“Doing” and “Being” a Leader: Not the Same Thing

The following post is from Leading Effectively, a blog maintained by the Center for Creative Leadership – and worth a quick read.

George, one of the best trainers in our organization, often begins his classes with a very interesting introduction – He calls it 5-7-10. He asks participants in our leadership classes to think back to where they were when they were 5 years old, where they were and what they were doing 7 years ago, and what they want to be in 10 years. The participants are then invited to greet each other and have a conversation around the three topics.  Bringing the group together in a circle, George asks them what they have learned from talking to their new-found partners in the class. 

The results are always exciting. 

Although all three questions are important, the “what do you want to be in 10 years” has the most to do with leadership. For the first question we discover the diversity and the anchors for the people in the class; the fundamental connection between people of family, of growth, and of possibility. The second question reveals generational differences, as people often discover that some in the class were in school, some in their mid-level positions, and some were doing something entirely unrelated to their current positions (some examples involve everything from Peace Corps worker to Traveling vagabond). 

The third question is the key, and the trick is in the language. We ask “what do you want to ‘be’ in ten years.” We often receive replies of “Retired,” “President of the Company,” even “doing the same thing, but less of it to make more time for family.” This is when George might reflect the question again, emphasizing the “be.” George will often rephrase the answers with the idea “that is what you want to do…what do you want to be?”

Early in the class few understand the distinction. One woman in a class a few weeks ago did. She saw where George was going and said, “In ten years, I want to be happy with the choices I have made about my work and my life, plus the choices I am faced with going forward.” She understood that “doing” is what people see, “being” is what people feel.   

This person understood the difference between “doing” leadership and “being” a leader.  The “doing” is sometimes more about management and process than leadership. When we are “doing” we are moving from Manager to Director to Supervisor and up the chain. We are “doing” our job when we check the process, insure quality, make sure our people are skipping to work and happy to be there.  

But there is a flip side to the leadership coin. We are taught what to do as leaders, but we have to learn how to be good leaders. “Being” involves understanding yourself, your context, and what you want your future to “be.” “Being” a leader involves being fully present with a person, understanding their needs and truly listening to their concerns. A leader in “being” is one who puts away their smart phone, turns away from the computer, focuses on the other person in the office and makes “being” with them the most important priority in the moment.  

Those who operate in the presence of great leaders will often reflect that when you talk with them they make you feel as if there was no one else in the room. Historians comment that Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, and even Winston Churchill have this quality. Their eye contact, body language, skills and perspective combine to fully “be” with the person they are with – regardless of external pressures. They are so present with that person, the person with them feels valued and listened to. This is often alarming to those with them for the first time, and then relished by those who have the privilege of working with them on a daily basis. 

Thus, when George asks his 5-7-10 questions, it is more than an icebreaker between people. It serves to break down the barriers people have built from their experience of “doing” leadership and helps them to start thinking about how to “be” better leaders. We must ask ourselves – when people come in our office are we too engaged with email or projects to “be” with them? Are we too busy to “be” with our families? Are we too focused on “doing” leadership than on “being” a good leader?  

As a leader, are you more about “doing” or more about “being?” 

Where will you “be” in 10 years?

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Connections Between Leadership and Play?

So, the title may be misleading… Lotto and O’Toole propose a connection between science and play. But when you watch the short video, try replacing “science” with “leadership”.

What similarities or differences do you “notice”?

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What Motivates Us?

What does motivation have to dow with leadership? How about power and influence?

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Ask Big Questions at UVA: What do you expect of leaders?

University of Virginia asks WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM YOUR LEADERS?

Here is one response:

A leader should inspire through example; have an exceptional work ethic; operate wherever possible in a transparent manner; be true to his/her word and

 thereby inspire trust; be collaborative where possible, but also be unafraid to make a tough decision when required; and lastly, be fully accountable for results.
-Allen Groves, Dean of Students
Join the conversation at Big Questions UVA!
What do YOU expect of leaders?
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Developing Young Leaders: Great Potential, Significant Gaps

I came across this post on the Center for Creative Leadership’s blog, Leading Effectively, today describing a recent poll conducted by their staff.  Regardless of your thoughts on the poll and its results, it’s interesting to take the perspective of other and consider their ideas, experiences and concerns.  


