Even in retirement we find ourselves in leadership roles, anything from a neighborhood social group to a national philanthropic organization. We have all experienced the effectiveness of good leadership and the ineffectiveness of poor leadership. Whether during our careers or in retirement, there is great value in thinking about the elements of truly good leadership. One might also argue that the same principles apply to “leading” our own lives.

I don’t know if great leaders are made or born but suspect that there is some of each. A world-class quarterback, for example, has certain innate qualities that are fundamental requirements: size, strength, coordination, visual acuity, etc. But it takes a lot of hard work to parlay these qualities into success: coaching, practice, study, training, experimenting, and just plain experience. There are certain innate personal qualities that are inherent in great leadership: integrity, compassion, courage, optimism. But just as in the case of the athlete, there are some other capabilities that must be learned in order to become an effective leader.

A long time ago, I read a study on leadership that concluded that the best leaders have a high tolerance for ambiguity. At first I didn’t understand how that could be so. In fact, I could hardly tolerate such an ambiguous conclusion!. But over the years as I watched other effective leaders and started to get some experience myself, I began to understand why this is so important. Most situations in life have varying degrees of ambiguity. It’s easy to say “There is so much uncertainty in this situation that I just don’t know what to do” and to throw our hands up in despair. The great leader, however, says “ Yeah, there is a lot of ambiguity here but my job is to carve some black and white out of all this gray so that people have a path to follow”. Learning how to do this is one of the key factors in developing good leadership skills.

The leader knows that he, or she, must define some “black and white “ in four different areas if people are to know what to do:

  • Where are we going and why

       – what is our mission, our vision

       – what does it look like when we get there

       – what does the process to get us there look like

       – what are our time dependent intermediate goals

  • How are we going to get there

       – what is our strategy for success

       – what do we have to do differently or put in place

       – what tools or capabilities does this require

  • What principles guide our actions along the way

       – how do we interact with other people

       – what are our moral and ethical standards

       – what are our social and community responsibilities

  • Who is responsible and how are they measured

       – how do we know that we are making progress

       – what gets measured is what gets done

       – how does each person know their role

It is the job of the leader to see to it that all these things are in place and are communicated in a way that is clear, concise and consistent.

Now, envision a box with four sides each of which is defined by one of the four bullets above. The top is where we are going, the right side is how we are going to get there, the bottom is the principles that guide us along the way and the left side is the measures that inform our progress.

If leadership truly does a good job in defining this box, it can turn people loose to do the job as they know best within the context of the “walls”. There is no need to micromanage. For this reason, we call this the “Freedom Box”.

We will have more to say about this concept in ensuing entries.

Bill Kindler

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  1. Jack Stechman:

    Thank you for the kick in the tail w/a sharp cowboy boot! At 85 I ain’t done yet!