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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Veldon Law: The "Tinkling" Bell of Leadership

I’m an ole Idaho country boy and just up the road from my childhood home was a field, with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looked like any other horse. But if you were to stop your car, or to walk up to the fence and look closely at the horses, you would notice something quite amazing.

By looking into the eyes of one of the horses you would find that it is blind. Its owner had chosen not to have him put down, but had attempted to make a good home for him. This by in itself is somewhat amazing. But more amazing was that if you were stand still and listen, you would hear the “tinkling” sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound you would find that it comes from a bell on the smaller horse.

Attached to the second horses’ halter was that small bell. It let its blind friend know where it was -- so it could follow. If you were to stand and watch these two friends for any period of time, you’d see that the horse with the bell was always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse was always listening for the bell. It would then slowly walk to where the other horse was, trusting that he would not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returned to the shelter of the barn each evening it would stop occasionally and look back, making sure that its blind friend wasn’t too far behind so that it couldn’t hear the tinkling of the bell.

Perhaps, the “leadership lesson” of the two horses is overly obvious. What can we learn from the horses? Years later and in looking for personal application, I learned that as a youngster I had the chance to realize that sometimes we are all blind. In our blindness we need to carefully listen for and follow the tinkling bell of someone who sight and vision (I use the word vision here to denote vision in the largest sense possible – meaning much more than sight). Other times when we are the ones that have the sight and vision, as we lead, we need to make sure that those we are leading are in fact following. In so many ways as leaders we must also be willing followers, too. When we are leaders, our role is to help others find their way. In this role those being led may not always see us, but they know we are there. -- Veldon L. Law

Friday, February 5, 2010

Veldon Law: All The People Say, "We Ourselves Have Achieved It"

There are those in or with authority all around us. They range from law enforcement officers to parents to bosses to political figures.  It is evident if we watch the news, observe familial behavior, or are part of any organization that “authority” doesn’t necessarily mean “leadership.”

John C. Maxwell, one of the most prolific writers of our time, in his book, "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader," says this:  "What makes people want to follow a leader?  Why do people reluctantly comply with one leader while passionately following another to the ends of the earth?  What separates leadership theorists from successful leaders who lead effectively in the real world? The answer lies in the character qualities of the individual person … leadership truly develops from the inside out.

Real leaders understand how to be a positive example day in and day out. Real leaders build-up, they support and encourage. They value competence and communication and work to develop it in themselves. They have focus, vision, and the courage to take calculated risks. They are generous with their wisdom, remain humble, and know when to shut up and listen.

In stark contrast are the “would be leaders” that through their position of authority wish to rule over us. Many perceive themselves because of “title,” feelings of entitlement, or arrogance to be leaders, when in fact by their behavior and leadership style, are nothing more than “bossy overlords.” They attempt to manipulate “underling” compliance, loyalty, effort, and teamwork through control, what is and isn’t communicated, partial truth, etc. They have a tendency to live in a Machiavellian world where the end justifies the means.

How many real leaders have you known or observed? In my experience “leaders” are few and far between and I can only hope that as a reader your experience has been better than mine. It is so easy to directly observe the contrast between real and would be leaders, especially in leadership provided by public “servants” and within our work settings.

Real Leadership

From the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17, whose title comes from the opening words of its two sections, “way” and “virtue” outlines levels of leadership. “The highest type of ruler is one whose existence of which the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.” It continues, “The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”

I can’t imagine the Sage in this quote is trying to manipulate with the idea that “Leadership is getting people to do things they don’t want to do.” It is obvious by its context that the Sage has learned to trust, to empower, and to encourage people in a way that allows them to jump in feet first, motivate themselves, and see the work and accomplishments as their own.

I think it is fair to say that real leadership is a rare thing. Those who have it leave a legacy of strong-hearted people. Those who don’t have it leave a wake of resentful people. – Veldon L. Law

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Veldon Law: Sight Doesn’t Mean Vision

The life, struggles, and near miraculous accomplishments of Helen Keller have been used over and over to inspire and provide a real life illustration of how one’s will can be a driving force to overcome the most difficult of circumstances. Perhaps, her life and the inspiration provided hold the potential to also illustrate a variety of leadership principles.

Most know that it took Helen three years to learn the alphabet. To understand others she would place her middle finger on the nose of the person talking and then she would place her other three fingers on the speaker’s upper lip and her thumb on their larynx. In this way she could interpret what was being spoken. This says nothing of the difficulty of her learning to speak, and overcoming her lack of sight.

It is in relation to her sight that we can learn a valuable leadership lesson. In the later years of her life and in an interview with a reporter she was asked what she thought was worse than being blind. Her reply, “having eyes to see, but not having vision.”

As a leader, we hold the position and the responsibility, the eyes in Ms Keller’s vision equation. But as she insightfully saw - sight doesn’t equal vision. As leaders we ought to regularly take stock and examine whether we also possess and use our vision. Veldon L. Law, Ed.D.