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Zoom in, Zoom out


I’m not a great photographer…. I’m not even a “good” photographer.  I’m not skilled at aligning the “composition” and “lines” with aspects of lighting and “depth.”  Photographers are credited with having created or constructed art from behind the lens of a camera, however what we see is the focus of their work – aspects of the world that capture their attention.

As I reflect on what scholars often refer to as follower-centered leadership, I began to consider the relationship between a photographer and leader.  In A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership, Jackson and Parry refer to Meindl’s contribution to leadership studies by noting, “leadership is fundamentally predicated on the relationship between leaders and followers, the followers almost invariably took a minor supporting role in the analysis of leadership” (p. 47).  They go on to describe that research has often focused on how followers represent leaders in their thought systems – unless follower recognize leadership, then it isn’t leadership.

I envision photographers as leaders – behind the camera, zooming in on specific challenges and opportunities; honing in on followers needs, social issues and the demands of day.  Zooming out, they are charged with seeing the whole situation – conceptualizing strategy, communicating broadly and often offering solutions to small and systemic problems.

What happens when they zoom in and focus on the “wrong” composition?  

ImageThey zoom in, but miss opportunities to capture the detail of a situation that followers determine may necessitate leadership.

Or they zoom out… for too long, too often… and don’t capture the images that tell the story of their mission.  Can one image – either close up or from afar – capture the essence of leadership?  I don’t think so.Image

Recently, I had the opportunity to support an undergraduate student as she conducted a research project with 10 school-age youth, asking them to identify healthy foods in their home, at school and in the community.  Linda gave them each a camera.  It was theirs to keep; a tool for exploring the world.  The camera was theirs to keep.  The images they brought back were remarkable.  Each of them saw the world differently.  They captured images close up, from far away and every where in the middle.  They identified, through their lens and in their world what healthy living meant to them.

Linda is a fantastic photographer.  She chose, however, to share the leadership of this process with them.  Her photographs could have easily been grouped, discussed and analyzed for the purpose of the study, rather she allow them to co-author an experience in which they identified and shaped the outcome.  She promoted a co-creation of leadership by empowering, inspiring and confirming their experiences, skills and interests; she promoted them as leaders.

I value the many perspectives I capture from behind the lens of a camera; I find more joy in celebrating the perspectives captured by others seeing and experiencing the same opportunities to define a common purpose.

When we consider follower-centered leadership, it calls into question how we refer to a “follower.”  This question was raised by one of your colleague’s recently stating, “I just feel that subordinate is a demeaning term.”

So, if we aspire to co-produce leadership in a more follower-centric manner, generating an equilibrium in which leadership can be focused and sustained from the perspective of “leaders” and “followers”, how should we refer to “subordinates”?

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A la Carte

When referring to a menu, something is a la carte if it is priced and ordered separately from other full menu items. LDRS “a la carte” entries are simply that – unrelated, brief entries that have captured our attention during recent weeks. 


Keld Jensen suggests that intelligence is overrated… its your EQ that really matters.  Learn more about the importance of emotional and moral intelligence in leadership development. 


A follow up to a recent a la carte post regarding the importance of reading to effective leadership development, among other things.  Coleman suggests 11 books that every young leader should read.


Cool lessons in a Hot Placeread Clemson Turregano’s reflection of her time spent with the US Army in the High California Dessert in August.  His reflection on leadership reminds me of the importance of building on our individual values, as we move toward a deeper understanding of group and community goals during the coming weeks.


As major league baseball playoffs wrap up, watch this brief video about the leadership lessons learned on the softball field.  


When was the last time you had a conversation with your instructor, PL or suite-mate about your strenghths?  As you read this article, replace “company” with “RLC” and “supervisor” with “instructor,” “PL,” “intern,” or “friend”.  What would PY look like if we took strengths to the next level



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