Leadership: Take the Stairs, The Second Flight

Yesterday, we discussed James G. Clawson’s first three steps to effective leadership. To recap, steps one, two and three are: Clarifying your center; clarifying what’s possible; and clarifying what others can contribute. In Level Three Leadership: Getting Below the Surface, Clawson highlights the following as the fourth, fifth and sixth steps toward effect leadership: Supporting others so they can contribute; being relentless; and measuring and celebrating progress.

We’ll begin with supporting others so they can contribute. Clawson’s third step explored how to clarify what others can contribute. This fourth step explores what leaders can do to help facilitate such contributions once realistic expectations are identified. He points to a new style of management in which more information is shared with more people, thereby empowering “followers” to meet their potential.

Clawson’s suggestions could be helpful when board members are working with non-board member committee chairs. He says that two keys to mastering this step are identifying specific indicators of the desired performance (more on that later) and developing or using information systems that can quickly gather and analyze feedback in a way that can be shared with everyone out in the field, not just “management.”

Think about a congregant who has volunteered to chair the Young Adults Committee. She may be impassioned about engaging young adults and have lots of great ideas. In order to be efficient and successful in her role as committee chair, Clawson would suggest that the board should arm her with the tools and resources she needs, like a set of measurements for success; a detailed budget; a congregational calendar; a big-picture crash-course; or anything else that will help the chair understand what is expected, how she can accomplish her goals and where in the congregational community and the synagogue’s mission her programming fits.

“Effective leaders are relentless,” Clawson asserts. His fifth step to effective leadership encourages leaders not to get discouraged in the face of criticism or set backs. Clawson likens organizations to an ocean: “Vast, constantly changing, open and inviting to the skilled sailor. At the same time, life’s sea has currents, winds [and] storms…” How we weather those storms and navigate those currents and winds, Clawson says, is the difference between effective leadership and something less lofty. “When the winds of fate blow,” he says, “[leaders] adjust the trim and the rudder to utilize whatever life brings them to keep them headed toward their destination. [They] also have internal motors that keep them moving when the external winds are calm or blowing against them.”

Surely, this kind of relentlessness takes stamina and a great deal of commitment to the cause. Clawson acknowledges this (which is why his first step was clarifying your center – allowing leaders to focus in on what is really important to them) and offers this example to those who may feel like relenting: Thomas Edison “tried over a thousand configurations before he found the one that produced light from electricity.” He goes on, saying, “This kind of relentlessness requires a high level of confidence in the value of your purpose.” Once again, Clawson reminds leaders, with a little help from leadership scholar Stephen Covey, that they must clarify their center and focus on the issues they are most passionate about.

This can be difficult in synagogues, or any organization or business environment, considering that there are some perfunctory decisions to be made or actions to take just to keep the wheels turning. We would suggest, then, that the way to step up to that challenge is to keep the bigger, super objective in mind: Enriching and enhancing your synagogue. By focusing on your commitment to the synagogue, you and your fellow leaders can be passionate and relentless about issues and tasks that otherwise may seem mundane.

Finally, Clawson encourages leaders to measure and celebrate progress. The first part of that is measuring progress. This was mentioned earlier, briefly, when talking about board members working with committee chairs, but the truth is it is important in every aspect of leadership. Clawson says, “The ability to focus on the right measures is a key leadership skill.” (Emphasis added.) Clawson refers to author Steve Kerr’s article “On the Folly of Hoping for A While Rewarding B” and makes the point that “we can’t realistically expect to get certain results while we model and reward behavior that leads people to an entirely different outcome.

To help illustrate this point, Clawson cites the example of a warehouse that shipped extra stock to its clients each month, regardless of the order, in order to satisfy a quota (put in place by management.) Finally, the clients amassed such a surplus that they cancelled their orders or greatly reduced or postponed them, leading to decreased stability and profits for the shippers. “The short-term goal of monthly shipments,” Clawson concludes, “diverted attention from the long-term goal of financial health and stability.”

Once again, congregational leaders are urged to keep the synagogue’s mission and the big picture in mind. When setting up expectations and measurements for success, Clawson notes that “if the leader can home in on a small set of key indicators and is able to show [others] how those indicators relate to the purpose and the vision, these people will be focused and clear on what they are working for.”

Celebrating progress is the second part of Clawson’s sixth step. It’s fairly non-controversial to say that people who are constantly told what they’re doing wrong don’t thrive. This type of approach is commonly known as variance management, and it is “a negative approach and ultimately de-motivating.” Clawson suggests that instead, effective leaders “watch for progress on key indicators and celebrate the positive…they look for ways in which the glass is half full and how to fill it further.” Indeed, this plays off of focusing on the right measures. The shippers in the previous example could have celebrated their satisfied quotas, but those weren’t the right success indicators. Here again, Clawson reminds leaders to always keep in mind the congregation’s mission and let that guide your criteria for success.