Leading with the Heart

My guest for this episode, “Leading with the Heart” was Ron Chapman of Magnetic North LLC. Ron is a finance guy and a veteran of GE and is a graduate of their in-house leadership training.

By now we’ve heard from multiple guests that a crucial aspect of effective leadership is self awareness.
To give praise you must be authentic, and you can only be authentic when you have a baseline level of self awareness. And despite my own skepticism of the mystical when it comes to something as nuts-and-bolts of good leadership, there seems to be no escape from understanding that a great leader has to work on him or her self.
How do you apply the great leadership works of brilliant folks like Covey or Maxwell? You’ll be effective applying that information, by understanding your self.
Ron left GE and studied, of all things, social work. That aspect of his life journey led him to write a thesis on “The Organizational Practices that Undermine Effective Not-for-Profit Leadership.”
The volunteer world of nonprofits provides a crucible for the purest form of leadership, because those followers are only motivated by a shared vision and good leadership.
One key message is, you can only lead people based on their motivators and values.
You can only absorb feedback that matters to you. If you’re open to becoming a better leader, and you get a 360-degree evaluation, someone has to translate the results for you into terms that matter to you.
Ron once presented to a CEO and his team on a problem at their business. The CEO asked, “okay, why should this matter to me?” Ron turned to the team and asked them, “How much of your work day is spent on these issues because you don’t have an effective way to deal with them?” They said “30%.” Ron turned back to the CEO and said, “That’s why you should care.”
Ron says “Information is to human based systems like sunshine is to plants. If information doesn’t get into your human based system, your system perishes.”
And yet there are psychological blocks and barriers to allowing information in, to accepting difficult information.
CEOs are human — they may not want to (or be willing to) hearing that their product or service is pretty mediocre. Yet that information is incredibly important and valuable. An effective leader has to transcend his ego. That’s hard.
Jim Collins talks about some of this in his book Good to Great.
This path of self-awareness can come through self examination, it can come from 360s, it can come from our customers and suppliers and co-workers. And the real barrier is in our heads and our challenges around hearing unflattering news.
In Jim Collins’ newest book he talks about the problems of hubris. This can happen when a leader, on a basis of once a month or more, we are in a position to get public applause and recognition. If we aren’t looking out for this, we can start to believe that the applause is all about me.
The reality is we get this applause because of our roles and because of the results created by our people. And the trap springs when we lose our perspective and our groundedness.
It helps if we see the applause as being earned by others, and if we see ourselves as merely embelmatic of that larger effort.
So many of the corporate meltdowns of the past decade or two seem to be connected with hubris.
You do need a strong ego in order to lead — you have to be strong enough to stand up for what you believe in. A good and healthy self-image is grounded in some sort of reality and accomplishment — something more than a belief in your own belief.
So, suppose I want to transcend my own ego and become an ever better leader. How would I do that?
You should have a coach, a mentor, and/or good senior staff. You need people who will hold up the mirror for you.
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