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Welcome to the January 2011 issue of Alignment Solutions! Here’s what’s going on:

  • Pat Lynch is a “Featured Coach” in Million Dollar Coaching by bestselling business author Alan Weiss. Endorsed by world-renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, this book provides the inside advice you need to build or expand your coaching business. It is packed with tips, checklists, resources, and practical examples to help those who are serious about professional coaching.    
  • To help set you up for success this year, we are offering a limited number of complimentary 30-minute coaching calls. This offer is on a first-come, first-served basis, so contact us today for your appointment!

This month’s theme is courageous leadership. By that I mean the guidance and example set by individuals who focus relentlessly on the best interests of their organizations, even when they pay a personal price for doing so. Courageous leadership is especially critical in the public (government) sector, which presents some unique challenges for decision-makers.

The Feature Article, “Wanted: Courageous Leaders,” addresses some of the reasons why being a courageous leader is so challenging, yet essential for social well-being.

In “Why Courageous Leadership is Important,” the Business Solutions section describes an easy and quick way to demonstrate clearly the differences that courageous leadership makes in the workplace and other environments.

In the Personal Solutions section, “The Courage of Your Talent” explores the challenges of recognizing and sharing one’s talents with others. 

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

Do you know someone who could benefit from the value we provide? If so, let’s create a win-win-win situation! Contact us about how we can make this happen.

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Wanted: Courageous Leaders

Organizations across the U.S., especially those in the public (government) sector, are struggling to overcome the obstacles and identify the opportunities presented in the aftermath of slashed budgets, plummeting revenues, and forced layoffs and furloughs. The challenge is to prioritize scarce resources so they can be allocated as effectively as possible to achieve the desired outcomes.

There are two critical success factors required to enable decision-makers to devise an effective process for allocating their organizations’ scarce resources in ways that will allow them to re-group successfully: (1) a clearly articulated “big picture” – i.e., an overall mission statement or vision – and (2) courageous leaders. Organizations that have not identified their big picture can be successful if they address that shortcoming, which can be done relatively easily; those that lack courageous leaders, however, are unlikely to be able to rise to the challenges that face them.

Courageous leaders are principled individuals who focus relentlessly on achieving the organization’s big picture, even if doing so results in their paying a personal price. For example, in an ideal world, politicians at all levels of government would do what they were elected to do – i.e., make the tough decisions that are in the best interests of their city, county, state, or country (e.g., a city council member would vote for the interests of the city rather than of his/her district or, more narrowly, a sub-group of that district). In reality, however, they inevitably find themselves in the position of having to choose between the greater good, and a more narrow set of interests, either their own (e.g., re-election) or others’ (e.g., a sub-set of the population). Courageous leaders are those who consistently choose the greater good, even when their actions and decisions may result in their paying a heavy personal price.

Being a courageous leader is difficult. The reality of a world of scarce resources is that decision-makers must be able to prioritize them in a transparent, fair, relatively objective way that serves the greater good. In the U.S., people often want to have their proverbial cake and eat it too – e.g., they want their leaders to maintain or improve levels of services or benefits without raising taxes or cutting pay. Thus decision-makers often must buck the tide of public opinion, which may include people who elected, appointed, or hired them to do that job in the first place. Especially for public officials, it also may mean having to resist peer pressure from their colleagues.

Courageous leaders are able to see the big picture and, importantly, what must be done to achieve it. They must address a multitude of diverse positions on complex issues. The public sector, for example, must serve people who have a myriad of conflicting interests and who all expect and need to be heard and served. Leaders in that sector are responsible for seeing to the needs of those who have nowhere else to turn, even when those needs consume resources for which other stakeholders believe there are more pressing uses.

In short, the role of courageous leader is one that is fraught with peril, as demonstrated by those who have been pushed aside for having stood their ground in focusing on the big picture. The greater danger, however, is the absence of courageous leadership in our organizations and our society.

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Why Courageous Leadership is Important

For those who wonder whether courageous leadership really is necessary, or whether it is worth the personal costs it often demands, here is an exercise that can help address those questions. It can be used in the workplace or in any setting, including the political arena, with small, medium, or large groups.

