The Values of a Leader

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.” – Yogi Berra, n.d.

In the short-term, a common purpose can motivate a team of people to accomplish a set of tasks toward a specific goal, but legacy-grade change can only come from a group bonded by shared values. These values can supersede any differences in strategic policies and can unite, for example, entire countries. “Values strengthen the whole fabric of leadership;” even through external conflicts and internal strife, these values can help to “sustain the mobilization and deepen the empowerment of followers” (Burns, 2007, p. 212).

Accounting principles are based on values such as accuracy, integrity, and independence. The maintenance of these values is critical to preserving our professional reputation for character and competency. This reputation is held industry-wide and when one notable failure or lapse in judgement occurs, the public tends to blame the entire profession.

As a leader, it is important to identify your own set of values. Not only will it keep you accountable, but will also help streamline decision-making when a dilemma is encountered.

Brian Stevenson, in his fight for justice, is an example of someone motivated by his values, and the team around him is an illustration of a group united by those values. He values justice and acts on that value by fighting for those suffering from injustice. If his sole goal was the justice of a single person, then his leadership would be short-lived and the change ineffective. As it is, however, he has been a catalyst for great change within the American justice system. Values trump an individual or a single instance–they are long-lasting and broadly accepted, creating a strong basis for unity between a leader and among followers. (Stevenson, 2015)


References

  1. Berra, Yogi. (n.d.). Yogi in 13 great leadership quotes. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/lee-colan/13-great-leadership-quotes.html
  2. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. Spiegel & Grau.

What You Want

“No one is afraid of Caesar himself, but he is afraid of death, exile, loss of property, prison, disfranchisement. Nor does anyone love Caesar himself, unless in some way Caesar is a person of great merit; but we love wealth, a tribuneship, a praetorship, a consulship. When we love and hate and fear these things, it needs must be that those who control them are masters over us” (Epictetus in Burns, 2007, p. 196).

Pascal (in Burns, 2007) defined power as “the possession of things that men want.” Whether that be resources, notoriety, or freedom from punishment, whoever holds these objects of desire holds power over those who want them. A ruler might have power to coerce subjects to do his will because he has control over the satisfaction of their physical needs, but there is a limit to the power of coercion. Followers have their own set of wants and needs that, when they go unfulfilled by their leadership, cause a conflict of resources and motivate people to protest.

In a normal leader-follower relationship, both sides have their own motivations and resources which balance each other out (Burns, 2007). “The more that the interplay of motives, rather than brute physical power, dominates the relationship, the more the ruler is acting as a leader and the subjects are acting as empowered followers, as citizens” (Burns, 2007, p. 196).

In the workplace, the company offers an employee some variation of stability, income, purpose, and comradeship. Each employee might be motivated by a difference resource offered and when their need either changes or is no longer being satisfied, then they are motivated to leave the company. In a company with toxic leadership, an employee might be coerced to perform unethically because they need the resources which leadership is offering. If the cognitive dissonance becomes strong enough, then the employee’s motivation to leave will overpower their motivation to stay for the resources.

In my own leadership roles, I hope to remember that “power is a gift to the powerful by those over whom the power may be exercised, who recognize the power as legitimate” (Burns, 2007, p. 195). In other words, my leadership will only be made possible by the people who will have chosen to follow me.

I was reading about William Wilberforce this week, particularly about his campaign to reform the moral character of England, and I was impressed by the fact that he could change the actions of the aristocracy by “making goodness fashionable” (Pollock, 1996). He recognized their motivation to stay trendy and ‘with the times,’ so he changed the definition of what was fashionable. The success of this endeavor proved that influencing the attitudes and desires of people is often more powerful than the enactment of a law (Goodwin, 2006).

Coercion will only get a ruler so far. A healthy balance between motivations and resources, along with the acknowledgement that the leader is only in power by the consent of the followers, will allow for a strong position of leadership.

 


References

  1. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Goodwin, D. K. (2006). Team of rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  3. Pollock, John. (1996) “A man who changed his times” in Character counts: Leadership qualities in Washington, Wilberforce, Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn. Os Guinness (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

 

The Burns Paradox

Which came first–the leader or the follower?

In Burns (2007), a paradox between leader and follower is introduced and discussed. This paradox is based on the premise that occasionally (but more often than we might think), the roles of “follower” and “leader” could be reversed. Especially depending on the context of each situation, a leader in one area of life might find themselves a dutiful follower in another (Burns, 2007, p. 171).

