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9 Virtues Blog

Transforming People and Organizations: The Nexus of Leading and Learning

by N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.

02/24/2016

As summer approaches, so do a number of Academy for Academic Leadership professional development programs. Some of these programs are focused on leadership development and others address pedagogy and developing the skills of a master teacher.

While the program curricula differ, leading and learning exist in a nexus. Effective teachers not only convey knowledge and facilitate discovery; through role modeling and mentoring they affect students’ attitudes, behaviors, and career aspirations. For many of us a teacher stands out as a singular influence in shaping both our character and our vocation—and that is leadership.

Likewise, effective leaders encourage us to learn new things, to question our assumptions, to grow through challenging ourselves and others, and to make a difference. The titles and job descriptions are different, but teachers are leaders and leaders are teachers.

Largely due to the research of James McGregor Burns, leadership theory has focused much attention over the past three decades on “transformative” or “transformational” leadership. Leadership is about creating meaning, inculcating values, and transforming people and organizations. In their book Leadership that Matters, Sashkin and Sashkin identify four specific transformational leadership behaviors.

First, by using communication skills, transformational leaders actively listen, provide useful feedback, and convey complex ideas clearly. They are masters of creating and using metaphors to explain and inspire. Second, through consistent and credible actions, transformational leaders build trust. They keep promises, meet commitments, and tell the truth. Third, transformational leaders care about people. Caring includes respecting differences and valuing special skills and abilities. It’s reflected in simple things like knowing people by name. Finally, transformational leaders create opportunities by developing followers and making sure they have the requisite knowledge, skills, and resources needed to succeed. Transformational leadership is about fostering an environment in which people can learn and grow.

I have seen these behaviors in those who effectively lead universities, colleges and schools, and departments. But I have also experienced them in the classroom, in the actions of those who had no formal administrative or positional appointment. Teachers transform their classrooms, labs, and clinics as they engage the learners for whom they have accepted responsibility. Leading and learning always occur together as complementary ways of transforming people and organizations.

What Makes The 9 Virtues Different?

by Rob Jenkins

02/17/2016

One of the questions Karl and I are often asked is, “What makes The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders different from all the other leadership books?” That’s a fair question, because—let’s face it—there are LOTS of leadership books out there, with more being published every day. Why should anyone read ours, in particular?

We’re glad you asked, because there are several reasons to consider The 9 Virtues:

A contribution to the literature. First of all, we’re not saying people should read our book instead of other leadership books. There are indeed a lot of great books out there, and people interested in growing as leaders should probably read all of them (or at least a good number).

We do believe, however, that our book constitutes a valuable contribution to the leadership literature—that, as more than one reviewer has noted, it builds directly on books such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and Good to Great by Jim Collins. People whose lives have been positively impacted by books like those, we’re convinced, will find more of the same in The 9 Virtues—with, perhaps, a bit of a twist.

A classical foundation—with a modern slant. One of the things that sets our book apart, we believe, is its solid foundation in classical philosophy. Few people in history have had more impact on our modern way of looking at leadership than Aristotle, Plato, Buddha, and Jesus Christ, and we reference all those great thinkers and more.

At the same time, one of our goals in this book was to take those classical ideas and make them accessible to modern readers, while at the same time demonstrating their relevance to today’s world. That’s why, along with references to Aristotle and Jesus, our book also includes quotes from great modern-day leaders, like Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with examples from our personal experience.

An inclusive perspective. Don’t let the term “virtue” or the references to religious figures throw you. While virtue, for some, may be intertwined with religious belief and practice, we believe it is not limited to any particular religion or even religion in general. You don’t have to be religious to be virtuous. 

That’s why we reference so many of the world’s great thinkers, both religious and otherwise. They all have valuable things to say about virtuous living. That’s also why we include so many modern examples that have nothing to do with religion—but have everything to do with virtue.

An accessible style. Despite the book’s rather philosophical bent, it’s not a textbook. (Even though several universities are already using it as a text in their leadership courses). We put a lot of time and effort into making The 9 Virtues an enjoyable reading experience, employing a conversational style and sprinkling the text with plenty of entertaining anecdotes.

