Authentic Leadership Demonstrated

Working with clients often goes beyond satisfying; it can be exhilarating. Take a couple recent client engagements that demonstrate the leader’s hard path toward authenticity, coupled with the patience and willingness to invest accordingly in her leadership team.

Exhilaration number one is from Hamilton, Ontario. In 2010, my brother, Ken Hubbell, and I began  working with Pearl Venema, president of Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation. HHSF secures patient care, research, and capital support for the 6 hospitals comprising Hamilton Health Sciences family of facilities. She has a leadership team of eight and a total staff of about 40. Partnering with Pearl, we worked in 2010 to build even greater leadership capacity and organizational commitment by:

  • Designing the architecture and “scaffolding” of a leadership development model and an initial set of core concepts and learning tools;
  • Providing a structure for engaging the staff in an assessment of its current individual and collective capacity and learning pathways about leading change and expanding health and wellness for people in the region;
  • Thereby developing a collective understanding of the organization’s leadership theory and principles and greater commitment to leadership learning program that is tied to ongoing coaching from the CEO. This work sought to solidify focus, improve agility, and reduce the level of creative conflict that had bubbled up across the organization.
  • We approached this work in a way that fostered and reinforced a learning organization posture grounded in a culture of health and caring; and
  • We helped this leadership team articulate a 2030 vision of a healthy region, reflecting the highest order of impact they sought to achieve through their work.

The leadership team was provided materials that supported their own leadership learning and reflection for the next 24 months. In 2011, we followed-up with a second two-day off-site retreat, helping staff embed and deploy the new leadership approaches.

  • We incorporated readings and learning from Kevin Cashman’s Leadership from the Inside Out—connecting leadership commitments to the context and work of the Foundation.
  • We facilitated collective leadership exercises to integrate individual leadership development with an emerging transformational culture of philanthropy at the Foundation. The retreat was designed as a “circle of trust” using principles: Open Mind, Open Heart and Open Will from the C. Otto Scharmer book Theory U.
  • The focus of the 2011 retreat discussions: How strong and adaptive is the leadership fabric of the individual managers and the collective Foundation leadership team? What are the critical emergent behaviors or challenges that must be confronted to create a real culture of leadership at HHSF? What is standing in the way of accelerating progress toward the Vanguard story of HHSF?

Pearl reports that the language, attitude, and feel of expressed leadership is slowly changing at the Foundation. Constantly trying to balance the drumbeat of performance measurement with these deeper principles, she recognizes that not every member of her team will willingly embrace the leadership principles she is seeding. “Getting the right people on the bus” is her chief concern; yet she is undeterred by any evidence of resistance to these lasting changes.

We are in the process of working with Pearl to design the immersion experience this summer, making this the third step in a three year commitment Pearl has made to invest in leadership and team growth. Kudos to Pearl for her vision, demonstrated leadership, and tenacity.

Similarly strong, yet operating at a much smaller scale, exhilaration number two is the work of the Yavapai Regional Medical Center Foundation, Prescott, Arizona, in a team of six led by Robbie Nicol. I had the distinct pleasure of partnering with Robbie and her colleague, Peter Brennan, to co-design  board and staff retreats. Each retreat used the Foundation’s expressed value of purposeful work toward a sacred relationship as scaffolding for a deeper exploration of leadership roles. Working with Robbie and Peter, we co-designed a staff discussion as follows:

  • A movement toward regional health and well-being
  • Imagining the context of our work in the future
  • My personal journey of learning, mastery, and growth

Inspired by the deep appreciation for “the sacred relationship,” we used revealed presence cards and a group reading of The Woodcarver to foster introspection and conversation.

These two situations are very different in scale but alike in the leaders’ courage and determination to do the hard work of seeding authentic leadership. Both women exhibit the purpose, promise, and power of working not just to “hit targets,” but to make lasting impact. We salute them both!

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The Residue of Authenticity

In my coaching, training, and consulting roles, I’ve been increasingly aware that I’m talking more about authenticy in leadership. At times, much of my conversation with clients is to help them become aware of the unintended consequences of their words and actions. What needs to be stripped away is the leader’s unconcious layer or protective coating which comes from fear of inadequacy, fear of disagreement or confrontation, or the dreaded fear of loss of control.

Recently, I came across something from American poet Maya Angelou that cuts to the heart of what I’ve been hoping to convey:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For those in organizational leadership positions and for those whose work involves inviting others to make personal gifts to support your organization, Angelou’s message is simple and powerful. If your personal interaction is such that it makes people feel whole and valued, then you are leaving in your wake a person who may to do likewise. This type of interaction is not about manipulation or the masterful execution of strategy. Rather, it means caring enough about the spirit of the relationship that you will be candid and empathetic.

Think about that combination for a moment–candor and empathy. Candor involves freeing oneself from spin doctoring and simply speaking your mind. Empathy brings in the quality of seeking to understand and internalize another person’s perspective–how they feel. These qualities–candor and empathy–in thoughtful and disciplined combination, become a platform for solid leadership.

In our contemporary business world, these notions can seem “soft” or “touchy-feely.” Yet I submit that those who would offer that criticism are still so gripped by a view of leadership as singular heroics, singular greatness, and singular abilities. Rather, much of what will stand the test of time is the result of cooperation and collaboration, thereby requiring that each of us never forgets how we are making others feel. This is the residue of authentic leadership.