On Monday, July 4, families across the United States will be enjoying family picnics, barbequing in the back yard and watching parades, but what are they celebrating? Most people would quickly answer, “The founding of our country” or “Independence Day.”
However, it was on September 3, 1783, not July 4, 1776, that representatives of King George III and representatives of the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris, which were the terms of agreement to end the war and gave the United States of America its independence from Great Britain. The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783 and the United States “Congress of the Confederation” ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784.
In 1775, people in New England began fighting the British for their independence. On July 2, 1776, the Congress secretly voted for independence from Great Britain. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved, and the document was published. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was on July 8, 1776. Delegates began to sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. In 1870, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1941, it became a paid holiday for them.
The first description of how Independence Day would be celebrated was in a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776. He described “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations” throughout the United States. However, the term “Independence Day” was not used until 1791.
I recently read a sign that said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” I stopped and pondered that for a few minutes. I found that it resonated with me and I immediately thought “that has the makings of a good topic for Contemplation Corner.”
While I wanted to give credit for the source of my inspiration, my research revealed that the quote has been attributed to a number of people. However, the lack of someone to whom I could attribute the quote did not dampen my enthusiasm to explore with you in writing why you should not be the smartest person in the room.
While being the smartest in the room may certainly be good for a person’s ego and perhaps their self-esteem, when you are the smartest person in the room there are some negative consequences as well. When you are the smartest person in the room four things happen:
1. Everyone looks to you for the answer,
2. You frequently end up with the hard jobs,
3. You limit your access to learning experiences, and
4. You limit your leadership accomplishments.
Now, let’s explore those four concepts.
To me there is something eloquent and meaningful and even captivating about words, whether it is a famous saying, a proverb, song lyrics, a sign in someone’s office or on the side of the road, a line from a movie or a novel I am reading, or even an interesting statement by a friend in a casual conversation.
I capture those that intrigue me and put them on paper so I can revisit them when I am in need of inspiration or motivation or when I am trying to select a topic for my monthly column.
One statement which has captured my attention lately is “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” I have played that phrase over and over in my mind and captured some my own thoughts down on paper and decided that a future column will be the result of all the thoughts that have raced across my mind as I considered that statement. In fact, I hope those thoughts come together in an organized fashion in time for next month’s column.
For this month’s column, however, I decided that, even though there are many websites that are dedicated to providing its readers quotes by famous people, I would share a few of my favorites.
The Key to the What, How and Who of Leadership
“What makes a leader?” What is leadership?’ Those are questions that have been the subjects of numerous books, articles and workshops for the past few decades. For an organization to function effectively it must have effective leadership, so what constitutes effective leadership?
With all the research on leadership that has occurred during the past few decades, it has become abundantly clear that the “what” of leadership is “a vision.”
Leadership guru Jack Welch has repeatedly stated in his writings that a leader is someone with vision and the ability to articulate that vision to the team so vividly and powerfully that it becomes their vision.
A definition of leadership that I like, but have seen stated by so many people that I am unclear as to whom I should give credit for using, is “a clear and compelling sense of the future as well as an understanding of the actions it takes to get there.”
In his article, “Role of an Organizational Leader,” Ashim Gupta states, “The most fundamental role of a leader is to define the organizational goal, formulate plans and organize people to achieve the goals through the execution of plans.”
With that said, if the “what” of the role of a leader is “vision,” what are the “how” and the “who”?
The vision determines the direction of the organization, but without strategy, the organization goes nowhere. Strategy articulates the plans or describes “how to achieve the
Plans or strategies demonstrate the job knowledge or the skills if a leader which includes organizational restructuring (if needed), service or product delivery and management, and strategic management.
While fighting “writer’s block” and racking my brain trying to come up with a topic for this month’s column, I realized that I was not sure if the expression should be “wracking” my brain or “racking” my brain.
Not one to waste an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the English language, I began a search for the origin of the phrase. Much to my surprise, the term is “racking” not “wracking” my brain.
Internet sources such as DailyWritingTips, and Grammarist explain that the word “rack” has numerous meanings, both as a noun and as a verb. As a noun it originated from a word for “framework” which was probably related to a verb meaning “to stretch out.” The original framework was no doubt used for some innocent occupation such as stretching leather. Later on, some evil so-and-so adapted that kind of rack for the purpose of torturing human beings by stretching their limbs. It is from the torture rack that we get the expression “to rack one’s brains”.
The one common phrase in which wrack undoubtedly makes more sense is “wrack and ruin,” which is just an emphatic, somewhat archaic-sounding way of saying “wreckage or ruin” or, in other words, “great destruction.”
After gaining that bit of knowledge, I still had no topic for this month’s column, so I decided that instead of racking my brain to the point that it lay in wrack and ruin, I would provide you with the background I have described above and simply rerun the column I wrote three years ago for the February, 2013 issue when I was also experiencing a tremendous case of writer’s block.
