Saturday, March 5, 2016

On Leadership @LucyBurdette

"Great leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar." Jim Collins

LUCY BURDETTE: For several reasons, I've had leadership on my mind this week. One is the political circus – and I promise we won't let this discussion deteriorate into politics. But it is hard to keep from imagining which one of these folks could possibly lead our country in a positive direction...
The other reason is that I began attending a Leadership Success Academy on Thursday, run by the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys. This is designed to help all kinds of nonprofit board members improve their leadership skills. (I'm a member of the board of the Friends of the Key West Library, and the Friends' newsletter editor. Check those out here.) 

I've served on lots of boards in the past, without much training. Probably the most dramatic was when a local board had deteriorated into two rival camps unable to agree on anything. I was working as a clinical psychologist, and I think for that reason was asked to take temporary chairmanship, with the goal of helping the board simmer down and move forward. The meetings up to this point had essentially been screaming matches. So I went to the first meeting as temporary chair carrying a large soup spoon, which I planned to beat on the table when necessary. 

These days, nobody much remembers how all that junk was resolved, but they remember my spoon-gavel. And I mined lots of fodder from those conflicts for my third golf lovers mystery, PUTT TO DEATH. (My working title for this had been BOARD TO DEATH LOL.)

Back to the leadership academy: we were asked to do an exercise before the first meeting which helped identify our most comfortable style, or as the facilitator called it, the lens through which we see the world. The choices were the analyst (focus is on data, logic, structure, plans, policies), the caregiver (focus is on skills, attitudes, teamwork, communications), the warrior (focus is on building a power base, getting access, influencing key players), and the wizard (meaning, belief, faith, developing shared values).

Not surprisingly, I came out as a caregiver, and was least strong as a warrior. (In spite of the soup spoon incident, I don't really like taking on conflict, the way warriors do.) The idea isn't that one approach is better than another--it's that if you know yourself and how you tend to see the world, you can shift points of view, understand the other players, and become a more effective leader.

Any stories about leadership roles you've held? Or great leaders you've observed? What made them great? (Gosh we need great leaders in our world today...)


  1. I tend to be more of a worker than a leader . . . I'm not good at conflict and screaming matches make me cringe. I'm in awe of those who have the skill to lead effectively and in a positive direction.

  2. Diane Hale here.

    As a flight nurse, I regularly found myself in the leadership role. When I arrived at an outlying hospital or on a scene, I was expected to take charge of what was going on and make the decisions on patient care, as well as direct other caregivers. Even when I stopped flying I found I still fell into that leadership role with less-experienced staff.

    I suspect that experience is why I can edit, critique, and mentor with confidence. I enjoy interacting on an equal basis with others, but when I need to, I step up without pausing to think about it.

  3. I like to lead but I also like to ride shotgun with a competent leader. What I hate is being in a group with an incompetent leader, one who is disorganized or who encourages cliques or has their own personal agenda or fails to communicate or... the list is long.

    One of the great pleasures has been serving on the board for the New England Crime Bake, our wonderful New England conference in the fall for crime writers. I've led and I've followed. When you're surrounded by people who are doing their share and acting like colleagues it's a pleasure.

  4. Joan, and the workers are just as important as the leaders!

    Diane, that's so interesting. It must have been a huge adrenaline rush to take over chaos and get things solved. For a while, after my spoon experience, I wondered if I should market myself as someone who comes in to a dysfunctional board or group and sorts things out...but unless you thrive on chaos, it's a very stressful job. I decided I'd rather write:).

    Hallie, so true on the Crime Bake, and also Sisters in Crime. I've had amazing experiences with those groups.

  5. Really interesting, Roberta. I am currently the Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting (that is, my Quaker church) - which means I conduct our monthly business meetings. And I'm also the person in charge, as far as that goes. It's not a job I enjoy but when they asked, I had to say yes and serve my term. We try to conduct our business meetings with respect and periods of silence when needed. I make sure only one person speaks at a time, and that we move the agenda along while still allowing for differing views to be expressed.

    I'm also on the Crime Bake committee, and will be co-chair in a few years (yikes!), and I'm VP of SINC New England and will be president next year. I'll be bringing my Friendly meeting habits to those leadership roles. I've served on other boards, too, and I find nothing more frustrating than trying to conduct a meeting and having four little side conversations going around the table. Watch out, New England!

