When it comes to leadership, it’s important to not only understand our values (what needs matter most) but also to understand our vision (how we intend to meet those needs). Leadership can come unglued at either or both levels. When our values are not life-affirming, or when people fail to appreciate our vision, then leadership becomes a tug-of-war over ends and means. To avoid that unfortunate eventuality, it’s important for leaders to think deeply, communicate clearly, and listen carefully. This Provision makes that case and explains how to proceed.
Last week I urged you to pay attention to your values, whether in regard to your own leadership or the leadership of others. In the wake of the recent election in the United States, which included the ouster of many incumbents, pundits are saying that the voters communicated their values. I say the results had more to do with vision.
What’s the difference between values and vision? Values are what we need to be happy, healthy, and whole. Vision is how we imagine getting there. What we need and how we see those needs being met are both important dynamics; elections, however, often have more to do with visions than values, with strategies than needs.
In my Provision, Values Matter, I identified 10 needs that great leaders honor and respect:
- Subsistence • The need to survive
- Safety • The need to be secure
- Work • The need to exert energy
- Rest • The need to recover energy
- Honesty • The need to express understanding
- Empathy • The need to receive understanding
- Autonomy • The need for independence
- Community • The need for interdependence
- Challenge • The need to explore
- Transcendence • The need to thrive
My guess is that most of the candidates and voters would agree on the importance of honoring and respecting those values. I wish the political process in the United States allowed for more conversation at that level. There would be less rancor, more civility, and more of a search for common ground in discerning a way forward.
What happens, instead, is that people jump right in, arguing about the vision of different parties or different leaders as to how they want to get from here to there and what they want society to look like once we get there. Here, for example, are 10 arguing points around each of the 10 values or needs:
- Subsistence • How does society recognize and meet basic human needs?
- Safety • How does society protect the security of individuals and groups?
- Work • How does society stimulate individual initiative and the economy as a whole?
- Rest • How does society handle the rights of workers?
- Honesty • How does society protect freedom of expression?
- Empathy • How does society understand minority viewpoints and rights?
- Autonomy • How does society encourage individual liberty?
- Community • How does society connect with global concerns?
- Challenge • How does society stimulate new ventures and research?
- Transcendence • How does society handle freedom of religion?
When political parties answer questions such as those, they call it a platform. I call it a vision. And when it comes to leadership, visions matter. Until and unless people get behind the vision, there will be turmoil and upheavals such as we just saw in the recent USA election. Once people get behind the vision, things can really take off.
In order for that to happen, it’s important for leaders to think deeply, communicate clearly, and listen carefully. Let’s consider each in turn.
- Think Deeply. Lao Tsu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China, once said, “Those who know others are learned. Those who know themselves are wise.” Great leaders know themselves, including their values and visions. It’s not a simple thing, or leadership would be easy. That’s because there are inherent tensions between values and visions. Work and rest, autonomy and community, honesty and empathy, safety and challenge, as well as subsistence and transcendence are dialectical pairs. The more you meet of one, the less you meet of the other. The secret of great leadership is finding the sweet spot.That’s hard to do but it’s not impossible. The key is to recognize and embrace the dialectic. Instead of bemoaning the interaction of conflicting ideas and forces, great leaders acknowledge and welcome the dynamic. Instead of getting flustered by not being able to do everything, great leaders enjoy being able to do what they can. They think deeply about their values and visions so as to create vitality both for themselves and for others. Great leaders find ways to resonate and dance with the rhythms of life.
- Communicate Clearly. Such dancing requires clear communication. Whatever can get misinterpreted will get misinterpreted. I was watching one of the morning shows on television when they showed President Barack Obama saying that people are hardwired to not think very clearly, rationally, or scientifically when they are filled with fear. Now that’s a basic truth of cognitive neuroscience that I have written about before. It’s called an emotional hijack. When the limbic system is stimulated • and fear is one of the most basic of all emotions rooted in the limbic system • it takes over and interferes with cognitive processing. It literally becomes hard to think straight.How did the host of the morning show interpret President Obama’s comment? He wanted to know how the President of the United States could get away with saying that the American people are hardwired for fear. What? That’s not with the President said at all, but that’s what the talking heads spent the next 10 minutes debating. Whatever can get misinterpreted will get misinterpreted. Great leaders limit that possibility by communicating clearly.
- Listen Carefully. Then, having communicated clearly, great leaders listen carefully. There will be far more agreement when it comes to values than when it comes to visions. Visions involve strategies and different people will have different ideas as to the strategies they may prefer. It’s important for leader to listen to those differences in order to carve out a way forward that will maximize the support, participation, engagement, and effort of their constituencies. To get people pulling together in a common direction, rather than pulling apart at each other, leaders have to discern the vision that reflects the heart of their people.Last week I quoted the ancient saying, “Without vision the people perish.” The ancients forgot to mention, however, that people can also perish with the wrong vision. What makes a vision wrong? If the values are wrong, the vision will certainly be wrong. But so, too, if the vision is not crafted on the basis of careful listening. When people are divided as to how they want to get things done, careful listening can find both common ground and compromises that people will accept.
Thinking, communicating, and listening are all essential tasks of great leadership. That’s especially true when it comes to visions, because visions, even more than values, can be controversial. Yet even in the midst of controversy, great leaders find a way through.
Coaching Inquiries: What’s your vision as a leader? What values does your vision reflect? How much have you thought things through? How clearly have you communicated your ideas? What have you heard people trying to say? How are things working for you? What could make things work even better?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Thank you for your Provision, Values Matter. I especially enjoyed your reference to Thomas Jefferson and your question, “What are the values that people affirm, express, and represent?”
My husband and I have had many conversations regarding what people say vs. what people do. It’s interesting to me to observe the difference / similarity among various individuals and I find myself highly attracted to those who live congruently with their values, beliefs and goals. We have chalkboard doors on our pantry in the kitchen and this is the tag line we have posted as a constant reminder for how we want to live…”Question Everything • Act Intentfully • Live Congruently.” Thank you for your continuous sharing of knowledge, curiosity, and inspiration.
I enjoyed your Provision on Values Matter; great timing with voting tomorrow. Thank you for reminding us to stop and think what our values are, and those that are in a higher position. I am so glad that you were at the scene of the girl who got hit by the car. You have such a calming way about you and I know that blessed her to have you comfort her until help arrived. You are a good soul.
I listened to you speak many times during my Wellcoach training and really appreciate all of the knowledge and experience that you shared. Thank you! I would like to get your permission to post portions of an article that you wrote titled Provision #672: Persistence Matters. It’s a great piece that I really think my blog readers would relate to.
Your Provision, Values Matter, is a beautifully moving piece. It is very thought provoking.
I just finished reading Bob’s online article, Provision 683: Feelings Matter. As the lead co-author of Strategic Listening for School Leaders, I am delighted that you enjoyed reading it and put it to good use. I agree that the strategic listening discussed in the book is applicable to any leadership situation. Best wishes.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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