Q: What can I do to be a more effective leader for my small company?
A: After decades of contributions to the field of leadership studies, Warren Bennis wrote: “There is no difference between becoming an effective leader and becoming a fully integrated human being.” We cannot merely think, emote or act our way into leadership. To embody leadership, we must learn to fuse all three: head, heart and hands. What does that look like?
For centuries, medical training encouraged physicians to dissociate symptoms from the people who had them. By sterilizing the clinical encounter, logic suggested that the well-trained eye could focus without distraction. Research now shows that this habit of separation can lead to harmful misdiagnoses, increased levels of pain and physician burnout.
The traditional business school ethos of “plan the work and work the plan” overshadows the people who get the work done. In a similar fashion, workshops on emotional intelligence, team building and personality, while helpful, fall short in addressing the complexities of business.
Our stories are the place where all of these roads converge. They hold a specific structure, logic and wisdom. They bring authentic acts of courage to life and carry the emotional resonance of conflict, climax and catharsis. In addition to telling a good story, leaders who are able to invite, understand and challenge the narratives of their employees have a significant edge. Narratives reveal how employees make sense of culture, strategy and talent. In fact, the words “narrative” and “meaning” share the same origin. Meaningful work is storied work.
To see this competency in action, spend a few hours with Glenn Caruso, the University of St. Thomas head football coach. Philosophy, spirituality and art line his bookshelves. Inside the back cover of each work, you will find meticulous handwritten notes relating to faith, family and football. Beyond strength training and drills, under Caruso’s direction, football practice includes meditation, movie clips, guest speakers and great stories. Each practice has its own theme, which invariably focuses on the influence players have on each other and the life they will live long after graduation.
Bill Brendel is the president and CEO of the Center for Ethical Organizations with the Opus School of Business at the University of St. Thomas.