Monday, 7 November 2011

The IONS of Leadership

I like the definition of ion as an electrically charged particle, thinking of a person who is “charged” with the opportunities and responsibilities of leadership. Or, consider the leader who can display a controlled field of energy that is contagious. And, I like the origin of the word ion in Greek, where it means literally, going.  But what prompted my thinking about ions are three words that describe the essential characteristics of an effective leader, and those are vision, mission and passion, all ending in ion.  Truth to tell, those words all end in sion as distinct from ion or tion. While taking some liberties with the etymology, what is clear is that each word has a verb base.
The base for vision is from the Latin word that means “seeing” and for mission, the base verb, again from Latin, means, “sending.”  What requires some explanation and clarification is the verb root for passion which means to suffer.  The easy answer is that the meaning and use of certain words change over time.
 Vision -  I have often said that there are several kinds of vision that a leader can use for different purposes.  There is the ever-popular 20/20 hindsight, looking back to see what history has to offer for what we can learn and what we might not want to repeat.  Another kind of vision, perhaps employed most frequently, has to do with understanding and meaning, and that is insight, looking into things with a bit of discernment and coming out with greater clarity.  Thus we are able to move forward with purpose and direction.  And finally, there is foresight, looking ahead to see what’s coming and projecting and propelling a way forward that has yet to be determined.  It is often helpful to have a map, an internal GPS or at least the semblance of a plan, knowing that it will change along the way.  More and more I see the need for clarity – clarity of vision would be a good starting point.
Vision sees in all directions, like a compass, but one must pay attention to which direction the needle is pointing and whether or not course corrections are required to achieve the stated goal or objective.  On such a journey it helps to know the conditions both above and below the surface, which way the winds are blowing and what the prevailing weather conditions are all around.
Mission -  “Your mission, if you decide to accept it is………This message will destruct in 30 seconds.”  The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a popular TV spy show in the mid-sixties featuring Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, played by Robert Vaughan and David McCallum, respectively. Their mission was to fight the enemies of peace and their classic archenemy was a vast organization called THRUSH  (originally named WASP in the series pilot movie). The original series never explained what the acronym THRUSH stood for, but in several of the U.N.C.L.E. novels written by David McDaniel, it was expanded as the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.  U.N.C.L.E. stood for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. 
Every school and most organizations today have a mission, a clearly stated purpose and rationale for who they are and what they do.   A leader needs to have a personal and professional mission, one that hopefully resonates with the group whom he or she serves. The mission is the message and the leader is the messenger, the one who is sent (or called) to deliver the news.  Some missions seem to be in the realm of aspiration while others hope for inspiration.  In most instances I would plead for a short, simple, descriptive and compelling statement.  Just three sentences of reasonable length can give the reader (or listener) an accurate picture of what is the essence of a community and what is of value in the place being described.
Passion -To capture the essence of passion, we need to know what it is that fuels our intensity for caring, for loving that which we do and for which we are, in fact, willing to suffer.  That will put both dimensions of passionate energy together – powerful positive feelings of caring that are visible and demonstrable and painful feelings that might emanate from issues of injustice, inequity and hurtful behaviors, or the lack of caring and concern. Compassionate action is much to be preferred over dispassionate disregard if we are to build communities that work together for the common good.  The question, once again is why.  Why do you do what you do?  If at least part of that response is that you find great joy in it, you’re on the right track.  On the other hand, if one happens to find joy in making others suffer, that might require some attention and treatment, perhaps a man from UNCLE!
Commitment to vision and mission can be seen in the passionate energy which one displays for all to see and feel.  It is probably better, not in short or temporary bursts of enthusiasm for some particular project, although that can be welcome support for the duration, but much better in the consistent high levels of energy which can fuel support from the wider community.
The big questions out of this for consideration here are where are you going with your leadership and how do your vision, mission and passion translate for and with others in your work, in your life and in your community?  And finally, how would you like to be remembered in terms of what you cared about the most?  The answers or response to those questions will be lived out and not need many words to be spoken.

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