Before I talk about anything else, I wanted to be sure you know you’re invited to our annual Holiday Chamber Connect tonight, December 5, at Landmark Center! This night truly is our gift back to you, “St. Paul’s Holiday Party,” so to speak, supported by sponsors and the wonderful food and beverage vendors you’ll be sampling. I really hope you’ll join us to celebrate this past year together.
For this week, I want to share a book I’m reading, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. If you haven’t yet read this book, I’d recommend you do so. Why? Because leadership is tough, and right now we need it more than ever.
Every day the opportunity for leadership stands before you. Each day brings you opportunities to raise important questions, speak to higher values, and surface unresolved conflicts. Every day you have the chance to make a difference in the lives of people around you.
And every day you must decide whether to put your contribution out there, or keep it to yourself to avoid upsetting anyone, and get through another day. You are right to be cautious. Prudence is a virtue. You disturb people when you take unpopular initiatives in your community, put provocative new ideas on the table in your organization, question the gap between colleagues’ values and behavior, or ask friends and relatives to face up to tough realities. You risk people’s ire and make yourself vulnerable. Exercising leadership can get you into a lot of trouble.
To lead is to live dangerously because, when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear – their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking – with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility. Moreover, leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to tackle the challenge at hand. People push back when you disturb the personal and institutional equilibrium they know.
It’s no wonder that when the myriad opportunities to exercise leadership call, you often hesitate. This book is about taking opportunities to lead, and staying alive.
I do believe that leadership at any level is worth the risk because the things we care about extend beyond material gain or personal advancement. By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning in life. It creates purpose. This book offers a series of “action ideas” and one resonated specifically for me: “Getting on the Balcony.” The idea here is to step back to get perspective on a topic while remaining engaged. I want to listen more, first. Really hear what someone is saying, let it sink in and perhaps change how I’m looking at an issue, and respond rather than react. There’s a difference.
Of course this book was timely for me because each year offers new challenges. I continue to practice the art of hard conversations, of building bridges between people who may agree on a goal but who have very different ways to achieve it. How can we find our way to move forward together? Leadership. It’s on the line.
See you in the trenches,