Compounded by responsibility—for businesses, for young children, for leading teams—and that sentiment only increases.
Due to the COVID pandemic, the world has been turned upside down overnight.
As I was walking my dog, Opie, I stumbled across a hand-painted sign nestled between some trees that were just starting to show their fall colors.
One of the things I often mention in my workshops is that we bring all of who we are everywhere we go.
The year was 1958. Pat, a secretary at State Farm Insurance in Deerfield, IL wanted to do something to honor
her boss because she felt that all the work he did was rarely recognized or appreciated.
At this moment, the business environment is changing rapidly
The month of August has always been popular for summer vacations and last-minute trips before the school year starts up again.
For the last several years I’ve made it a practice to observe the Martin Luther King Day holiday by re-reading his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. King penned the letter while in solitary confinement, writing first in the margins of a newspaper that had been smuggled in to him, and then on scraps of paper from his meetings with his lawyer. It was written as a response to 8 white members of the Birmingham clergy, who had publicly criticized King for organizing protests in Birmingham, the act that resulted in his arrest.
The message of courage particularly resonates for me. His letter demonstrates a true strength of inner will. While it expresses empathy, it also demands accountability.
We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr’s life and legacy because of the way he modeled leadership based on clear values of justice and non-violence. At InnerWill, one of the key practices of Values Based Leadership is Taking Action, which we describe as Leading with Courage. The Letter from a Birmingham Jail clearly articulates the components of this practice.
Make Conscious Choices
In response to criticism that King should advocate negotiation rather than participate in direct action protests, he lays out his rationale for his choices. Clearly, he and his team made very conscious choices – choices that often involved significant risk:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”
In our own leadership, we each have an opportunity to be just as clear about the impact that we are trying to make in our teams, our workplaces, our families, and our world. And then to consistently make conscious choices to achieve that impact, even when faced with resistance, and even when it creates “tension” or conflict. Dr. King speaks of the conflict of perspectives and ideas that is essential for progress.
Act With My Values
His clear articulation of values, and consistently aligned actions, may be one of the reasons Martin Luther King, Jr is so revered. In his letter, he describes his value of justice in response to the admonition from the white clergy to comply with the laws in place. He admits that breaking certain laws while advocating that others follow new laws put in place, such as desegregation of public schools, may appear hypocritical. But he clearly describes what guided his assessment of whether a law is just or unjust, arguing that unjust laws are those that should be broken – and changed:
“An unjust law is a human law that is out of harmony with the moral law… Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority… Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.”
As leaders, we have a responsibility to examine our values over time to seek deeper clarity. With our own core values clear in our minds, we can form our own judgments and follow our own moral compass.
Without question, King exemplified a willingness to face challenges personally – after all, his arrest in Birmingham in April of 1963 marked the thirteenth time he had been arrested, and he had endured many attacks and countless threats.
King always approached the difficult with confidence. This was illustrated in the letter when he addresses others who were failing to lead with courage and act with their own values. This letter, though published for the public, was written as a response to eight fellow members of the Christian clergy. King addresses them directly, saying “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I’m sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.” Later in the letter, he expresses his disappointment even more strongly, saying “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
King continues to model leadership as he calls them into accountability, and encourages them to consider their own moral guidance:
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
He ends with a beautiful statement of vision, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Martin Luther King, Jr possessed a gift of eloquence. But what continues to make his eloquent words most powerful is the knowledge that he chose to embody them despite the threats he faced. His example of Taking Action, and Leading with Courage is one that we can each follow in our own lives. What better way to celebrate his legacy.
‘Tis the season of gift-giving. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on Values Based Leadership (VBL), and how it’s such an exceptional gift.
It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, nor does it matter your level of education or profession. When it comes to VBL, it’s universally consumable and appreciated.
I am so grateful that at age 43 I was exposed to VBL and the power of self-development. No matter how old you are, the opportunity to learn, grow and become a better, braver, and wiser leader is a tremendous gift. And it’s a gift you’ll have for life.
VBL makes a real difference in our daily lives and interactions with people. And the holidays are the perfect occasion to use and share this gift.
It’s a wonderful time of year, but it can also be a very demanding time. The volume of activity that is laid atop our normal lives can be overwhelming. The reality is that we’re at the most risk of showing up poorly when we’re under stress with a thousand items on our to-do lists.
But for Values Based Leaders there are many opportunities to be a guiding light, to demonstrate core values and inspire others during the holidays. To be a great leader this holiday season, whether at work or at home, focus on the following:
1) Acknowledge the demands and stress the holidays can create. That simple acknowledgement can lead you to make some better, more conscious choices. I know if I’m going to be under stress I must take care of the machine that is my body and soul – whether that’s eating, sleeping, praying, or exercise. How will you care for the machine?
