a leader’s power

ID-10089906I stumbled on a post this morning by James Lawther on the Great Leadership blog. The post reviews the Avianca flight 52 from Bogotá to New York that crash-landed on January 25, 1990 outside of New York, killing 73 of the 158 passengers.

Inadequate communication between the flight crew and the tower controllers regarding the urgency of the situation contributed to the tragedy. Lawther claims the communication breakdown was the result of a challenge that is heavy on my heart and common in my experience – high power distance.

High power distance is a phenomenon that we deal with less often in the United States, but it is a big challenge in the cultures of places like Latin America, Asia, or the Middle East. High power distance means that there is an unseen but very real chasm between the leader/boss/director and the team or those who work for the leader. Although the leader is often treated in a superficially friendly and respectful way, they are viewed as  untouchable, unapproachable, un-confrontable authority figures who have the power to make unilateral decisions and carry the ultimate responsibility for their subordinates.

In high power distance cultures, it is difficult to have healthy team relationships, since team members are hesitant to speak honestly and directly with the leader. In some cases, the leader perpetuates the problem by leading in an insulated, controlling, and overbearing manner. In other situations, team members reluctantly agree to plans or avoid discussing problems in a group setting, but then resort to passive-aggressive behaviors or blame-shifting against the leader when failures occur. Personal responsibility and accountability for actions are also weak, since the tendency is to blame the leader for lack of results.

This leadership phenomenon can cause all kinds of challenges and frustrations, but Lawther’s post demonstrates that high power distance can be dangerous – even to the point of physical death. I never experienced that extreme effect, but as a leader in a high power distance culture, I did encounter other consequences: loss of peer friendships, demand for paternalistic care, lack of complete information for decision-making, and gossip and mutiny behind my back.

Since my leadership style is naturally more collaborative and team dependent, I tried to encourage complete and honest communication from my team, repeating frequently my desire and availability to hear their opinions, ideas, concerns, and feedback. I had an open-office policy and often interacted informally with the staff. I had no big office and no receptionist/secretary barrier. With some teammates, I was successful; with others, I never was able to bridge the gap.

This post has once again piqued my sense of urgency regarding the challenge. I hope to learn some principles for breaking down the barriers to effective leadership in high power distance cultures. Maybe you can help…

Have you experienced the high power distance chasm? How do you deal with it? Do you have any ideas about how to close the distance?

creating more leaders

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” – Tom Peters

ID-100162328 foto76 freedigitalphotos.net

New leader training is essential for our organization. During the first year or so, mentors have the privilege of imparting vision, identity DNA, and confidence into our new leaders through a teaching, training, and coaching process. This training sets the attitude, knowledge, and skill foundation for many years ahead.

Every few years our organization revamps our training programs so they are attractive in the current context, relevant for our constantly changing world, and effective at preparing new leaders. Last year, my husband and I were part of a global task force to determine new core desired outcomes for our training programs worldwide. This year, we had the exciting job of helping our area leaders around the globe implement the changes.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made.
And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.
And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”

– Vince Lombardi

Change is not easy. Each area contains many countries, each with its own culture, language, human resource, time, and financial challenges. Leaders are very busy, and many priorities and crisis vie for attention. At times the biggest challenges are the attitudes of loyalty to the “old ways” and fear or resistance to change. Sometimes pride gets in the way when a leader was the creator or director of the prior system.

Some area leaders invested a lot of time in the valuable task of aligning others to the new ideas. Communications, visits, and sharing of materials help others to engage and involve in the process. Other leaders gathered a task force together for the project. Working towards change as a group or team shares leadership and ownership of the effort. Many are busy preparing translations for their countries. This is all part of the investment in our future leaders.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

One of the best aspects of the process is seeing the leaders get excited about the new paradigms they discover as they work: more interactive learning and creative delivery, more emphasis on coaching, and more sessions focus on the heart, servant leadership, character, and stewardship… As the leaders learn, they become enthusiastic about championing the new materials and methodology in their areas.

“The more seriously you take your growth,
the more seriously your people will take you.”
– John Maxwell

Those who help train and mentor our new leaders are building the future of our organization. They set an example with their lives; their attitudes, words, and actions reflect their values and greatly influence the new leaders. We desperately need trainers and mentors who prioritize the new leaders and invest in their development. Such a privilege. Such a responsibility.

How can you contribute to a culture that creates new leaders?

What can you do to continue learning to improve your leadership?

leadership is hard

hard leadershipI been discouraged about leadership lately. Every time I think about it; I think of the word – hard. Leadership for me has been hard: hard work, hard on my health and relationships, hard on my emotions.

Leadership is hard when I start…

The inevitable learning curve – so many unknowns, so much new: people, partner inter-relationships, systems, policies, standards, expectations, schedules. Insecurity. Comparison. Uncertainty. So many questions: Can I do this? Will others respect me? Can we accomplish the mission? Where to start? What are the first steps? Where can we find some quick wins?

Leadership is hard in the process…

Constant crisis. Problems. Challenges. Never enough leaders, resources, or funding. Bad attitudes, resistance to change, gossip and back-biting, team conflict, long hours, extra meetings. I struggle with setting boundaries, discerning my – and others’ – responsibility, balancing my heart and my head in decisions.

Leadership is hard when it’s over…

It is hard to watch others take over – with new ideas, other ways of doing things, different values. It is hard to watch prior co-workers struggle with the change, feel less valued in the new systems, lose their positions and their jobs. I have no authority or influence, but I still have concern and care. I observe from a distance – powerless, frustrated, trying to trust and believe the best, knowing I need to move on.

Days like today, I don’t want anything to do with leadership.

… and then I remember… leadership was also hard for the Greatest Leader of all time.

He had difficult, humble beginnings. He didn’t have my confidence issues, but He did have to prioritize His work. He experienced all kinds of conflict in the culture, society, and with His co-laborers. He dealt with others’ immaturity, character issues, and lack of integrity. He got tired; His leadership finally got Him killed. And then He had to leave the job to others who didn’t appear ready. They didn’t continue to do things like He did.

… but that was all part of the plan.

Yes, leadership is hard. The trick is to expect the hard parts, rather than trying to escape what is difficult. The key is to face into the challenges and grow up to handle them. Hard isn’t necessarily bad.

And remember, when we lead, we are in good company.

What do you do when leadership is hard?