Friday, March 12, 2010

The Leadership Test

Author Timothy R. Clark poses this very pointed question in his book, The Leadership Test: Why do you want to lead? Have you ever thought about that? Why are you willing to risk failure, sleepless nights, and all the headaches that come with being the man or woman in charge? If it's for the money, the glory, or the personal recognition -- you may not fare well in this endeavor. But if your response begins with what you can do for other people and how you can enable the success of those around you, then you just might pass!

Let me recommend a great read to you. Tim has hit on some critical topics here. "The Leadership Test" revolves around the relationship between Izzy, the eccentric high school teacher, and his former student Marcus. Their discussions on leadership really hit home with me and made me think about things like selfless service, accountability, and integrity. I think you will especially enjoy the self-assessment based on what Tim calls the five elements of the leadership test:

1. Fill Your Pack.
2. Sign Your Name.
3. Share the Stage.
4. Take the Oath.
5. Pour Your Cup.

I thought my friends might like to meet Tim and so I sent him a few questions, to which he graciously offered his response below:

-- The Leadership Test involves the relationship between a teacher and his former student. Why did you pick Izzy (the teacher) to help Marcus (the student) learn about leadership? We don't usually think about educators as being on the front lines of leadership!

To lead is to be in the business of influence. Teachers are on the front lines of leadership. They help create many of our most defining formative experiences in leadership. They teach us about intent and influence even though we don’t see it that way at the time.

-- I love what you call the "first question of leadership:" WHY do you want to lead? Leadership isn't for everyone, is it?

When we talk about leadership, I like to make the distinction between the core and the crust. The core refers to the essential qualities of character that guide our thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, we don’t spend near enough time on the core. We seem to obsess on the crust, which is all about building skills. That’s important too, but we need to go back and ask the first question: “Why do I want to lead?” We need to think long and hard about our intent to lead. This question reveals the motivational basis of our wanting to lead.

-- You have a unique definition of leadership: Leadership is the process of influencing volunteers to accomplish good things. This isn't the typical definition! What words would you highlight here?

I think it’s widely accepted that leadership is about the process of influencing people. We’ve got that part down. But now we must emphasize the fact that people are volunteers. This acknowledgement helps remind us of a couple of things. First, leaders are no better than their followers. Second, performance is based on a willing offering of discretionary effort. The history of leadership is one in which people are muscled, coerced, and pressed into service. Actually, this isn’t leadership at all, but we’ve been calling it that for centuries. Now it’s catching up with us. Increasingly, we are seeing a very interesting trend in organizations. In a turbulent, globalizing world, talented people won’t put up with this nonsense. They will laugh you out of the room and then leave the organization if they have options. Most organizations are still power-based organizations that operate on the authoritarian principle, but in highly competitive organizations that have to compete on a global standard, it doesn’t hold up. And the leaders who try to hide behind the trappings of power—title, position, and authority, they aren’t holding up either.

-- The book ends with an actual test for leaders. If we take it and don't do well, how can we improve?

If you don’t do well, you have actually passed the first unwritten test, which is to be honest with yourself. So congratulations on being willing to see the unvarnished truth of yourself. Most leaders are unwilling to have a truthful encounter with themselves in the first place. At this point, you should do the following. First, set achievable goals to improve on the individual tests where you see gaps. Second, plan specific ways to close the gaps. Third, take action. And fourth, hold yourself accountable to yourself and to others. Seek candid feedback to see how you are doing, and then keep up this “goal, plan, action, feedback” loop going. And I mean keep it going for the rest of your life. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great leader. It’s takes a lot of hard work, humility, and self-discipline. But the rewards are the sweetest that life can offer.

-- What do you think the biggest shortcoming is for leaders today among the five "tests" that you identify?

Leaders exhibit failure patterns on all five, but the one that is doing the most damage today is the four test: “Take the Oath.” We seem to have fewer and fewer leaders who are willing to bind themselves to act with honesty and integrity. As I say in the book, taking the oath is a private act. The oath you make is ultimately enforceable only by you. Our society is in desperate need of leaders of unflinching character. Life eventually teaches all of us that the toughest tests of leadership are not tests of the crust; they are tests of the core. And they certainly will come!

Thanks, Tim. You have set the bar high both as a writer and as a thinker on the business of leadership. Friends, this is a great book and I strongly recommend it. You can pick it up here at Amazon , at Tim's website, or any number of retail outlets. "The Leadership Test" is a simple book on a very complicated topic. Read it in a single sitting. Then reread it to really enjoy some of the pearls of wisdom in this excellent tome!

I'm a pretty simple person. Tim wrote this book for me! He has really gotten down to the HEART of the matter. When it comes to really is about the HEART! Well done, Tim. That's Leader Business.


DeDe said...

Love it... thanks for sharing. Strangely, I think what stood out most to me in his interview was when he said that "leaders aren't better than followers."
That is so true... and yet, I think we tend to act like followers are 2nd class citizens sometimes. So that's a nice reminder to keep it humble.

Mike said...


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