Saturday, April 25, 2009

Harmonic Leaders Envision a New Reality

One of the main characteristics of the harmonic leader that sets them apart from other leaders is their willingness to see themselves as personally responsible for seeing a reality that is yet not perceivable by most. Harmonic leadership is as much about having an understanding of the truth that everything is in constant motion and therefore must be forever changing as it is in believing in the need to constantly evolve to something better. True leaders understand that they must embrace reality as it really is and not as it used to be or how they would like it to be. In other words, harmonic leadership involves personally looking beyond the obvious into the possibilities and deciding what course of action needs to be taken.

I am reminded of a conference I went to about three years ago where I got a chance to listen to Dr. Jennifer James, an urban anthropologist, discuss her theories on why some companies succeed and why others fail to sustain their competitive edge. One key message she communicated was that a major difference in successful and non-successful companies was in the “stories” their leaders tell. She discussed the fact that some leaders refuse to see a new version of reality and therefore keep telling and sharing the same old stories within their organizations of what they believe to be true about their business environment. For example, in her opinion at that time a well known automaker deserved to go out of business because of the stories their leaders had been telling themselves and their associates about what people wanted and would buy in a new car, all while refusing to look at a new reality. She spoke of their inability (or refusal) to see beyond the current day to day observations and envision a different type of automobile needed in the future. Instead, the stories they have been sharing and continued to share, tell the tale of people wanting bigger, less efficient automobiles and SUV’s rather than the new reality of a more fuel efficient vehicle or hybrids that address the rising costs of gas. I can’t help but think that Dr. James must have been on to something back in 2006 when I reflect on the news I've been watching the past several weeks and hear about how this same automaker, three years later, who recently accepted billions in bail0ut money and who’s CEO was recently let go, will probably have to file for bankruptcy in the very near future.

This “reality” underscores the importance and willingness needed in a leader to confront a new reality as a key ingredient for leadership and business success. Harmonic leaders understand this and are willing to plant the seeds of a new reality with the intent and purpose to grow a better tomorrow. An example of this harmonic leadership characteristic can be found in the founder of Federal Express, Fred Smith, who saw a new and different reality that others had not yet envisioned.  As I understand the story, Fred Smith envisioned a new reality when he was in college. He wrote a class paper about a company that would be able to deliver packages overnight for one of his class projects. Because his professor could not see nor understand the possibilities of this new reality, it’s been said that Fred got a “C” on his paper. However, as most great leaders do, Fred’s reaction was to continue to believe and see his new reality as possible. As with most great leaders, Fred kept his dream alive because he understood that it was his responsibility to let go of ingrained ways of thinking and to lay a new pathway to a new and different future. Fred Smith was exhibiting harmonic leadership when he stepped off the main path, leading the creation of a new path to a better, bigger and brighter future for the package distribution industry.

Another key characteristic that defines harmonic leadership is the basic “willingness” and “courage” to lead and serve others. Harmonic leadership is as much about the willingness to assume command and the willingness to sit in the driver’s seat as it is about feeling a strong desire to move people, organizations and/or situations “forward”. It is about having the courage to step out and take risk for the greater good. We need leadership today that is willing to “think a new thought” in order to “create a new and better world”, not for one man but for all men. When I was growing up I learned a song that has become my “leadership mantra” today. The words of that song, which I refer to often and that I constantly remind myself of, are “if I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain”. For me personally, harmonic leadership starts from the values I have within. The values to serve, to make a difference, to make the places and relationships I have the privilege to touch better because I was there as a leader are driven from within to serve those without. For me, it’s personal. It is why I am willing to take risk in times of need. We need more leaders who are willing to step off of the “traditional path” and courageously lead their people, their organizations, and their companies in a new direction. We need leaders now who are not only willing but have the courage to step out and away from the crowd into a different spot and then turn and look the crowd in the eye and say “come, follow me, this is the way”.

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