Sunday, August 28, 2005

Leadership Is Stewardship

Notes from The Leadership Summit 2oo5:

Session 2: Leadership is Stewardship, Rick Warren

The key point from the second session of The Leadership Summit was that our job or position at work can be our identity, income and influence.
And this very thing we hold on to so tightly is what we need to lay down. Our purpose at work goes far beyond the several paragraphs on the job description from Human Resources. It isn't strictly tasks and responsibilities. It is even more than motivating employees to make them more productive (turning Production Capability into Productivity - Steven Covey, 7 Habits).

Warren mentioned the difference between The Reformation, centered around creed and beliefs, and what he said we needed now - The Second Reformation, focused on deeds and behavior. What I take from this is that the software development professional has no lack of access to good software development lifecycle models, documented best practices and supporting metrics, consensus on modeling languages, and excellent development and network tools. We have an abundance of current international information sharing and technical, editorial and business-oriented topics. We lack in no way for knowledge of what is right, and my experience is that most IT workers believe in the same sense of the 'right way' to do what we do each day. Many willingly share extensively on what they think is wrong in their workplace and in the industry. Sometimes they even share ideas for solutions, what needs to be done.

What we lack is action.

If we already know what needs to be done, then what we need is deeds and behavior. We say "design first," but begin coding the first day with any design forethought at all (even the process-light XP gives design effort 20 minutes). We say complain about things, but often don't bring suggestions. Even if we do bring solution options, we don't take initiative or give effort to implement them ourselves.

So we don't like the SLDC we have, do we research options and give supporting information in the language of management (more efficient, cost-effective, higher-quality)? So we don't like the specs we are given, do we provide specific feedback to the author? Don't like the tasks we are given, so we do them exceptionally so as to earn the right to ask for something different?

For all the talk about management's shortcomings, other team's shortcomings, the company's shortcomings, our tool's and technology's shortcomings, I rarely see someone who feels passionately about specific issues working diligently to make a difference. It sounds abhorrently trite, but I mean it with all seriousness, "talk is cheap." It is easy. It costs us nothing. And often we feel better, for a moment, thinking that everything would be better if someone else did something about it. As I recently read, "Be the change you want to see."

As a manager, I feel I am asked to lay down the very position I have been given. Lay down my identity, income, and influence for the sake of the cause I believe in. Warren gave the example of Moses and his shepherds staff. The staff was a symbol of identity (shepherd's staff), income (that is what he used to tend the sheep and make his money), and influence (the staff itself was used to pull or push the sheep by the hook or the crook). The story from The Bible is that God told Moses to lay down his staff. When Moses did, it turned into a snake. God made it come alive. If I lay down my position, put myself second, perhaps my purpose will truly come alive as well.

Warren said that "prominence does not equal significance." We make a difference, are significant as leaders, no matter what position we hold (or don't hold). He also noted that the key aspects of the character of a leader are courage, endurance, and optimism. It takes these three character traits to make a difference day in and day out.

Finally, Warren added that the directive Jesus gave the disciples when going into towns to share the message was that they were to "find the man of peace." The man of peace was someone 1) open and 2) influential. This person didn't even have to believe the same as the disciples. This idea came as new to me and caused me to rethink how I work with others to bring about the change I believe needs to occur. These people don't need to see things the way I do. They just need to be open. And, for the sake of the cause, I need to invest time with open people who are influential. What I need to move away from is spending excessive time with those who already see things the way I do and who are not influential in bringing these changes about.

Although it seems a somewhat cold and calculated way of spending time and connecting with others at work, perhaps the uninfluential person who sees things the way I do would be happy with the end result of positive change in the workplace? Then, instead of jawwing about all the shortcomings we see, we could talk about how good it is to see genuine positive changes occuring in our workplace. And our job as leaders, though Human Resources didn't quite capture it, is to be doers, contributing catalysts of change with courage, endurance and optimism - good stewards of our influence and authority.

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