Some good advice...

January 10, 2011

A weekly stimulant for those who lead - From Dan

Daniel Granholm Mulhern
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You know "tautologies," right, expressions that use different words to
define or describe the same thing? My favorite one is from the great
Kouzes and Posner who write, "leaders go first." I mean, a leader
literally leads, right, like the car or horse "in the lead." But gosh
there's a lot to that simple statement.

I was reminded of it, reading Brian Dickerson's column
> in the Free Press last week. Dickerson was talking about
how the comedian-satirist Jon Stewart says he's most optimistic about
America when, during a lane closure, he sees drivers merge cars like
teeth on a zipper - left, right, left, right, they take turns, blending
efficiently and willingly. Dickerson points out, this generally happens
only after someone sets the right example with a kindly "go ahead" wave.
"Compassion," he suggests "is contagious." In his column he calls on the
bloggers, who tend to dwell in one ugly soup, to lead with civility - a
message echoed over and over on Sunday after the hideous shooting in
Arizona. Leaders - everyday leaders, he's talking about - go first.

This combined phenomenon - our individual hesitance to lead, yet the
power for good of everyday leadership - is one I've noticed often. I saw
it daily, teaching high school and college, leading meetings, and now as
a talk show host. It's always the most challenging to get the first set
of vocal chords and willing mouth to open up. The experience is so vast
that I've wondered if it's some deep ancient instinct that says: "Do NOT
step out from the crowd." Some primeval fear seems to remain in us. Yet
once someone gets in the game, the social cost of entry seems to plummet
(as if unconsciously everyone says to themselves, "huh! she didn't get
killed; maybe it's okay to play."). And of course, the "play" - the
classroom, the meeting, gets so much better as a result.

On the radio, I'll say "I'd love to hear your thoughts," and, speaking
to the collective unconscious fear, I'll add, "you can be anonymous, or
make up a name, or feel free to just say your opinion or question, then
hang up." Yet those invisible listeners are on the sidelines, arms
folded, as if I'm asking them to dance naked at the junior high sock
hop. I can go a half hour without a call. Then I get one, and as they
say "the phone lines are lighting up."

The implications of this duality of fear-and-possibility are unending,
aren't they? For authorized leaders, the point is clear: you must make
it as safe as you can for peer contributions, and make sure to thank the
first speaker. For parents, teachers, managers, pastors, there's a need
for patience, for some cleverness, and certainly for encouragement.

The biggest implication though is for each of us as everyday leaders to
see that behind our fear stands great possibility. The first one in can
be the a-hole who forces his way ahead in the traffic jam, the talk show
caller who loves to whine, the worker who says the bs they think the
boss wants to hear, or . . . You can praise when the culture is
decrying. You can point out troublesome facts when the rest of the team
is in denial. You can laugh at yourself when everyone's being a little
too self-serious. Or, you can just offer a humble opinion to get the bus
rolling (it's a lot easier to steer a moving bus.

A mentally ill man stepped out of the shadows and shot 17 people. Gave
me goosebumps when to see it on CNN. Made me feel powerless at the utter
randomness. But you, like I, will have 25 or 30 chances today to lead
with goodness - to reveal all that's best in people as

Leaders go first!




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reflect the views of my wife, Jennifer Granholm, or any other officials
of the State government. Invite your friends and families to subscribe
to Dan Mulhern's weekly e-newsletter called Reading For Leading, on the
challenges of leadership at home, work and in life. You can subscribe by
sending your request to: