The Courage to LEAD

The first task of a leader is to LEAD.

In this responsibility the leader ensures that every team member knows the reason their team exists in the organization, where the team is going, in general how to get there and how well he or she is progressing toward their vision. When standing up to provide a purpose and vision leaders often take a lot of shots from the peanut gallery – that is just part of the job.  However, when LEAD is done right it helps a leader to have the courage to stay true to their purpose and vision.

A great example of this occurred during this past graduation weekend.  Former Princeton University President William Bowen used his commencement speech at Haverford College outside Philadelphia to remind those in attendance of the purpose and mission of a university – and he did not mince his words. He was the speaker because the originally invited speaker, Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley had decided to withdraw under threat of protests from some students who disagreed with decisions made by the chancellor while at Berkeley.

Dr. Bowen had the courage to call out the students directly even though he was the speaker at their graduation; a role generally reserved for giving an inspirational message about going forth to change the world.  Dr. Bowen instead spoke from a bully pulpit and criticized the students as “immature” and “arrogant” as he talked about the purpose and vision of educational institutions in the world.  To this end, he said; “In my view, they should have actually encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion.”  Simple and to the point – schools exist for the purpose of encouraging genuine discussion because that is how learning occurs.  His vision is that schools exist to teach students how to think, and not what to think and he nailed it.  That is LEAD and takes courage.

So, what do leaders DO when it comes to LEAD?

  • They make sure everyone understands the purpose of the team; why this work is important.
  • They provide a vision.  Letting everyone know in great detail what it means to be excellent.
  • They develop strategy. Helping team members understand the major paths to the finish line.
  • They provide feedback to the team in ways that encourage the hard work it takes to be excellent.

When you have really done this work in the depth that it takes to lead a team, you can be confident in your convictions and not let immaturity or arrogance knock you off your perch.

By the way:  Dr Bowen’s address drew a standing ovation.  Every leader should take encouragement from that – people respect leaders who LEAD.  LEAD on.

Photo by Jason Bache:

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