So don’t be put off by all the stuff I mentioned above, about Aristotle and the Buddha. We guarantee you’ll enjoy reading the book—and perhaps learn something in the process that you can interject into in a conversation one day and impress people with your knowledge.

A virtue-based approach. So much of what passes for leadership “training” these days, as we note in the book, consists of “programs” and quick fixes. But as any real leader knows, there are no quick fixes. There is no shortcut to becoming a better leader. It requires a lot of reflection, self-knowledge, hard work, discipline, and patience.

That’s why we talk about virtues in this book, and not just about “ethics” or “values.” Ethics involve a set of prescribed behaviors—what you will do and won’t do in a given situation. Values have to do with what you deeply believe and truly want out of life and therefore underlie ethics.

Virtue, on the other hand, underlies everything. Virtue refers, not to what you do or what you want, but to who you are—who you really are, your essential self. And it starts with a set of behaviors that over time become habits, until eventually they occupy the very core of your being. Those are what we call the Virtues.

A positive message. Obviously, The 9 Virtues is not unique in this regard. Most leadership books have a positive message. Our message, though, if not unique, is one that people can’t hear often enough: Anyone can become a more effective leader, if they’re willing to put forth the time and effort to reach that goal.

In other words, while acknowledging that some people have undeniable gifts, we believe that true leaders are made, not born. And the way people become exceptional leaders, in our view, is by developing, internalizing, and practicing the 9 Virtues.

Furthermore, our message is that the 9 Virtues themselves are completely obtainable, although not without effort. This is not a “preachy” book, designed to make readers feel bad about all the things they ought to be doing but aren’t. On the contrary, it’s an uplifting book, because its main theme is very simple: You CAN do this.

A practical guide. We don’t just stop with convincing people they can acquire the 9 Virtues and thus become more effective leaders; we actually show them HOW. Each of the chapters on the virtues concludes with a list of “homework assignments”—concrete, practical steps readers can actually take to help them develop and internalize that particular virtue.

These assignments include both personal and public actions. They involve simple things, common aspects of everyday life like e-mail, phone calls, friendly conversations, and committee meetings. These are things people CAN do—things you can do—and by doing them take positive steps toward becoming more virtuous people and leaders.

In conclusion, these are just a few of the reasons you should read this book. I hope I’ve been able to answer your questions about why this book in particular, while at the same time encouraging you to read not only our book but all the leadership books you can get your hands on.

However, if you’re only going to read one leadership book this year—well, we humbly recommend The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders. 

"What Did I Do Now?": How Leaders Can Use Email More Effectively

by Rob Jenkins

02/10/2016

I once had a supervisor that I liked personally, respected professionally, and got along with just fine. There was only one problem: Every time I received an e-mail from him, I thought he was upset with me. I remember wondering, on numerous occasions, "What did I do now?"

I wasn't alone. Often, after reading one of his angry-sounding e-mails, I found myself commiserating in the hallway with colleagues who had also been on the distribution list. We usually concluded those impromptu head-scratching sessions with some version of "I guess we're in for it now."

Except that we weren't. In almost every case, it turned out that the boss wasn't angry with us at all. More than once, I ran into him within hours of getting another stress-inducing message, only to find him as affable as ever.

Of course, as we eventually figured out, the problem was that he had poor e-mail skills. He was an excellent communicator in person or with large groups, but via e-mail he came across as an ill-tempered tyrant. He's not the only administrator to have that problem. In fact, most of us find ourselves there at some point or other. And that poses a real challenge, because so much of our professional communication these days takes place via e-mail.

Continue reading….

Leadership LEARNING, not Leadership Training

by Karl Haden and Rob Jenkins

02/03/2016

Leadership is not merely a quality that some people have and others don’t. Rather, it is an ability that can be developed as one acquires the necessary character traits, or virtues. By seeking out, coming to understand, and ultimately internalizing these virtues, we believe that people can, indeed, “learn to lead.”

