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.