I have worked in Corporate America for almost 15 years. Throughout my time, I have been advised and encouraged to read many books on leadership-from The Bible to Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Some of them provided sustainable and actionable practices while others provided motivation and inspiration. This week’s book Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World by Chris Lowney ,like many books on leadership I have read, did not necessarily provide new ideas but rather reconstructed older concepts into a new leadership framework. Lowney looks at the 450 year old Jesuit history and extracted principles and practices that can inform and improve the way we lead each and every day.
Leadership involves so many dynamic parts that it can be easy to lose sight of the fundamental principles of what makes a leader effective in any context. In my role as a leader, I am focused daily on making sure my team understands the corporate vision and mission, the strategic and tactical objectives and the goals we are expected to meet.
For me, motivation is such a huge leadership challenge! Although people have similarities, every person individually is different. What motivates one person may not motivate the other. When you think about a team environment it is imperative to quickly discover the most sustainable ways to motivate and inspire others around you. In 2008, I was a product manager for a Fortune 500 company when I came across this leadership book written by John Kotter entitled A Sense of Urgency. The premise of this book was how to create a true sense of urgency within your company to invoke sustainable and consistent change. He discusses complacency as the antithesis to urgency. An organization who finds itself complacent has a disconnect within its leadership and lack of focus. A true sense of urgency aligns people together under specific goals/targets. A true sense of urgency is not seeking to just be successful but to be effective in implementing change and enabling growth within their organization. He further talks about how many companies assume that they foster an environment of urgency by creating a false sense of urgency. A false sense of urgency exist in environments are always under , what I call, “constant fire drills”. They motivate by imposing intense pressure upon their employees to meet a goal. However, when that goal is met everyone goes back to business as usual and no sustainable growth has taken place.
In reading Lowney, I thought about Kotter’s book when he talked about the motivational switch. How it doesn’t exist externally but internally within each individual.”There is no on switch for motivation. Or, more accurately, there is a switch of sorts, but it is on the inside. Ultimately, only each indi-vidual can motivate him – or herself” ( Kindle Location 307). I personally believe that motivation is not internal or external but in actuality is requires both. When their is alignment between both the internal and external “switch”, motivation comes to fruition. I have learned that leadership is not about creating fire drills as a means to motivate others but about fostering an environment where people can feel empowered to see their role not as a time boxed position but as leaders whose live their lives to effectively impact the life and welfare of the company and the world we live in. Everyday my role is to align people together, to effectively produce quality “products” that have a direct impact to our clients and the regional footprint that we serve.
Beyond motivation, we as a team are task with producing quality products and services. In thinking about that as I read Lowney’s book, I found a common thread within the discussion on core leadership abilities and how my team applies software development methodology. Within the corporate culture, many technology companies have adopted the Agile Methodology as guiding principles for software development. The Agile framework encourages adaption of planning, effective design, minimal viable product creation and the ability to continually improve both the process and products. Jesuits definitely understood this framework. Lowney writes that“the abilities to adapt, create, and respond quickly are core personal leadership skills for the twenty-first century” (Kindle Location, 1420). Everyday my role as a product owner/manager is to be able to effectively lead my team in adapting, creating, releasing , responding and improving quickly. Whether I am applying Agile principles or Jesuit best practices all of them provide me with effective practical ways to lead.
My final thoughts:
When I read this book, I chose not only to see the purpose for which Lowney intended to write this book but ways in which I can relate to this book on a deeper level. I have been spending time reflecting on some critical questions – How does this book compare to other books I have read on leadership? How have I applied some of these practices? Were they effective? What are my weaknesses as a leader? How to I improve upon them? Although, I did not get to answer all of these in this post. I appreciate the text for allowing me to think more critically about being more effective as a leader in the twenty first century.