I met for lunch with a person I know who serves in an important position in a large hierarchy. He spoke of recent events in his life that suggested intensity, stress, and little time for sleep. The discussion unfolded around two themes.
He was feeling frustration that was part of a long-term pattern. He is a member of a minority group and has always had to deal with marginalization. He felt worn down.
As the conversation progressed, we focused on the fact that despite the marginalization, he has managed to succeed. We explored how. He spoke of his ability to take over a group, listen, identify their deepest needs, and turn them into high performers.
I asked him what being on the margin had to do with his ability to transform. We eventually agreed that people on the margin of a system are continually challenged. To move ahead, they have to think deeply and continually about identity and destiny. While many fail, others acquire deep wisdom about themselves and about how things really work. They see the whole system.
A person at the center tends to become a manager. They see a hierarchy and they depend on authority and control. They tend to never move from the superficial assumptions of management to the more complex assumptions of leadership.
Excellence is the integration of conceptual contrasts: mission and people, vision and strategy, hierarchy and trust, purpose and logistics, engagement and renewal. Leaders learn to proactively shape the culture to a higher purpose. Like an artist producing a beautiful image on a canvas, they create systems and programs of excellence and they do it while fighting the system until excellence emerges. Evolving into this capacity requires work. People on the margin are continually required to engage in such work.
- What differentiates a leader from a manager?
- How do managers learn to lead?
- What do you believe about purpose, commitment, inspiration, trust and collective learning?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?