Stroll down the aisles of any of the few remaining bookstore and you will see a litany of books on leadership. Some will address the personality of a leader. Others will offer leadership development processes. Many of these works are extremely important to understand how to wield influence in the workplace, ministry, and community settings. Without effective leadership, goals are rarely achieved. We get it. The question, however, remains as to why with all of this focus on leadership development that we end up with some many ineffective organizations. I would like to suggest these institutions were bereft of an effective leadership posture. Without it, ethical lapses are a predictable eventuality.
There are plenty of examples of leadership lapses in corporate, faith-based, and not-for-profit settings. We can certainly blame several factors for the scandals, exploitation, and greed from Enron to Bear Sterns to the United States Congress.
I have written before on the notion of posture in advancing our spiritual purposes on earth. Check that post out HERE. In this post, I talk about how my first visit to a chiropractor enlightened me about the consequences of poor posture.
I have thought a lot about posture since then, particularly as it pertains to leadership and influence.
Like the chiropractor teaching me to improve my posture through proper shoulder and head placement, improved posture in leadership is about proper placement as well. It requires proper placement of one’s ego, self-centeredness, and motivations.
I’d like to suggest three domains where it is vital that we have a leadership posture to have the great influence for which we exist.
There is a lie that we learn as early as kindergarten. We even have a little song to help cement it in our consciousness. “Sticks and stones may break my bones. But, words will never hurt me.” It’s meant to help anesthetize us from hurtful encounters with other children and help us develop “thicker skin”. And, yes, it may indeed serve that purpose to some extent. The problem, however, is that as we age, we forget the tremendous power that words do have. They can give pleasure. But they also can hurt. Very deeply. Often worse than sticks and stones. In fact, when even one negative exchange happens, research shows that it takes as many as five positive ones to offset it. We see then that words not only have power. But, that negative words are actually more powerful than positive ones. When you find yourself having offended someone important to you with your words, here are five phrases that show you how to truly apologize–a key step to restoring the relationship.
Since 1862, appearing first in an African Methodist Episcopal Church publication called the Christian Recorder, the famous “sticks and stones” phrase has become intertwined in the American lexicon. More recently psychologist Dr. John Gottman, in his work with couples has found that it takes a ratio of five positive exchanges to counterbalance one negative exchange. In fact, it is this ratio that Dr. Gottman and his team can predict with 94% accuracy which married couples will divorce and which will survive. But, the principle of the five to one ratio extends far beyond just marriages. It is the nature of being human-certainly in Western culture.
Whether we are talking about relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, friend to friend, or co-worker to co-worker, the reality is that hurtful words will happen. Negative exchanges can happen even in good relationships. Sometimes, it happens because we speak without thinking. Other times, we let our emotions get the best of us. Still other times, we react before understanding the full context of the situation. The end result is that we damage the relationship, usually without intending to do so. There is distance and friction.
Here’s a riddle for you? What do carbon emissions and marriage have in common?
The answer…they both leave a footprint, one that will outlast your years here on earth. In a real sense, footprints are what each of us leaves behind when we move on. Whether positive or negative it is our legacy, an indelible reminder that we were there.
Scientists increasingly admonish us to be more considerate of the impact that our individual behaviors (e.g., electricity usage, transportation emissions, and waste management) have on the health of our planet. Though I admittedly feel as if some of their worries are overblown, there is no question that we humans have to become more responsible for our carbon footprint–our impact on the earth for future generations.The premise of course is that our responsibility is to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible in order to preserve our earthly home for future generations.
However, as I listened to one of these environmental debates, I began to think about the imprint that we leave in other domains as well–particularly in relational areas.
I wonder what is my relational footprint? In other words, what impact are my marriage, parenting, and friendships having on people that I know as well as those whom I will never meet now or in the future. Contrary to the interest in minimizing one’s carbon footprint, the objective is to leave as large a relational footprint as possible in order to positively influence individuals and communities for future generations.
One of the life lessons that we learn as early as kindergarten is the importance of sharing and compromise. While most young children have a very self-centered perspective, the process of teaching them to be more considerate of others around them is understandably seen as a key developmental task. The adage goes that having good interpersonal relationships is about 50-50, meeting others “halfway”. Your responsibility is to do your part and expect the other party to reciprocate in kind. Makes perfect sense—until you grow up.
Relationships are a struggle—especially intimate ones. While they can elevate our feelings to mountaintop experiences they can also plummet them into undesirable lows. There are many reasons for the ups and downs in intimate relationships. But, clearly one is what I call the 50-50 trap.
During one of our workshops when teaching about developing better communication skills , a young man once asked, “If I absolutely know I’m right, then why should I let my wife win an argument?” Though asked in a challenging tone, it is a great question to understand the fundamental nature of all our communication. In retrospect, I wish I had better understood the answer during my argumentative younger years. What I simply did not know then is that there is a wrong side of being right.
For much of my life, I’ve had a well-earned reputation for being argumentative. My sister recently reminded me of this—as if I needed reminding. Sometimes, the arguments were playful and just intended to incite banter. Other times they were emotion-laden attempts to change someone’s mind or behavior. It didn’t matter if the topic was sports, politics, or religion, my agenda was to win. Honestly, I’ve always been good at it. So, I went all in with my best articulation of facts, opinions, experiences, and the like—all in an effort to debunk the other’s point of view. For me, it felt like a badge of honor—mostly because it made me feel smart and commanding of respect from others. Best argument wins, right?
Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing”.
Boy, Mr. Lombardi and I are dead wrong–at least as it pertains to relational matters.
But, it wasn’t until years after I became a husband that I began to realize just how wrong I was.