This belief on our part is hardly unique. Indeed, it probably sounds familiar to anyone who has read any of the many books out there on leadership development or participated in “leadership training.” Obviously, one of the most basic premises of any book or course on leadership is that leadership can actually be learned. Otherwise, why write the book or conduct the course?

The problem with most of those books and courses, however, is that they approach the issue from the standpoint of what Covey calls the Personality Ethic. In other words, most leadership training materials tend to focus on attitudes, behaviors, skills and techniques. “Hey,” they seem to be saying, “you want to become a better leader? Then just do A,B, and C (and maybe stop doing X, Y, and Z), and you will be automatically transformed into a better leader.”

Another way to look at this is to compare it to the way ethics are often taught these days. Much of our modern focus on ethics treats them as a set of behaviors and attitudes that can be memorized and applied to certain situations, much as a medical student learns which drug to use to treat a specific disease. We might refer to this as “formula-based ethics.” Likewise, we can describe most of what passes for leadership training these days as “formula-based leadership development.” This is modern-day, quasi-scientific reductionism at its worst, taking something as incredibly complex and multi-faceted as leadership and boiling it down to it to a set of easy-to-remember “rules for leaders.”

Clearly, we believe that good leadership entails a great deal more than that. We agree that good leaders tend to display certain attitudes and behaviors, but we contend that those must stem from something much deeper than a simple cognitive understanding of what a good leader should or shouldn’t do in a given situation. That’s where our central idea of virtue comes into play: as we will see shortly, virtue is at the very core of the truly great leader. It is the foundation upon which all attitudes, behaviors, skills, and techniques are built. For the best leaders, the behaviors most often associated with good leadership are authentic, not contrived; they are learned in the deepest and truest sense of that word, and not merely as we often use it nowadays, to mean “adopted” or “affected.”

Political theorist Jacob Heilbrunn reaches a similar conclusion in his brilliant essay “Can Leadership Be Studied?” After summarizing the “advances” in leadership studies made during the 20th century, he asks, “Is leadership simply an act, a self-delusion projected upon followers?” He concludes that students of leadership will need to examine their topic much more carefully in the coming years and asserts that in doing so, they “may discover that the most important things about leadership lie far beyond the capabilities of science to analyze.”

Let's look at it another way. One of the most significant advances in educational theory over the last 20 years has been a shift of emphasis from teaching to learning. For centuries, the primary focus in any learning situation was on the teacher, the speaker, the presenter, sometimes referred to as “The Sage on the Stage”—the one who has all the knowledge and whose role is to share that knowledge with students or listeners. Note that the latter, in this scenario, play an extremely passive role in the learning process. They are not so much learners as people who are being taught.

The emerging emphasis on learning, however, places more responsibility in the students’ hands and makes them more active participants in the process. The instructor, some say, becomes more of a “Guide on the Side,” whose job is not simply to impart knowledge by spouting information but rather to make sure that students are learning through a variety of means, including discussion, hands-on training, peer tutoring, and so on.

We believe this new paradigm is well-suited to helping people become better leaders, which is why we consistently talk about “leadership learning” rather than “leadership training.” You can bring the best leaders in the world to your facility and have them conduct the most stimulating seminars imaginable, but if the people in that room are merely sitting and listening, we would suggest that not a whole lot of learning is taking place. How much of what they hear are they taking in? And how much, in any case, can a person improve his or her leadership skills simply by listening to someone else talk about his or her experiences or theories on leadership?

Instead, we believe that leaders must take an active role in their own learning. No doubt people can gather a great deal of useful information about leadership by attending training courses and (we hope) reading books like The 9 Virtues. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, speaking to a group of students at Harvard University, “Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When he can read God directly, why waste time on the transcripts of other men’s readings?”

We believe the same concept applies to leadership learning: the leader-learner must be an active, not a passive, participant. He or she must not simply memorize the formula for good leadership but must learn through experiencing good leadership (and sometimes poor leadership) first-hand. Please note, by the way, that this is entirely consistent with our repeated assertion that leadership is not merely about BEING; it’s about DOING.

Thus, our answer to the age-old question, “Can leadership be taught?” is “Probably not—but it can definitely be learned.”