Leaders' Edge Advisor

Vol. 3, No. 2 - by Gary De Carolis, President

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality”
-Max DePree


Much has been written about the importance of leaders keeping the vision clear for people. Also we have discussed how important it is even before there is a vision for leaders to listen to what is on people’s minds – ask about their hopes, fears, dreams and concerns. It is from those collective responses, stemming from numerous discussions, forums, completed surveys and interviews that the vision will begin to emerge. Very much like that first crocus that surfaces in March as winter ebbs and spring peeks out from under the cover of snow, the vision of a better world will come forth birthed from people’s expressed hopes and dreams.

Leaders need to be the vision keepers. They help set the course of where we want to go. Leaders help paint pictures of what tomorrow could be like, knowing full well it is not where we are today. You are the vision keepers. This is perhaps the most precious role that leaders will play. Think of Martin Luther King talking from the Lincoln Memorial and his vision of a nation that had yet to rid itself of prejudice and how his words moved Americans to be better brothers and sisters to each other.

  • Keep the vision clear
  • Protect against principle drift
  • Find ways to say it over and over in different ways
  • Appreciate the power of stories
  • Recognize the worth of every player
  • Manage both short term and long term gains

Recently, in my role as consultant to a project around building a system of care, I realized that a central system of care principle had slipped from its original intent that children are best served in their homes and community to one that spoke of “community based services.” The original point was that children thrive in communities and that all necessary steps should be taken to keep them in their own communities rather than moving them away to receive services elsewhere. It is easy to see how this can happen. The point here is that it is the leader’s job to help the team reclaim the vision, and understand that yes, “community” means community-based services but it is so much more than that. Community means family, friends, natural supports, spiritual community, familiar people and places. It is home!

So leaders need to help people stay true to the mission and principles within that mission. We need to tell stories about the principles in ways that capture people’s imagination. Collect those stories from all your experiences in the work. Write about those stories, give speeches using those stories. Find ways to communicate your message in different ways to different audiences. It is one of the most important aspects of leadership and also one of the more creative pursuits of the work.

The other night I was giving a talk on my book A View from the Balcony and someone asked me to give an example of a culturally competent service. In response, I shared one of the most moving experiences of my life. This was when I visited the Navajo Nation and was honored to witness a Navajo ceremony for a young man who had just tried to commit suicide. The story and the events surrounding the ceremony were so much more powerful for the audience than any definition of a culturally competent service that I could have given them. Stories are a powerful communication tool for sharing the vision and holding true to the principles underneath that vision.

Another significant role of leaders beyond cheerleading for the vision/mission is to cheerlead for the people within the system. If you prescribe to the notion that everyone has a leadership role and that everyone brings something to the leadership table then it is easy to embrace the concept that everyone needs to be valued. From the janitor to the CEO of a successful company, each and everyone in between has something to offer to the success of the mission.

When this is the expectation, amazing things happen. First of all, you work as a team rather than individuals working within an organization/team. Second, support replaces competition or even worse envy between and among staff. Third, valued staff see that their work is important regardless of the specific tasks. If we are going to build towards a vision that enhances the life of all concerned regardless of whether it is an organization, system or community, everyone needs to feel a part of that vision and needs to have a stake in its outcome. Recognition awards, interviews printed in newsletters, a pat on the back, a bonus, or simply a comment about good work done can go a long way towards valuing all those involved in your initiative.

Finally, one other way we cheerlead is to recognize that the people in our system need rewards collectively as well as individually. For example, when we first were designing our system of care in Vermont, we created a strong vision for what we wanted to accomplish but knew that it would take years to fully realize the vision. Based on the results of a needs assessment given to parents of children with mental health disorders that made it clear that respite care was a top priority, we applied for and received a federal grant for respite care for these families. This early success enabled all involved in designing our system of care begin to see it take shape, as we could move ahead to implement one small but important piece of the system of care puzzle.

A big cheer for cheer – leaders!

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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