion of hierarchy. It can also be about an in-depth, intuitive map of the stakeholders who influence an outcome and their leverage points.

Ultimatley, leaders need to understand how to combine the above skills to fit their situation. In order to develope leadership ability, one must both hone the above skills and learn to utilize them strategically.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reading Notes: Beyond Leadership Ch. 2-4

Warren Bennis, Jadis Parik, Ronnie Lessem

There is an old paradigm of static-state, intellectually driven leadership that needs to change. The book offers a new paradigm which balances self-management, integrative thinking, and a sense of constant change.

Discussion about a monolithic “old paradigm” is a huge turn-off for me, because it sets up a blatantly false dichotomy. This book constructs this dichotomy and then gives it weight by talking about the crises of the day, though doesn’t do a good job of saying what these crises have to do with the paradigms in question. I should be wary of doing this with paradigms, like sustainability, that I believe in.

The new paradygm is about

  • Thinking in open systems rather than static states–  accepting that the world is highly interconnected and constantly changing. Leaders should be able to change their viewpoints constantly, rather than getting invested in a particular view of the world. This directly contradicts what the book says later about visions!
  • Having the flexibility to think from a diverse range of viewpoints– and therefore to bridge cultural and other cognitive divides. This seems like it’s about listening more than open-minded imagination, though the text doesn’t address that directly.
  • Seeing the interrelatedness of everythingBuddhist, but not practical from a managerial standpoint. Which connections do you focus on given limited time?
  • Increasing shared abundance– A positive standpoint that’s contrasted with the scarcity of traditional economics.
  • Accepting diverse data inputs– This seems to be about technology, the book is from the early days of the internet.


In order to effectively work with organizations, one must first learn to manage oneself. This is about focusing on integration points- places where your skill, your passion, and organizational needs intersect (and, ideally, broader social needs intersect.) Focusing on these areas allows one to maintain a positive, vision driven outlook. The book doesn’t talk about how to ignore things that aren’t in that narrow area of intersection but still demand attention, which is probably the chief complaint of the problem-swamped person. I would say that it’s about seeing how those problems integrate with the broader vision and prioritizing them accordingly.

One key way to reduce stress and focus on these integration points is detached involvement.

Detached Involvement

Detached involvement is about building and maintaining the relationships that do work in a group, rather than taking direct responsibility for that work yourself. To do this you take on a variety of roles:

  • Focalizer– establishing or nurturing a sense of purpose which creates a sense of shared value in the group.
  • Facilitator– creating a structure of communication which allows those relationships to grow and function smoothly.
  • Synergizer- integrating relationships within the group with the goals and sources of value in the broader organization.
  • Co-creator-when it comes to the actual work, contribute by example as one among equals. 

There’s a bit in there about letting go of the ego that reminds me of my own thinking around focusing on relationships as a source of meaning rather than on self, but it’s hard to understand b/c it’s in the language of their paradigm and not that concretely grounded.

Visionary Leadership

Leaders need to establish and visions, “goals which beckon” for the organization. These visions create a shared sense of empowerment which the org can then self-organize around.

Creating a good vision involves paying attention to:

  • The Past– in order to avoid past pitfalls and to understand long-term trends that a vision can harness.
  • The Present– in order to understand the desires of the people who need to accept the vision, the feasible long-term opportunities that could empower those people.
  • The Future- through projection of trends in the past and present, a vision should articulate an attainable, empowering version of the future. There should be lots of room for those who are to become invested in the vision to fill in their own details.

I like the listening and reflecting version of vision creation a lot more. This book puts a lot more cognitive burden on the leader to weigh the different opportunities, come up with a magical solution and convince the group to love it. It seems like a leader should establish a process for the group to do that, not try to do it herself. This will create a more grounded vision and will help with buyin. Appreciative inquiry processes, followed by iterative positive focusing (“what is most exciting to you about this right now?”) seems like it can accomplish this in a group.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reading Notes:Bringing Science to the Art of Coaching

Jack Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett

Coaching is a new phenominon to hae seriously talked about in the corporate world, so we don’t know much about is scientifically yet. We can look at related fields to get some good practices though:

Does coaching matter?

A review of 360 degree evaluations says that is does. Coaching is directly related to employee satisfaction and inversly related to employee’s thoughts about quitting. Thinking about quitting is the second biggest predictor of whether someone will quit, right behind announcing a resignation.

What makes coaching effective?

Coaching is more effective if you:

  1. Let the coachee choose the topic of discussion
  2. Ask for feedback at the end

This can be a little overwhelming for the coachee, because they may not know what they want to talk about. Giving them a list of topics and asking them to choose the most relevant is a good way to get around this.

Also, coaching, like good interviewing, should focus on specific narratives rather than general ideas- specific, grounded questions are best. Using this questions coaching sessions should go like this:

  1. Frame what you’re going to talk about (with the coachee’s guidance)
  2. Understand where the coachee is now
  3. Explore where the coachee wants to be
  4. Lay out a plan to get there

This spells FUEL, because corporate types like jets and cars and whatnot.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reading Notes:Developing Sustainable Leaders Through Coaching and Compassion

Power (in the traditional sense) stresses people out, but being a coach lets you relax and recouperate.

