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Leadership, Learning, and Maturity

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an advocate of other-orientation, or service, as the foundation of effective leadership, also known as the Servant Leadership school of thought (expounded by Greenleaf, Covey, Senge, Blanchard, et al.). This week I’ve been listening to an audiobook by James Hunter called The Servant Leadership Training Course, and have learned a number of powerful concepts.

Hunter examines the implications of the following facts:

  • Most psychologists believe that our personality – our predispositions – is hardwired by age 6. Most personality assessment methodologies are based on this assumption.
  • They also believe that intelligence as measured by IQ is pretty much set by age 15

Does this mean that our lives are programmed before adulthood? Not at all. We are our own masters due to two other facts:

  • We can continue learning new skills throughout our lives (see my post on adult learning)
  • The primary driver of leadership is character, which we exercise and develop by the moment-to-moment choices we make hundreds of times every day

The key is the frequency with which we make conscious choices, and thereby strengthen our character. Just like reps with a dumbbell build muscle fibers, so reps with enlightened choice build moral character, which gives one the authority to lead. We can coast through life avoiding choices and personal responsibility, or choose to become aware of all the choices we make every day (of course, the choice to not be aware and not to choose is still a choice! It’s just not conscious or enlightened).

My dog lives in a world of stimulus and response, as defined by Pavlov. My daughters, when they were babies, did also. But as they have grown, they have learned that between stimulus and response is a space where choice resides. They can choose to wait to go to the bathroom, or to be generous, or to make themselves vulnerable by avoiding the easy lie. These are the types of choice that allowed Gandhi and King to respond to violence with neither flight nor fight, but with kindness and perseverance. When I teach meditation, when someone asks, inevitably, “Why meditate?” I suggest that regular practice increases our awareness of choices, takes us out of reaction, and thus gives us true freedom.

Maturity – and true leadership – is the quality of living in that space of freedom, aware of one’s moment-to-moment choices and the true implications of those choices. It’s easy to act like a two year old and scream “Me! Me! Me!” all day. Immaturity can even achieve much for a while. Look at Saddam Hussein. It’s more difficult, but hugely more powerful, to consider how one’s actions will reverberate through the lives of others and either gain force by inspiring them or die by squashing them.

The good news is that maturity is a journey, not a goal, and that one can make progress throughout one’s life. Continuous self improvement. Continuous growth.

Isn’t it fascinating how in many organizations, someone with no power or title often emerges as the moral leader, the one everyone else turns to for advice or insight? That’s authority! How does someone without title or power achieve such status? Hunter provides the answer when he quotes a Marine Corps captain defining leadership as “the qualities of moral character that enable a person that inspire and influence a group of people successfully.” Moral. Character. Inspire. Influence. Success.

Wow. Isn’t that the kind of leader you aspire to be? What’s stopping you?

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