Step 1: Ask the group members to think of a specific individual who they have experienced as demonstrating a very HIGH level of courageous leadership – i.e., someone who focuses relentlessly on the good of the organization. (If they truly don’t know, or know of, anyone who fits this description, have them imagine what it would be like if they did have that experience.) Have them write down a few words or phrases to describe what it’s like to be around that person.

Step 2: After step 1 has been completed, and before participants talk with each other about their answers, ask them to think of a specific individual who they have experienced as demonstrating a very LOW level of courageous leadership – i.e., someone who focuses on his/her self-interest rather than on the good of the organization. (If they truly don’t know, or know of, anyone who fits this description, have them imagine what it would be like if they did have that experience.) Have them write down a few words or phrases to describe what it’s like to be around that person.

Step 3: Using a flip chart or white board, draw a vertical line down the middle to create two columns. On the left column, write “High level of courageous leadership” and on the right column, write “Low level of courageous leadership.”

Step 4: Ask participants to tell you what words or phrases they wrote down for the high level of courageous leadership. Write down each suggestion in the left column. You can have people call out their answers or go around the group as many times as it takes for everyone to contribute all their responses.

Step 5: Repeat step 4 using responses for the low level of courageous leadership; write the answers in the right column.

Step 6: After all the responses have been recorded, read them aloud – first the left column, then the right column. Then ask this question: “In which of these two environments would you rather work or live?”

As you might imagine, the above question really is rhetorical given the stark contrast between the descriptions in the two columns. Nonetheless, it enables people to really see and feel why courageous leadership is important. And it demonstrates the critical role that courageous leaders play on all levels – personal, organizational, and societal.

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The Courage of Your Talent

“You must have the courage of your talent.” With that statement, Alan Weiss opened his three-day Thought Leadership symposium in Palm Beach last fall. It was meant to provoke us and stimulate some serious soul-searching. It did both.

Talents are innate abilities, gifts that people are born with, such as athletic prowess, an aptitude for singing or playing a musical instrument, the capacity for communicating deeply, a flair for the dramatic, the power to bring out the best in those they meet, the ability to inspire people to action. Talents are different than skills, which can be learned. Although talents can be honed with practice, no amount of practice can create talent.

If asked to name talented people, we might conjure up images of those whose talent has brought them fame, such as Michael Jordan (athlete), Itzhak Perlman (musician), Walter Cronkite (newscaster), Meryl Streep (actress), and Mother Theresa (humanitarian). But don’t let those names fool or intimidate you: everyone has talents. However, not everyone uses their talents. Why not? Here are half a dozen reasons:

  1. They truly don’t recognize their gifts.
  2. They’re afraid of failure.
  3. They do not think their efforts are “good enough.”
  4. They think they’re too old to start something new. (It’s a good thing Grandma Moses didn’t think that way: she didn’t start painting till she was in her 70s.)
  5. They think their talents are of little or no consequence.
  6. They do not believe they can earn a living by sharing their talents – i.e., they need to keep their “day job” in order to make ends meet.

What’s wrong with these arguments? They are obstacles that prevent people from sharing their gifts with the world. To get beyond these barriers often requires courage – to take risks, to move into the unknown, to claim ownership of one’s true talents.

Having the courage of your talent means that in spite of your fears, in spite of your self-doubt, and in spite of what others may have said to you along the way, you embrace fully the gifts you have been given. It means that even though the thought of sharing and living your dreams may be scary because they are so far removed from who you are, or who others think you are, or what you are doing right now, you step into the opportunity that has been given to you by virtue of your talents. It means that you take the risk that others will find something wrong with your efforts – because some will. But you persevere because there will be many more who see the value you provide. And you fuel your courage with the knowledge, deep down, that you are not living your life fully unless you take the leap of faith needed to get past all the “What if…?” questions that have held you back.

Having the courage of your talent means taking a deep breath and unleashing the power that comes from fully embracing your innate gifts and abilities. Perhaps in doing so you will discover a facet of yourself that you may not have seen before – yet somehow you know has been there all along.

Do you have the courage of your talent? If not, what is holding you back? Life is short. What are you waiting for?

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Date of Publication: January 2011
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
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