  6. Everyone's input is important. Have group set goals to be achieved. Setup up subcommittees to lead discussion on strategies needed to carry out each goal. Have subcommittees report findings to Board for overall discussion and measure against approved goals. Watch the fur fly as folks defend their ideas before the full board.Steer discussion as needed to insure achievement of group's goals. Naysayers may be loud but in the end the a comprehensive set of goals that advance the purpose of the group will prevail. Don't be surprised if some members resign if they can't get tbeir way. Goal setting works to focus the group towards achieving a common purpose.


  7. I much prefer to be behind the lines, give me a job--any job--and leave me alone to get it done. The one time I was president of a new not-for-profit, we accomplished one major item, but were sunk for the future because of one particular board member. She was a MAJOR DRAMA QUEEN, whose primary joy in life seems to have been inflicting misery on those surrounding her--a major manipulator and schemer, backstabber, etc., etc. I don't know if she plays golf, but I'm willing (still, after all these many years), willing to offer her up as your next murder victim!

  8. I love working on a team on a big project, but when it comes to actually doing the work, I prefer to be left on my own. With coffee.

  9. I'm by nature a team player. I enjoy interacting and coming to a joint agreement. I've served on more boards than I can count including the MWA board at its most broken. I'd get calls at midnight plotting coups. Hated it. I've also found myself chairmen of too many boards not by choice. I'd express an opinion at a meeting and afterward they'd ask me to be on the board. Then I'd make some suggestions and they'd vote me as chair. Not my favorite place to be! When we were trying to block the school district from closing a school I was told I'd have to run for city council I put my foot down. Politics and I do not get along!

  10. I was Chief Operating Officer of three start ups, including one we grew from two to 250 employees. I had the same job title through that whole ride, but as you can imagine, the job changed radically every nine months or so. I love seeing my ideas operationalized, but like Hallie, I am just as happy implementing the ideas of others. I love untangling knots and making things transparent, the worst possible skills for a mystery writer!

    I found that I dislike being part of a large bureaucracy where I can't see the impact of my work, and I dislike consulting, dropping ideas on companies and leaving, never knowing what happens.

    I miss the people and I miss working with a team toward a common goal, but I don't miss business travel, firing people or having to actually put on clothes and go to an office in the morning. Quel horror!

  11. such interesting suggestions Edith and Jerry! One other idea from the class was to always print the mission statement at the top of an agenda, to help keep discussion focused.

    Thanks for the victim FChurch LOL. No matter what a good job the board is doing, a problem person can do a lot of damage.

  12. Fascinating Rhys--the midnight coups are the worst. But learning the skills of speaking the truth about what you see, in a calm way, is not so easy...

    Barb, those are impressive accomplishments! But it's hard to go to board meetings in yoga pants...maybe in Key West:)

  13. This post made me think way back to my high school days when I was at state competition for speech. My usual category was what would be called in present competition, humorous interpretation. But, this particular year, my speech coach wanted me to do "discussion," too. Not being a veteran at this event, I was a bit nervous. However, I ended up with a superior because the discussion was rather fragmented and wandering, and I stepped up and brought it to order and to the point. It was a great self-esteem boost that has carried over to my adult life. I tend to want to be the person who brings others together in their commonality.

  14. I've had leadership roles in various church committees or groups, my local Friends of the Library, and have been the chair of several Edgar Awards judging groups. My style is facilitator - I'm best at making things run smoothly, keeping people on track (ironic for organizationally-challenged me!), moving meetings along and summing things up in a way everyone can agree on so we can go to the next step.

    The most painful type of leader for me - someone who doesn't stick to the agenda and lets everyone ramble on at will! I've been to alleged hour and a half meetings that have gone an hour or more long... groan.

  15. This topic is fascinating, and so... topical. Indeed, true leadership does not equal forcing everyone to fall in line to bend to one will. Far too many people miss that.

    This morning we heard a 16-year old girl speak, a young lady with an incredibly long list of impressive accomplishments. I made a point of congratulating her mother, because I know the time, money, energy, sacrifice, and yes, leadership it took to get this kid to the point where she was being paid to give a talk to 300 adults, in a different state from their home.

  16. I've never been comfortable in leadership roles, so I don't seek them out. The major exception to that has been in course and program design as an unhappy student with unhappy friends from college to doctoral program. When nothing suited our goals we designed new courses and programs. Oh right. I forgot. I designed a leadership program for medical students to help them learn and practice the things they'd likely not be taught in the classroom or on the ward. I hear it's still going on. How funny to forget that.

  17. Julia, church... right. Very difficult sometimes. I was a student minister in Boston at a church without a pastor. It was hell.