Access Your Leadership WisdomBy Lora Setter
In Scandinavian mythology, the Deity Oden is a seeker of knowledge and wisdom. Oden travels to the well of Urd, where it’s believed drinking from the well affords superior understanding. The well is protected by a creature called Mimir. Mimir tells Oden that in order to drink from the well, Oden must give up one of his eyes. So Oden sacrifices an eye in exchange for a drink. By forfeiting an eye he paradoxically gains enhanced insight.
I don’t recommend leaders pluck out an eye to gain wisdom, as I believe it’s the ability to look and see that creates effective leadership. Leaders must look within themselves knowing their values and what they stand for. They must have the courage to examine their flaws and the humility to open themselves to feedback from their followers. They must also be able to look ahead giving up comfortable ways of doing things for the unchartered possibilities of creating a brighter future.
I’m still haunted by an incident when I was aksed by a colleague, while in an executive role in the private sector, what I stood for as a leader, and all I could do was stare like a deer in headlights. The question unsettled me because I realized I’d never taken the time to truly think about what I stood for or valued. I just assumed I knew, but when asked what I stood for, I couldn’t articulate it, because I hadn’t really thought about it. I couldn’t confidently say what I valued.
Bill George an American businessman, academic and author of Discover Your True North- Becoming an Authentic Leader writes that only when you have a clear understanding of your values can you establish the principles by which you intend to lead. But if you don’t take the time to focus on your values, the pressures and “temptations of the world” can pull you away from being the type of leader you intended to be.
Try this for yourself. Set a timer for 30 seconds and quickly write down your top five values. Can’t do it? That’s ok. Now you know you need to set aside time to look within. Make time to identify your top five values, and thinking about how you live those values every day. Do they guide your actions? Are you showing up the way you want? If you’re really brave, ask one of your followers what they think you stand for as a leader and see if they can tell. Does what they said match what you believe? If not, decide how you will bridge the gap.
Looking to Others
Leadership gurus, Kouzes and Posner in their book A Leader’s Legacy explain that great relationships require talking about your values and letting down your guard. They go on to say that “by opening yourself up to others, you invite them to join you in the creation of something you alone could not create. When a leader is humble others have the chance to be more visible.”
I knew a police leader who had the habit of calling people by the wrong name. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that he couldn’t tolerate being corrected. So when he made a mistake, no one would tell him. His inability to accept feedback and to deal with his own flawed humanity cast a pall over his leadership. Instead of laughing at himself, his followers laughed at him. Showing flaws is not easy. No one wants to be flawed, but being authentic about our imperfections and accepting our humanity is a sure way to build trust with our followers.
When teaching in the School of Police Staff and Command, I ask students to find what Kouzes and Posner refer to as a “loving critic.” I have the students ask their “loving critic” three questions recommended by Leadership Coach Scott Patchins, “What should I start doing, stop doing and keep doing?” Often the students are given the feedback from their “loving critics” that they need to be more focused on the future and less involved in daily tasks. Interestingly, the defining characteristic of a leader is the ability to look ahead. Kouzes and Posner say that leaders need to have an “ennobling vision of the future” but that most leaders “stink at” this part of the job. They also say that next to honesty, what followers want most from their leaders is to be forward looking. What the leadership experts say and the feedback my students receive is the same! Followers want leaders looking ahead.
When I was a law enforcement leader, my days, probably just like yours, were filled with dealing with the crisis of the day. I don’t remember having a lot of time to sit back and think about the future. The future came at me; and, often, it wasn’t pretty. When I went to work in the private sector, I remember a colleague telling me he was scheduling a day just to think. What an odd thing to do, I thought. Why would anyone waste a day thinking when there were things to do? But with experience, like many of others, I’ve come to realize that taking time to think about and look to future is a defining part of being a leader. “The future belongs to those who create it,” Chief Charles Ramsey told the 2013 IACP conference. The only way to create the future is to make time to do so.
Though. again, I don’t recommend giving up an eye like Oden did to gain enhanced insight, leaders still must sacrifice to be wise. They need to step away from the comfortable busyness of leadership and do as Kouzes and Posner suggest, “put down the cell phones, step away from the computer, quiet down and think.“ Leaders need to look within and think about their values honestly accessing if their values are guiding their actions. They need to look at others, acting with humility and courageously opening themselves to “loving critics.” Most importantly they need to look forward, creating a “brighter future.” They need to look to lead.
Lora Setter teaches leadership in the School of Police Staff and Command. Ms. Setter has held leadership positions in the public, private and non-profit sectors. She served for 20 years in law enforcement, retiring as a lieutenant, worked for Target Corporation in the areas of public/private partnerships and organized retail crime and was a Program Director and Adjunct Professor for Saint Mary’s University. She has a graduate degree from the University of St. Thomas in Public Safety Administration and Education and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy-195th session.