Side note:Leadership is about effectively using the power that you’ve got. (In the Einstein v. Lincoln scenario, Einstein was a leader because he got people to consider and accept his ideas, which many smart people can’t do.)

Sources of Stress

  • Leadership almost always involves situations where you are accountable for something you can’t completely control.
  • Leaders have to put the needs of the group above their needs.

This stress is good in the short term becuase it helps people get things done. In the long term is suppresses the immunse system and imparis the body’s ability repair itself, leading to burnout.


Throughout history, coaching and mentorship have been an important part of leadership development. There are benefits for the coach, not just the coachee.

Coaching=”“helping others in their intentional change process (i.e., achieving their dreams or aspirations or changing the way they think, feel, and act)” Note: this is about the individual, NOT their job description or what use they might be to the organization. If you do that then you wind up playing politics for them, but not really listening to what they want and need.

The key here is compassion:

  • empathy or understanding the feelings of others; 
  • caring for the other person (e.g., affiliative arousal); and 
  •  willingness to act in response to the person’s feelings

Compassion activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which basically does the opposite of stress. Immune system is boosted, everything relaxes. “The effects evoke a mild sense of euphoria and well-being, similar to the sense of hope associated with thought patterns predominating in part in the LPFC.”

This also stops Leaders from being self-focused, (from identifying unhealthily with their organization’s performance.) Compassion for others gives them a reason to be other than their role in the group and the worldview that supports it, which allows for vitally flexible thinking.

If leaders try to coach too much, or coach people in a lot of pain, then compassion can switch from being healing to stressful. This is called “compassion fatigue.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reading Notes:Powers to Lead Chapter 1

Joseph S. Nye

It looks like this book will focus on “soft leadership,” less authoratarian and more deliberative. This is called “feminine” for some reason. Feminist might be a more accurate term, but is it necessary to bring it up here?

Peaking at the end: The conclusion is about how leaders need both “hard” and “soft” leadership skills, and how the point of reading books and taking leadership classes is to know how to listen to your gut.

Seriously though guys..

Do leaders matter?

According to Nye, probably a lot less than we think they do. Leaders are a way for us to imagine we have more control over the world than we really do. By blaming or praising leaders we can imagine that we understand complicated systems that those leaders in fact have relatively little impact on.

Several studies have looked at how much leaders matter and found that it depends on the industry and largely depends on the team structure in which those leaders operate. In general though, team structure is more important than who’s in charge.

Most studies of leadership have been in institutions. Less institutional leaders (like Ghandi and King) operate in a different and less understood world.

How much is it just about context?

Leadership happens two ways. Either it’s event-based, where leaders are just in the right place at the right time, or it’s tranformation-based, where leaders make something happen. A brief historical overview reveals a pattern: most leaders get power from being in the right place at the right time. Once they have it, the things that they do with it can be transformational.

How much is it about alpha males?

Really? Males? Nye clearly does not know the lesbians that I know….

Visionary, authoritarian leaders can be good, but only if there are community structures to keep them in check.

The word for leadership comes from greek for “General.” Culturally, leadership ideals are derived from military victors (a pretty good case is made for this being at least one of several archetypes.) We like to call these people “alpha males,” under the idea that we’re genetically programmed to follow the big strong guy/gal. 

At some point someone bothered to go look at primate culture and found that, surprise, there isn’t  just one. Primate cultures vary widely across species (and elsehow?) in the ways that they think about leadership. Hunter gatherers too (what is WITH our anthropological obsession with surviving hunter gatherers? NOT helpful.

Despite that diversity (and here Nye makes a weak transition) it seems like for most of human history leadership transitioned fluidly around groups, there wasn’t an “alpha male.” While DNA matters, leadership is much more about the particular structures that a group uses to confer power.

What makes a leader? Einstein v. Lincoln

Both Einstein and Lincoln were leaders, but different types. People followed Einstein’s ideas, but he never actually led people. (He even turned down the presidency of Isreal.)

Einstein had ideas that people followed, but he didn’t understand how to effectively operate in and motivate groups. Lincoln did. Similarly, celebrities are popular and inspiring to groups, but unless they can turn that energy into action they’re not leaders.

Function: Leaders create meaning and goals, reinforce gorup identity and cohesion, provide order and mobilize collective work. Usually these responsibilities are shared across a group.

Studies of Leadership

  • Trait Centered theories dominated until the ’40s. These were about what traits made a leader.
  • Style approach was in vogue until the 60’s. This was about how leaders interacted with others.
  • Contingency was around until the 80’s. Broke leadership up into decision trees.
  • Now is charisma and transformational leadership, but the book will get to that later.

Leadership is studied through surveys, classroom experiments, historical analyses and through the internet (where there are good records.) All of these have severe limitations.

How is leadership learned?

It’s largely about direct experience, which gives you skills and instincts. Analysis, knowing how to break down and understand a situation, lets you know how to direct that instinct. That’s what this class/book will do.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized