Saturday, December 29, 2007


Alain De Botton's Status Axiety caught my attention while I was browsing this week. Though I have not yet ordered the book, I did spend some time skimming through reviews. Claiming to understand Botton's thesis would be dishonest (since I did not read the book), but the reviews (and the sometimes helpful wikipedia) suggest that status anxiety results from our desire to be well-perceived by others. Our democratic and capitalist society not only allows us to buy our identities via the products we consume, but it also exacerbates status anxiety.

The implications of status issues for leaders are tremendous, especially regarding motives. Pursuing a leadership position so that I can pursue excellence is very different from pursuing a leadership position to improve how others perceive me. Leading by pursuing excellence for its own sake ennobles me, but leading for the sake of other's approval makes me a sycophant.

Frankly, in my roles as husband, father, teacher, and servant leader I need to spend less time worrying about how others perceive me and instead whole-heartedly pursue excellence for its own sake.

IDEA LEADER: How does the pursuit of status motivate you?

Photo: Shyle Zacharias

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How smart are you?

Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence asserts that IQ alone is not a predictor of success. While CEO's may be hired for their combination of business sense and IQ, they get fired because of failures in their emotional intelligence.

His claim makes sense. Anecdotally, as a teacher I find that my personal stresses are not related to the intellectual content of my courses, but rather the relational demands of classroom management, parent interactions, etc. (I'd also like to point out that I am very fortunate to work at a school with mutually supportive staff and appreciative parents, so those stresses are much less than what other teaching peers experience). And as far as a correlation between IQ and marital success, well I won't even go there.

So what is emotional intelligence? So far, Goleman's definition includes "being able . . . to rein in emotional impulse; to read another's innermost feelings; to handle relationships smoothly - as Aristotle put it, the rare skill 'to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way'" (xxiii).

Goleman's use of Aristotle reminds me of C. S. Lewis's definition of temperance: "going the right length and no further" (Mere Christianity, 2001, p. 78). So emotions per se are not the problem (Goleman also discusses beneficial physiological responses to emotions), but rather emotions that are allowed to exceed proper limits.

IDEA LEADER: In what areas do you have a hard time allowing your emotions to go "the right distance and no further"? What steps could you take to correct this?

Photo: Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is it better to be loved or feared?

I'm still reflecting on Chris Lowney this week, who points out the the chasm of opinion that separates Machiavelli (famous for his book The Prince) and Loyola (founder of the Jesuits). The question: "Is it better to be feared or loved?" Machiavelli believes that people are not to be trusted, so it is better to be feared. At the other end of the spectrum, Loyola wants to create a society based on "greater love than fear." So who is right?

Admittedly this is a false dichotomy. Both are right to a point. Yes, people are fickle. Yes, they will sometimes dissapoint you. However, my recent readings (outside of Lowney) suggest that organizations that utilize positive relationship skills are successful because (among other reasons) positive relationships do have power. Anecdotally, I've used both forms of management. Relying on fear was a depressing experience for me, and it certainly wasn't much fun for those I managed.

School teachers across the nation are currently struggling with what some diagnose as an epidemic of cheating. So how should we respond? Do we punish those who are caught cheating? Certainly. But consequences alone do not change culture (as pointed out by Yukl's discussion of coercive power in Leadership in Organizations). I suggest we not only have consequences for those guilty of cheating, but that those consequences include a restitutional element that is designed to repair the damaged relationships cheating can cause (if nothing else, a level of trust is broken). Additionally, I suggest we celebrate those students who choose not to cheat, and that we do all of this in the hopes of creating learning institutions that value love more than fear.

IDEA LEADER: Which does your leadership style utilize more - love or fear?

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I don't celebrate enough. That's one thing I've realized while reading The Leadership Challenge by Kouses and Posner. And though their advice to celebrate is not unique, it is worth heeding.

I tend to expect people to do what they are supposed to do without any notice. Though this makes sense logically, it does not work well emotionally. Let's face it: we live in a fallen world (and yes, I am writing from a Christian worldview at this point). One implication of that fallenness is that it is really hard to do the right thing over and over, day in and day out. So why not celebrate when people consistently do good?

Today my daughter went nearly the entire day without whining. That is a major accomplishment because (1) she was not feeling well and (2) she tends to whine a lot. When I realized her accomplishment this evening, I had two choices: (1) think to myself, "Finally! It's about time our emotions get some control," or (2) celebrate. I chose option 2 and gave her a nickel (when you're 6, a nickel is pretty cool).

IDEA LEADER: Do you celebrate minor successes or become disappointed by minor failures?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Heroic Leadership

Chris Lowney's Heroic Leadership occupies my reading time this week. Though I have not completed the book yet, its key ideas and historical survey make it worth recommending.

Lowney (a former Jesuit and later investment banker) affirms that everyone can be a leader. This is possible because a leader is not simply a person who commands a chain of followers, but rather someone who exerts a positive influence on other people. He then illustrates this thesis at work in the life of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), a religious order that has an over 400 year history.

Another reason that everyone can be a leader is that leadership begins with self-leadership. Lowney explains that the leaders who last are not necessarily the brightest, but rather those who first understand their strengths and their weaknesses and then take action on that knowledge.

Because I am a student of history and religion as well as leadership I find the book enjoyable, but I chiefly appreciate his decision to write a leadership text that challenges popular notions of leaders as masters and commanders.

To visit Lowney's website, click here.

IDEA LEADER: In what ways am I leading myself?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

You've Got Mail

Though email is supposed to make us more efficient, in reality it tends to consume a significant part of an already to-do-list-packed day. Like Frankenstein's monster, what once seemed to be a good idea has now turned on us. So how do you tame this monster?

Take a look at this article from Harvard Business School. I especially like the suggestion about summarizing the content of your message in the subject line.

Though I am not an executive who can create email rules for my workplace, I am able to apply these ideas to how I handle both work and personal email. The result: not only will I handle email better, but I will become a better communicator - and communication is a critical skill for both leaders and followers.

IDEA LEADER: How can you use email to make yourself a better communicator?

Saturday, November 24, 2007


When you face conflict, do you view it as an opportunity or a problem? Though that question may sound like a gross oversimplification, it contains a kernel of leadership truth. Leaders are solution-focused rather than problem-focused.

Please don't misunderstand. Leaders are not oblivious to problems. Jim Collins's both praised and maligned Good to Great explains that on the path to greatness, organizations must "confront the brutal facts." Yes, there really are some issues that finite human beings cannot solve directly, but there may be some creative ways around these problems, or even ways to utilize these problems for other successes.

This leadership truth is an empowering truth. Being problem-focused is draining, while being solution-focused is energizing. Yes, leaders have problems like everybody else, but how they view those problems is very different.

IDEA LEADER: Are you problem-focused or solution-focused?

Friday, November 16, 2007

You are what you read

Some people say the glass is half-full. I generally reply that not only is the glass half-empty, but it has a leak. My personality tends to be melancholy, yet I have noticed a growing optimism creeping into my worldview. What could have caused this?

Certainly it is possible that my growing energy (in spite of my full time work, husband, father, and PhD student responsibilities) comes from the joy of focused study (and yes, I really am that nerdy). However, I suspect something else is at work.

One of the benefits of studying leadership is that the tone of what I read is so amazingly positive. When I say "positive" I do not mean that it is Pollyanna-like fluff, but that leadership studies assume that the choices we make have real consequences, and that our actions can contribute genuine good to the world. The books I am spending lots of time with are constantly reminding me that the way I live matters intensely because of the way it can influence others.

I must now confess that I have not recently done a good job reading what some consider to be the sourcebook for this kind of thinking: the Bible. The good news is that I have recently discovered a reading plan that allows a person to read the entire New Testament in just 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I am now working this plan into my daily schedule so that I can follow the apostle Paul's advise in Philippians 4:8 and focus on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

IDEA LEADER: What are you reading and how does it affect you?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Servant leadership

What defines a servant leader?

I've been pondering that for about 2 weeks now. Certainly a list of behavior could be made, but so often those lists seem artificial. I want a transcendent principle.

And that is it: the principle of transcendence. Servant leaders are connected to something bigger than themselves, and they are willing to take risks or make sacrifices for it. For some it may be their organization, for others it is their religion, and for some hard working moms it is their family. All of these people are servant leaders in their respective fields.

So do you have to be a Christian to be a "servant-leader"? No. Yet Christ certainly was an example of servant leadership. In Mark 10:45, Christ says "the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

IDEA LEADER: As you are leading, what are you also serving? Is it bigger than yourself?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why little things are important

Sometimes the "little things" really are important. That is one of the implications of the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80-20 rule. In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted that 20% of the population owned 80% of the wealth and created a mathematical formula to describe the phenomenon. Other observers made similar findings, including Dr. Joseph Juran, who observed the law of the "vital few and the trivial many."

Now I must confess that math is not my strong point, but the 80-20 rule does seem consistent with human experience. In my own life, there are a few daily disciplines that, when ignored, have tremendous impact.

To think this means that you can achieve 80% of your results with only 20% of the effort would be to misread Pareto's Law. Instead, consider it as a reminder that there are an important 20% of your activities that are worth 80% of your effort.

The real trick, of course, is figuring out that 20%.

IDEA LEADER: Identify the "little things" in your life that have a big impact. Take action by not ignoring them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why tell stories?

Stories are important. They provide more than just entertainment - stories are carriers of wisdom. In fact, I believe that story-knowledge is just as valuable as scientific knowledge (though they are addressing different needs).

Howard Gardner's book Leading Minds asserts that stories are important for leaders. Every great leader has a story to tell and is able to embody that story in spite of opposition. These great stories infrom our aspirations as they tell us who we are, where we come from, where we are going, and what we must overcome.

The famous Bible story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 illustrates this concept. Goliath is a greater threat than King Saul can handle, but David shows up and tells a story about his expereinces of delivery from other predators. David is confident that in the same way that God delivered him from the lion and the bear (allowing David to slay them), "this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them."

IDEA LEADER: What stories are you telling those you lead? Do your actions match the values illustrated by your stories?


Welcome to Idea Leaders. My name is Stan Ward and I am a PhD student in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University who currently teaches at The Brook Hill School in Texas. My goal here is twofold: (1) to provide a place for me to briefly work out some ideas that my PhD program has me working with, and (2) to provide you leadership resources in the form of an "idea leader."

Each week I will post a brief summary or application of an idea, a book, a project, etc. that I am working on. That post will end with an "idea leader" - a reflection or application question to get your own leadership ideas flowing.

Blessings to you and those you lead!