01 September 2017

The Duties of a Leader

"The goal of thinking hard about leadership is not to produce great or charismatic or well-known leaders.  The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head but the tone of the body."  

--Max Dupree


In 1993 I had the privilege of attending a conference sponsored by Leadership Network in Orlando, Florida.   This was an opportunity to learn from some of the better minds about sound behaviors related to leadership and management.

On the program were two men of distinction who have had a lasting impact on a large number of individuals--Dr. William Bridges and Max Dupree.   

Dr. Bridges, who passed February 17, 2013 at age 79, was known for his pioneering work which transformed the way people think about change.  The title of his first book, "Transitions," was written after the loss of his wife, Mondi.  It has sold over a million copies.  

The thesis for Dr. Bridges teaching is simple:  It's important to understand transition (internal) as a way for organizations to be successful when undertaking change (external).

"It's not the change--it's the transition"

Harvard educated, Dr. Bridges was low-key in his approach to transition--always with practical applications.  The context for that presentation in 1993 was that the topic of "change" happened to be all the rage.  Books were flying off the shelves (few e-books then) from "experts" telling all who would listen that their businesses needed to change and offering ways to make that happen.  

Along comes William Bridges to remind us that if you want to be a champion for change it's critical to allow for the emotional and psychological responses (transitions) which employees, and organizational cultures, go through at different speeds.  

An important insight.

An absence of corporate jargon

Next came Max Dupree,  author of the best-seller, "Leadership is An Art," first published in 1989.  Mr. Dupree died August 8, 2017 at the age of 92.  

Mr. Dupree was chief executive officer (CEO) of the office-furniture maker Herman Miller, Inc., Zeeland, Michigan, from 1980 to 1987.  He was also a son of the company's founder, D. J. Dupree who started the business in 1923.

The signature thought in "Leadership is An Art:"

"The first duty of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say thank you.  In between the two, the leader must become a servant and debtor.  That sums up the progress of an artful leader." 

Max Dupree's writing was informed by his work in the family business and his Christian faith.  

Suggesting corporate leadership embrace "oddballs" and form "covenantal bonds" with employees was outside the mainstream for management books nearly three decades ago.   However, his clear thinking and fresh ideas resonated with many. "Leadership is An Art" has sold over 800,00 copies in hardcover and paperback, influencing a generation of business and nonprofit leaders. 

Character-shaped principles 

Here are some principles which guided Mr. Dupree's life:

1. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.  Are the followers reaching their potential?  Are they learning?  Serving?  Do they achieve the required results?  Do they change with grace?  Manage conflict?

2. Try to think about a leader, in the words of the gospel writer Luke, as "one who serves."

3. Leadership is a concept of owing certain things to the institution.  It is a way of thinking about institutional heirs, a way of thinking about stewardship as contrasted with ownership.

4. The art of leadership requires us to think about the leader-as-steward in terms of relationships:  of assets and legacy, of momentum and effectiveness, of civility and values.

Leaders should leave behind them assets and a legacy.

5. People are the heart and spirit of all that counts.  Without people there is no need for leaders.   

6. Leaders are responsible for future leadership.  They need to identify, develop, and nurture future leaders.

7. Leaders owe a certain maturity.  Maturity as expressed in a sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of expectancy, a sense of responsibility, a sense of accountability, and a sense of equality. 

Another way to think about what leaders owe is to ask this question:  What is it without which this institution would not be what it is?

Final thoughts from Max Dupree

No doubt humility plays a role in the progress of an artful leader.  At least that was my impression after hearing Mr. Dupree speak. 

What do his closing words below say to you?

"In a day when so much energy seems to be spent on maintenance and manuals, on bureaucracy and meaningless quantification, to be a leader is to enjoy the special privileges of complexity, of ambiguity, of diversity. 

"But to be a leader means, especially, having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead."


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