The question is posed: “how do we distinguish conceptually between leaders and followers?” To personalize this question, perhaps we can think of instances in our own lives when we’ve played the role of ‘leader’ for one group–perhaps as a parent or older sibling at home–then we turned around and followed a leader of another group–perhaps our boss at work or a teacher. The distinction between these roles is clear, aided by a change in location and people. But what about a time when this distinction might be less apparent? Think, perhaps, of a military relationship between a private and a sergeant. There exists rigid hierarchical structure, to be sure. How often might these rigid roles become fluid in the heat of battle? (Burns, 2007)

Burns (2007), resolves this paradox in part by separating people with “unrealized wants [and] unexpressed attitudes” from those with “strong motivations to initiate action” on the other. By this definition, one person could very well be both a leader and a follower in any situation. Their leadership initiative would depend upon their natural motivations.

As a student employee, I can see this in action. Even though I am at the bottom of the totem pole within the organization, I am still making an impact in students’ lives through the decisions I make. I still manage to lead my coworkers to a small extent by encouraging them to engage in office-wide activities or by giving constructive feedback to my supervisors. My passion is the creating of community, so I express leadership through my initiation of activities that would promote community–even while I follow the job-specific leadership of my superiors.

These experiences have led me to realize how vital the flow of information and relations is between a leader and their followers. Komives (2012) examines what is necessary for an organization to experience transformative change. It starts with an individual understanding of the purpose behind organizational decisions (Komives, 2012).

She makes the point that “when leadership is not done in secret and imposed upon followers but is a collaborative and empowering process between leaders and followers, the organization can accomplish more than ever thought possible” (Komives, 2012, p.106). In such an organization, the commitment of each individual follower to organizational goals makes each of them a leader on some level.


References

  1. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Komives, Susan R.; Wagner, Wendy (2012-06-14). Leadership for a Better World: Understanding the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Creative Generosity

What conditions do we set for our own generosity?

Only if I get something in return. Only when I know they will be responsible with the gift. Only if it isn’t inconvenient for myself or my family. I’ll give money, but I don’t have any spare time to donate.

Keller (2010) quotes Psalm 41:1 which says ““Blessed is the man who considers the poor.” Translating the word “considers” from Hebrew carries a sense of “sustained attention.” In other words, not just a ‘hand-out peace-out’ kind of generosity, but a genuine care for those in unfortunate circumstances. This generosity calls for discernment, but not judgement. We are to be good stewards of the resources we’ve been placed in charge of, but we must obey the Master’s wishes in regards to the distribution of His resources.

There are plenty of passages throughout the Bible that speak to generosity and justice for the poor. A familiar verse is Luke 14:13-14, “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” Considering that Jesus equates Himself with the hungry, the stranger, the sick, and the imprisoned as objects of our generosity, then if we are to minister to Him, we can do it by comforting His creatures (Matthew 25).

Yet, we ask, exactly how much should we be giving? C.S. Lewis (1960) had something to say about generosity in his book, Mere Christianity. He advised,

“If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them” (Lewis, 1960).

Remembering what Jesus went through to save our souls, I think we ought to be willing to suffer even more than just inconvenience when He asks it of us in order to care for the poor.


References

  1. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Keller, Timothy (2010-11-02). Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  3. Lewis, C. S. (1960). Mere Christianity, rev. ed.

Here’s the Rub

Here’s the rub… the more we have, the more we seem to need. People express a continuum of needs from drinking water on one hand to a Maserati on the other. Who is to say when on the continuum these needs become illegitimate? “Needs are social,” claims Burns (2007). “The conflict over their legitimacy, their meaning, their extent, their satisfaction, take political form” (Burns, 2007). We see this in the world whenever one person or group of people dictate the level of another person or group’s need satisfaction (church charity, government aid, etc.).

In my reading this week, Burns (2007) compares Rousseau and Marx’s philosophies on wants and needs, although he admits that even they hesitate to draw the line where wants should become socially-recognized needs. The chapter’s discussion did lead to a revelation about the nature of leadership. Burns (2007) says, “leadership has its origins in the responsiveness of leaders to followers’ wants, and in followers’ responsiveness to leaders’ articulation of needs, empowering both leaders and followers in the struggle for change.” In a way, we have a “chicken-and-the-egg” scenario between leadership and man’s needs.

