Friday, November 30, 2007

Stillness amidst the "tribe"

I watched the great actor Ben Kingsley respond to a young aspiring actor’s question as to how to hold in his impatience. Ben evoked the metaphor of a tribe and that actors are like hunters. Eager to use their bow and arrows in pursuit of the hunt. Eager to get going.

But Ben counselled that a good mentor, knowing that the actor is not quite ready for the stage, would only give him an arrow with no bow or a bow with no arrow. Then, one day when he no longer asked, when he did not have the compulsion to ask, the mentor would finally give them to him.

In Ben’s view, an actor must honour the “tribe’s” code of conduct and its traditions for developing hunter-leaders. Some things take time. There are many lessons to be learned. Be patient. Be still.

Stillness, he contends, is a pre-requisite to graduation as it illuminates the lessons to be learned. It enables an actor in training to “empty his cup”. In Joseph Parent’s book Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game, he explains:

The empty cup approach doesn’t mean giving up your intelligence and following blindly. The point is to receive everything that is taught in an open way, withholding judgment about it until you’ve tried for awhile. Try your best to understand what is being communicated, then give it a fair chance to see if it works for you.

Parent continues with a great Zen Master’s saying:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Thus, the beginner’s mind is like an empty cup---open, empty of preconceptions, inquisitive, receptive and ready to engage.

In essence, “being still”, can make your mind bigger, no matter who you are…actor, leader, parent, front line worker… Your field of vision widens. You literally see more and connect more directly to the experience at hand.

The newspapers are full of unsettling stories of the failings of some experts. Those whom we have put our faith in to make good decisions about complex matters. When the full stories emerge, it is quite clear that their cups had dirt in them, muddying and distorting what they heard to fit their preconceived ideas and opinions. Thus, “being still” and having an “empty cup” applies as much to experts as novices.

It is a privilege to be a leader and no small task to live up to the ideal of great leadership. No one wants to create disasters. An empty and still mind can help offset any potential bad turns in the road.

In Parent’s words:

Bigger space. Bigger mind. Bigger mind. Better results.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The H.O.A.G. Leadership Factor: How Much Does This Count for Hillary Clinton?

As reported in one newspaper, Mark Grimes, a Toronto City Councilor is a H.O.A.G. (a hell of a "guy"). Judging from what is written about Stephane Dion, Canada’s official leader of the opposition, he has a little of the H.O.A.G. factor—just a whiff. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, comes across in the media commentary as a cold, authoritarian leader. He does not make the grade as a H.O.A.G. George Bush probably does as well as former President Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien. But, alas, the polls for Hillary Clinton suggest she’s got some work to do in that area. Does this really matter?

The term registered on my radar a few weeks ago when reading about the latest political skirmishes and accomplishments. A H.O.A. G. is a person (a leader in this context) with whom you’d enjoy “having a beer with”. I take it that this means having a “down to earth” aura or “vibe” that enables others to relax and swap stories and opinions with you. To gain this distinction as a leader, your track record precedes you. Your actions, deeds and way of relating combine to give you a “H.O.A.G.” rating. In matters of voting for a candidate, this “feeling” can matter.

Let’s consider Senator Clinton. About 56 per cent of women favor Hillary, according to recent polls. Yet, only 22 per cent have made up their minds. When asked, people have a hard time articulating why they do or do not like her. The answer from a woman from Coral Gables, Florida captures the ambivalence and hard to put into words conundrum: “I admire her and I think she is well-qualified, but she lacks heart”.

Well, that’s a little drastic but maybe she’s on to something. Many leadership and management researchers speak of “emotional leadership” as counting for up to 90 per cent of success: the ability to relate to others and much more. Now embodied in the term “emotional intelligence”, and made famous by Daniel Goleman, it is becoming an assessment factor in recruiting and a developmental strategy in coaching leaders to become more effective. An amalgam of many “competencies”, there are four main categories with multiple capabilities within:

Relationship management

If we imagined Hillary taking the EIQ test, what might her results be based on what we perceive from a distance? Here’s an estimate on my part:

Self-awareness---reading one’s own emotions and recognizing their impact; using “gut sense” to guide decisions; knowing one’s strengths and limits; a sound sense of one’s self worth and abilities: B minus

Self-management--- emotional self-control, displaying honesty and integrity, flexibility in adapting to changing situations, drive to improve performance to meet inner standards of excellence, initiative or readiness to act and seize opportunities, optimism: A

Social Awareness---empathy or sensing others’ emotions, understanding their perspective and taking an active interest in their concerns: C

Relationship Management---guiding and motivating with a compelling vision, wielding a range of tactics for persuasion, bolstering others’ abilities through feedback and guidance, initiating, leading and managing in a new direction, resolving disagreements, cultivating and maintaining a web of relationships, cooperation and teamwork: B minus

This quick and very unscientific analysis reveals that Hillary is tough, smart and very reliable. She’s got substance, an extremely important leadership skill. She keeps her emotions tightly in check (an attribute under stressful situations). But, that emotional connection with others is tenuous. Husband Bill wins hands down in that area. It is this that likely explains why Hillary would not easily meet the H.O.A.G. “standard”.

The reality is that leaders’ emotional states are contagious, especially cheerfulness and warmth. In Goleman’s Primal Leadership book, he describes the findings of a Yale University School of Management study: “among working groups, cheerfulness and warmth spread more easily, while irritability is less contagious and depression spreads hardly at all”. The researchers concluded that “upbeat moods boost cooperation, fairness and business performance”.

Underlying the “contagion” of a leader’s positive emotional state is passion and enthusiasm. This is where the H.O.A.G factor and charisma meet. So, I return to an earlier theme: if a leader is passionate about a cause, people naturally gravitate to them and are inspired when in their company. This is the trim tab for Hillary, Stephane Dion, Stephen Harper and any person wanting to make a difference in a leadership capacity.

For Hillary to translate the undecided voters in her direction, showing her heart to others in a more fulsome way through her “cause” will be a huge step in the right direction. It’s time for Senator Clinton to rev up her warmth index. The years of political intrigue and deception by her challengers have likely made her wary. Understandable. But, not to do so, to hold back on her ability to connect on an emotional level, to not show her compassion for a cause, gives Hillary’s opponents the advantage.

These are lessons for all of us wanting to be stronger leaders.