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?