Keller (2010) explores the idea of generosity by acknowledging the several commands of God to give. When we give, we are releasing our ‘needs’ in preference to others’ needs. For example, when we give someone our forgiveness and mercy, we are giving up our claim on revenge and justice.

In my field of work, I might find myself in a position to distribute corporate money in either the form of wages or charity. If I do, I will be evaluating peoples’ needs and, especially in the case of charity, defining the difference between someone else’s wants and needs. When I am in positions of leadership, I will also have to prioritize the needs and wants of those I lead.


References

  1. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Keller, Timothy (2010-11-02). Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As Iron Sharpens Iron

During the latter half of the 18th century, while the American colonies were vying for independence from the crown, England was also working on their governmental structure. Specifically, the virtues of a two-party system. England was wary at first of any sort of opposition to the status-quo, desiring stability over the right to oppose. Then Lord Bolingbroke and Edmond Burke came onto the scene and touted the benefits of opposing parties. Eventually, the political atmosphere reached a climax that allowed the parties to exist. (Burns, 2007)

When considering how to relate this tidbit from history to my major area of study (accounting), I thought of the connection between governmental and managerial leadership changes. In business as well as in politics, the ideas in power naturally don’t want to be challenged. This could be a company policy that some of the leadership views as unjust, or maybe a questionable business deal that isn’t being questioned. The right to oppose the status quo is essential to improving said status. It takes a leader willing to stick their neck out and challenge the institutional leadership in order to make a change for the better.

The Bible encourages challenge on a personal level when it teaches that “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). When driven by moral values and elevated principles, friendly opposition between peers will refine each to be the best that they can be (Burns, 2007).

In leadership roles, it is wise to question the norms. Good policies will only be purified from the interrogation while bad policies will be ‘perplexed’ (Burns, 2007, p. 124).


References

Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership (p. 125). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

When Food Reigns

Throughout history, access to food has been the driving force behind wars and revolutions. It is the primary and most urgent requirement of life. It was to be expected that before a farmer even harvested all his crop, either kings’ men or marauders would steal and plunder it away. Life consisted of subsisting off of whatever the land could provide or the  income could afford. “In the time of the [Reign of] Terror, hunger bred fear, not only about the next day’s food but the risk of nighttime theft, or the next day’s arrest— and possibly execution-— for hoarding” (Burns, 2007, p. 106).

For most of us today, this hand-to-mouth way of living is blessedly unfamiliar. Continue reading “When Food Reigns”

That Thing People Do…

I mean the act of “thinking of others.” We all do it. Walk past a person on the street who is shivering and hungry and think “Oh poor soul, who’s going to feed them?” Or, for the people who never walk on streets like that, when your friend has an upcoming birthday and you think “Ah, they would love this extravagant gift!” but when the special day comes, you realize that you haven’t left yourself time to make that thought a reality and they end up getting a gift card–if you have time to get to the store. It’s all forgiven, though, because it’s the thought that counts!

Good King Louis XVI also lived by that philosophy, just wanting to “do well by his people” (Burns, 2007, p. 100). History shows how that thought counted… In 1789, the 35th year of his reign, the bloody French Revolution began. I suppose three and a half decades of hierarchical privilege wasn’t long enough for him to make that thought a reality for his people. Continue reading “That Thing People Do…”

Virtuous Leadership

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that once a person is in a committed leadership position, the idea of transferring that power to an adversary, let alone a faithful disciple, is not pleasant. Yet we witness such peaceful transferences of power in America at every level of government. For centuries with rare exceptions, rulers have chosen to die before giving up power. What makes America so different?

It started with the example of a virtuous leader—George Washington. He had every opportunity to take advantage of this new republic and become its king. They offered the chance on a silver platter! Yet he refused on principle and it has influenced America’s leaders every generation since.

Washington acknowledged Continue reading “Virtuous Leadership”

Change Begins With Us

The story of Ferdinand de Lesseps was an inspiring read. The completion of the Suez canal began with his vision to literally change the world. Yet even his great passion for the project could not alone support the change he sought. First, he petitioned the government of England to back his venture. When that failed, he attempted to stir the emotions of society and foster popular support. When that failed, he struck out on his own and, with the blessing of an Egyptian official, sold shares to the public to fund the canal (Burns, 2003).

“Pulsifer shares the story of a wise monk who said:

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could have indeed changed the world (Komives, 2012, p.105).”

This monk recognized the impossibility for the average person to change the world without first Continue reading “Change Begins With Us”