Vail Daily column: A few observations on good leadership
July 27, 2015
Watching Ryan while he did a presentation was painful. We had been working together for nearly a year. The vast majority of the people we were teaching were native Spanish speakers. Ryan, though he had difficulty with the language, would excitedly stumble through conversations. In the first couple of months of working together, I would take over when the going got rough. I would jump in and handle complex questions. Now, after all that time, I was grateful and inspired to sit back and watch Ryan work. He did not realize that his tenacity and discipline were in fact leading and inspiring me. He was going to do his work no matter the obstacle.
Now, after more than 10 years as a working adult, I look around and wonder where the leadership of my friend can be found in our own community. I have seen organizations rise and erode as transcendent leadership is found and lost. As a result, I catch myself examining my own life and the stewardships I have accepted to determine if I am helping or hurting our progress to making the valley an even better place to live. In my own observations and study of leadership, a few ideas arise over and over.
One of the most critical parts of being a leader is a crystal clear vision of where the organization is headed. All too often, businesses and organizations of all kinds put a mission statement on a piece of paper to rarely make reference to the final goal ever again.
A leader must become capable of illustrating and referencing the destination of the organization over and over again, demonstrating through language in every interaction with every member of the team that small actions determine the arrival at the final goal.
In the case of most leaders, lack of time or discipline will cause the vision to become muddled in a vast array of daily or weekly tasks. The tasks become the point of communication, and before long, the disconnect between the small tasks and the large goal creates motivation gaps and a lack of understanding in members of the team.
Using an ancient leader as an example, Moses references a land of milk and honey repeatedly throughout Exodus. Similar references can be found in other places in the old testament. Why? Why did Moses choose to talk about the final destination of the promised land?
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He understood that the entire Israelite nation was risking life, a semblance of stability, and at the very least a known situation for the possibility of an unknown, and some might argue, unreachable destination.
There was a risk, and Moses was perhaps acutely aware of this risk. Painting a clear vision that inspired his people was necessary in order to overcome the mental and physical burdens of decades in the wilderness.
In addition, it's important to note that truly inspiring work is often the result of a truly inspiring goal. I often hear leaders paint a vision that is all too small or too achievable. A mentor of mine once wisely said that if the goal can be accomplished within your own lifetime, chances are that you are not working on something that will bring you a sense of fulfillment. You're simply thinking too small. The goal should be so big that it scares the leader. The outcome should be uncertain. Leaders will sometimes paint small pictures in order to avoid scaring the people they seek to lead, but the truth is that very few people are willing to follow someone if the direction and the final goal is mundane, uninspiring or without dramatic narrative.
Mahatma Gandhi, the man that permanently changed the future of India, did not play small. He fasted more than 15 times over the course of his life, several times to the brink of death, in order to illustrate his vision and his commitment to a final goal.
He did not waver in his resolve. His commitment and consistency were so deeply apparent, he was able to build incredible trust with his followers. His actions were predictable and in alignment with his words, which allowed people to follow him confidently.
Have you ever worked or followed someone who was inconsistent in their actions and words? Perhaps this individual was kind and forthright one day, and the next was infuriated over the most minor of issues. A transcendent leader becomes boring to themselves in their consistency long before their teams become bored. New material, erratic reactions, flavors of the month and 19 daily priorities are not necessary.
I'm still looking for those that are willing to lead, and I'm grateful to those I've found so far. Maybe together we can do as Gandhi describes, "In a gentle way, you can shake the earth."
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.
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