What Do Leaders Leave in their Wake?

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by Jim Funk

body mind spirit balance hand drawing on blackboard

We learn a lot about leadership from reporting to different bosses. Some inspire us and our teams while building trust, commitment and engagement. Under their leadership, people thrive. Other bosses drive people into the ground to get results, punish mistakes, and create fear. Under their leadership, talented people leave. So if we really look at the wake that leaders leave behind, we can decide what kind of leader we want to be and then aspire to become that.

I like to challenge leaders to evaluate their own leadership by pausing to reflect on what it is like to work for certain types of leaders. In one of my workshops I divide the team in two and ask one group to imagine working in an organization led by fear and a philosophy that only results count—not people. In this scenario, employees are simply resources to be used to get to the desired outcomes. The other group is asked to imagine working in a place where leaders put people at the center, and where creativity and teamwork is encouraged. In this scenario, people are truly valued.

After some discussion, each group then shares what it is like to work in their respective organizations. The fear-driven group typically describes the working environment this way:

  • Distrust and anger
  • Dysfunction, rumors, blame
  • Punishment for taking risks that don’t work out
  • A feeling of powerlessness, helplessness
  • A negative atmosphere, tension, disorganization
  • Less engagement and commitment

And the person-centered group? Their working environment is quite different:

  • Energy, creativity
  • Personal, timely and open communication
  • Freedom to take risks and learn from failures
  • Empowerment to help others succeed
  • A family atmosphere
  • A desire to make a personal contribution to the vision

These are nearly exact opposites. And I also found it very interesting to watch the passion that the two groups display when sharing their reports, probably because they are speaking from real-life experiences. To some degree, they relive their experiences just by talking about them. The fear-driven group has sullen faces, a tone of voice that exudes anger and frustration, and they even seem to be anxious. Conversely, the person-centered group speaks with enthusiasm, excitement, and they can hardly stop talking about how engaging and satisfying the work environment is.

What is the difference? In my leadership development work I describe person-centered leaders as “holistic” because they bring their whole selves to their leadership role—body, mind and spirit.  In doing so, they treat others as whole people too, rather than just resources.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how this plays out in the real world. What is it really like to work for a person-centered leader?

Merle Tebbe works for John Mundell, president of Mundell & Associates, an environmental consulting firm and Economy of Communion business. He tells a story about Mundell’s leadership that demonstrates how he puts into practice the person-centered principle of Economy of Communion businesses. Some time ago a former co-worker from another company was out of work and recuperating from a significant medical issue. He wanted to start his own business and get back on track as soon as he could, but he didn’t have a place to work. Mundell offered him free office space in the building so he could successfully start the business, and he allowed him to use it for several months. Later on, the company landed a project that actually required the skillset of the former employee, so he was offered his first paid work in quite a long time. The result of Mundell’s person-centered leadership? Tebbe points out that this was truly a win-win, which resulted solely from the generosity of Mundell in giving the former employee the break that he needed without expecting anything in return.

In another example, Lori Shannon reports directly to Blake Dye, president of St.Vincent Heart Center. While the Heart Center is not an Economy of Communion business, they are part of Ascension Health, the largest Catholic health system in the country. Ascension also has a principle of being person-centered, and in particular providing for those who are poor and vulnerable. Shannon says she quotes her boss frequently because she admires his style. One of her favorite quotes is a statement he made to her when she first started in her role as an executive. He said, “You know what you are doing, Lori. I am getting out of your way so you can do it. Let me know if you need anything from me.” His trust in her skills and abilities was a real compliment. She also points out that he expects his entire team to manage their work-life balance, and he sets the example himself. The result of this person-centered leadership? An engaged executive team—both individually and collectively—that successfully leads facilities that provide the best heart care in Indiana, and explore innovative technologies that are helping to establish new standards of care.

We can see in these examples that person-centered leaders like John Mundell and Blake Dye inspire and motivate others, not only because of their leadership capability, but because of who they are as people—and how they treat others. I refer to this as holistic leadership.

Do you work for a holistic leader, or have you in the past? What was it like? What difference did it make to you, to your team, and to your organization? I invite you to write about your experience in reply to this blog, or e-mail me at jim@jlfunk.com with your story. I would like to hear from you!

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

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One thought on “What Do Leaders Leave in their Wake?

    lgcolella said:
    August 8, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Jim,

    Very inspiring text!

    Thank you!

    1 Luiz Colella, São Paulo, Brazil

    Like

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