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Conference Recap | The Art of Leadership 2017

Written By: Brian Lam

The Art of Leadership descended on Vancouver on October 26, 2017. Five thought and leadership practitioners shared their views and perspectives on leadership. I came away with three key concepts.

One – leaders need to be fully committed to the rigors and responsibilities of leadership. Through his research and study on effective leaders, Vince Molinaro highlighted this point with the question: “Are you all in as a leader?” His query reflected his observation that many leaders become leaders by way of their technical knowledge and experience (engineer, doctor) or by way of their seniority (tenure). The need to be fully committed was argued further by Vice President (VP) Joe Biden. He referred to his possible run for the presidency of the United States in 2016. VP Biden believed he needed to be fully committed to taking on the office of the President. Due to the death of his son in 2016, he didn’t feel prepared to do so. He added that the capacity to decline the role of leadership requires courage.

This leads us to the second of the three leadership observations: leaders need to be courageous. The underlying concept was the need for leaders to have the courage and conviction to do the right thing for their teams and their organization for the long term. Courageous leaders recognize that their choices are likely to be unpopular over the short term. Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, added to this concept of courage by suggesting that leaders need to have the courage to routinely seek constructive criticism. By seeking these critical/disparate viewpoints, a courageous leader is better able to improve their practice of being a committed and courageous leader.

Finally, the one common leadership element that appeared to be shared amongst the speakers of the day was this: leader’s care. All the speakers referred to this notion of a caring leader in their own way. It was speaker Welby Altidor, however, who provided an apt analogy of what it means and looks like to be a caring leader. According to Welby, leadership is akin to being a master gardener. A master gardener cultivates his crop with attention, care, devotion, and patience with the ultimate hope that it will flourish, grow and produce. Similarly, a committed, courageous and caring leader can enable his or her team or organization to grow, flourish and produce.

If a leader is seeking to masterfully tend to their team of followers, he or she needs an assembly of skills and tools. The speakers at the Art of Leadership believed that leadership skills could be learned and developed. Having heard from each speaker, I believe they were espousing the need for leaders to be committed, courageous and above all caring.

Workshop Recap | Who Do You Choose to Be? Facing Reality-Claiming Leadership-Restoring Sanity with Meg Wheatley

Reconstitute: Chocolate chip cookies and choosing who we are as leaders

I had the pleasure of attending a weekend workshop with Meg Wheatley entitled “Who Do You Choose to Be? Facing Reality-Claiming Leadership-Restoring Sanity” at Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC. The lush old campus was an ideal setting for this session. I came into the workshop without any knowledge or history of Meg’s previous works including “Leadership and the New Science.”

I understand that this new book marks a departure from the conclusions in that previous work. These new conclusions for leadership and our society that might not be satisfying for leaders, practitioners, or organizational development specialists. They formed the basis of many of our discussions throughout the two days. I appreciate that I may not have a full understanding her theory, but I will attempt to summarize:

Our current civilization is in decline and that it is not possible to fix large systems in society. We instead, must watch them fall and start anew.

It’s a tough idea, particularly for those who have committed their lives or built their careers on being fixers. It also begs the question, what do we do? Meg suggests that instead of trying to fix large-scale problems, we look to the local and community levels and create “islands of sanity” with the understanding that these sane, productive, and proactive solutions will likely indeed remain at the local level.

It is an interesting concept for all of us involved in change and organizational development to consider and perhaps try to change our expectations as well as the expectations of our colleagues and clients.

Even at this small scale, true leadership in these times is challenging. Meg offered the group ideas and more thought-provoking questions about how we wish to lead in these troubled times. It is through these questions that we may come to know and share our true leadership.

From the simple:

Can you always sit up straight and sit in your dignity?
Can you use the power of silence in times of difficulty?

To the more contemplative:

What is the difference between hope and aspiration?
What am I faithful to?
What is my most basic belief?
What do I want to keep paying attention to?

As for the chocolate chip cookie, this was my big takeaway from the weekend. Yes, a chocolate cookie.

Like an organization is made up of different ingredients. Once those ingredients come together to form the cookie, they are no longer in their original state but have taken on this new form – the cookie. You need all these particular ingredients to form the cookie, and without one, you will get something different. At the same time, if the cookie fails, there is no way to extract the original ingredients out and restore them to their original form. The flour is forever changed. And thus, if the cookie fails, you must throw out the batch and start fresh.

Sarah Muff is a creative engagement practitioner. Her current project focuses on engagement in labour relations with the Association of Administrative and Professional Staff at UBC.

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