2) Meet people where they are. This is critical. Remember that it might not be where you want them to be. Have grace. Using your VBL tools is at a premium because many people haven’t yet been given the tools needed to effectively develop personally and professionally.
3) Be the example. Modeling is one of the most powerful tools we have in our leadership toolbox. If you get hi-jacked or have your buttons pushed, think about what you really value and what you want others to see. It will give you something quickly to reground yourself to, and others will take note.
4) We are human beings, not perfect beings. Human beings are complex, challenging, and incredibly inspirational. Look for inspiration – not perfection – during the holidays.
5) Diagnose and adapt. Being extra adaptable is key for the holidays. Recognize that the holidays can be stressful for everyone, so take a flexible approach and give people some wiggle room.
6) Give people a break. The holidays are not the time when people should receive the next standard of performance or execution. Instead of giving them that extra push or asking them to make that extra effort, give them the space to refill their battery and recuperate. Don’t forget that doing exceptional work takes energy.
7) Celebrate and show heartfelt appreciation. Give thanks and gifts of recognition. Gather up the positives and offer public praise for the great achievements accomplished throughout the year.
By demonstrating any of these acts of Values Based Leadership you’ll be giving true gifts to those receiving them. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. – Charles Darwin
The most successful companies are agile and embrace change as part of their culture to stay ahead of the competition. Yet many of us fall woefully short when it comes to successfully leading through change.
It’s not that people hate change. We just have multiple responses to it. Some people get excited about it. Others get scared or angry. And some people even look forward to it.
In fact, if you look at the course of human beings’ lives, people choose to change, gleefully so, all the time. They get married. They have babies. They move.
We choose to change all the time. Where we start to get wiggy is when we don’t have a say in or any control over that change.
Fear of Change
People tend to fear change when they don’t know where it’s going to take them or are forced into a change they are not excited about.
These types of changes can occur in all facets of our lives. But we often have the most difficulty adapting to those at work. Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. These increased levels of job stress have been attributed to the perception of having little control but lots of demands in a rapidly changing environment.
As leaders, we can’t be okay with this.
It’s our responsibility to make sure people don’t fear change, but instead see the possibilities change can bring for a better future. It’s our responsibility to help our employees wrap their head around what change means and to grasp it firmly. Then, it’s up to us to empower our work forces to regain a sense of control and a voice in those changes.
Leading with Courage
As leadership attributes go, courage is a big one. Where does courage come from? You’re not born with it. You develop it through experience. It comes from facing and overcoming fear. And the reward for that effort is huge.
When you’re leading with courage around change it means that you’re giving feedback and having tough conversations. You’re being honest about what the future is while providing high direction.
You must be courageous enough to empower people and to trust that they’re going to do a good job. And it’s about holding people accountable to change. You must set clear goals. Envision a better way, a better solution, a better product – and approach it with determination and an open mind, knowing that it will be messy and that a mid-course correction may be necessary.
Remember that you need to bring people along the change process for them to truly adapt to change.
Leading with Compassion
Resistance to change cannot be bulldozed, it cannot be persuaded, and it certainly cannot be ignored.
Instead, it should be dealt with sympathetically and positively. Only when you get to the bottom of why resistance is happening, can you truly empathize and help to move individuals along the path to change, in a way that engages them and makes them comfortable. This is at the heart of compassionate leadership.
It’s about your ability to empathize with people and care about them and understand what they’re going through. Have meaningful conversations. Really listen to what they’re saying.
Remember, as a leader you often have an advantage.
You may have more information or have been a part of the decision-making process that brought the change about. You might even have more say and control in what that change looks and feels like. And so, you must keep in mind that other people might being seeing things from a very different perspective than your own.
Don’t take it personally if they do. And don’t neglect to give people the information they need to understand why the change is happening. Because without it, people will fill in the blanks with the wrong or worst case scenario information.
Change is Here to Stay
Back in the day, CEOs and their senior leadership teams would talk about change as if it was all planned.
Simply unfreeze the organization. Make a bunch of changes. Then refreeze it back in place.
That is not how change works. The world is moving way too fast for that. Our ability as leaders must be to adapt in rapidly changing, complex environments.
Organizations are not doing a great job building leadership capacity to be able to adapt to those environments. And as we’re teaching people how to lead through change, we’re still treating it change as if it’s a concrete thing that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that’s just not the case.
Like death and taxes, change is a sure thing.
It’s not going anywhere. In that spirit, the work it takes to adapt to and lead through change is ongoing. It has to be, because the environments that organizations operate in are constantly changing.
So, the next time you’re dealing with the day-to-day challenges that change can bring at your own organization:
Be nimble. Stay focused. Find patience.
And lead with your values.
When you do, change can bring growth, innovation, and incredible impact.