After all, in The Last Night of the Earth Poems, Charles Bukowski wrote, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”
In discussions regarding leadership, I am often asked, “Are leaders made or born?” When asked this question, I often quip, “Both. I have never met a leader who wasn’t born;” however, I quickly follow that up with the fact that I am a firm believer that leadership is not something innate, but is learned behavior. The obvious question then is “if leadership is learned behavior, how does one learn it?” and the answer is “the same way any other behavior is learned.” That being the case, let’s explore how leadership is actually learned.
Through Personal Experience
You can learn through trial and error. Former major league pitcher Vernon Law suggested “Experience is the best teacher because she gives the test first and the lessons afterwards.” Every leader learns through experience. Leadership is often going where no one has gone before and blazing the trail. That is part of what makes a leader a leader. In fact, one thing that makes a great leader is the ability to learn from one’s mistakes. While the lessons learned in the “School of Hard Knocks” are usually learned well, learning this way has some disadvantages. If you are only learning through your own experiences, then your knowledge is going to be quite limited, it is going to take you a longer period of time to learn to be effective and the only way you are going to learn is the hard way.
Over the past few years, much has been written about the subject of “leadership” and numerous workshops have been conducted on the subject. What is missed by many who aspire to be leaders is what I believe to be the single most important ingredient in becoming a leader. That ingredient is “credibility.”
If credibility is the key ingredient to becoming a successful leader, it might be wise to examine exactly what credibility is as well as how one gains and maintains credibility.
What is Credibility?
The word “credibility” and the word “credit” come from the same root word.
My wife and I are remodeling our home. In order to pay for the remodeling we had to secure a loan. The fact that we were able to get the loan means that we have “credit-ability.” The person who approved our loan had to believe two things: (1) that my wife and I are capable of repaying the loan and (2) that we will, in fact, repay it. That illustration in in-line with the way Webster’s Dictionary defines credibility which is “the ability to inspire belief.”
The Dimensions of Credibility
Credibility has two dimensions. The first dimension is trustworthiness and honesty and the second dimension is competence.
Dimension 1: Trustworthiness and Honesty
To be viewed as trustworthy, leaders must be consistent in their words and behaviors. Credibility has its roots in “walking their talk.” To be credible in action, leaders must be clear in their beliefs and they must know what they stand for. They must put their beliefs into action and their actions must be consistent with those beliefs. The leader must have a strong belief in what he/she says so that he/she can take a strong stand on the issue and back his/her promises with strong organizational performance.
To be viewed as honest, leaders are honest to the degree that it is reasonably possible to do so. Because of the confidential nature of some information, leaders may not be able to share everything with their followers, but they share the truth even if it may not be the whole truth. When they are asked a question regarding confidential information, they respond honestly that they cannot discuss the issue
Dimension 2: Competency
The demonstration of competency involves four actions:
Sometime back while having breakfast at a professional conference, I had a probation director stop by my table and ask if he could join me for breakfast. I, of course, responded, “Please do.”
After he had placed his order and we exchanged a few pleasantries, he took a sip of his coffee, paused for a moment and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I nodded my head and responded, “Sure, what’s your question?”
He pointed out that he was well aware of the emphasis I place on an organization having a vision (a clear picture of where you want the organization to be at some point in the future) and said, “I understand that the vision tells everyone in the organization where the organization is going and we have developed a vision. If you were me, what would your next step be?”
I explained to him that helping an organization accomplish its vision and fulfilling its purpose is analogous to planning a trip and pointed out that when you plan a trip you need to know not only where you are going, but you also need to know your starting point.
To illustrate my point, I shared with him that a number of years ago I was asked to do a series of workshops for the Heartland Juvenile Services Association. Since this was before the Internet made planning a trip so easy, I called my travel agency, gave the agent the dates I needed to travel and asked her to book me a flight to Omaha. Nebraska.
Shortly after completing that call, I received a request to speak to the Louisiana Governor’s Conference on Juvenile Justice. I called my travel agent and informed her that I needed to book a flight to New Orleans the second half of the same week I was going to be in Omaha. After a few moments of silence, she asked, “On the flight to New Orleans, are you going to be flying from Houston or Omaha?”
Recently, I was contacted by an organizational administrator who said that he needed to talk to me about leadership development. I went to his office at the appointed time. He began to ask me questions about issues related to dealing with managing and appraising employee performance and making the organization run more effectively and efficiently.
I responded, “Those aren’t leadership issues. Those are management issues.”
I wish I had a nickel for every time during the years I have spent studying organizations, leading and managing organizations and in serving as an organizational consultant that I heard someone use the words “management” and “leadership” interchangeably.
I had begun to think that maybe there was something wrong with me because the confusion between the two bothered me so much. Then I chanced upon an article entitled “Management Is (Still) Not Leadership” by Leadership guru John Kotter, the former Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School and current Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International.