01 September 2017

The Duties of a Leader

"The goal of thinking hard about leadership is not to produce great or charismatic or well-known leaders. The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head but the tone of the body."  

--Max Dupree

In 1993 I had the privilege of attending a conference sponsored by Leadership Network in Orlando, Florida. This was an opportunity to learn from better minds about sound behaviors related to leadership and management.

On the program were two men of distinction who have had a lasting impact on many individuals--Dr. William Bridges and Max Dupree.   

Dr. Bridges, who passed on February 17, 2013, at age 79, was known for his pioneering work, transforming the way people think about change. The title of his first book, Transitions, was written after the loss of his wife, Mondi. It has sold over a million copies.  

The thesis for Dr. Bridges' teaching is simple: It's essential to understand transition (internal) as a way for organizations to be successful when undertaking change (external).

"It's not the change--it's the transition"

Harvard-educated, Dr. Bridges was low-key in his approach to transition--always with practical applications. The context for that presentation in 1993 was that the topic of change was all the rage. Books were flying off the shelves (few e-books then) from experts telling all who would listen that their businesses needed to change and offering ways to make that happen.  

William Bridges reminded us that if you want to be a champion for change, it's critical to allow for the emotional and psychological responses (transitions) that employees, and organizational cultures, go through at different speeds.  

An important insight.

An absence of corporate jargon

Next came Max Dupree, author of the best-seller Leadership is An Art, first published in 1989. Mr. Dupree died on August 8, 2017, at 92.  

Mr. Dupree was a chief executive officer of the office-furniture maker Herman Miller, Inc., Zeeland, Michigan, from 1980 to 1987. He was also the son of the company's founder, D. J. Dupree, who started the business in 1923.

The signature thought in Leadership is An Art:

"The first duty of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. The leader must become a servant and debtor between the two. That sums up the progress of an artful leader." 

Max Dupree's writing was informed by his work in the family business and his Christian faith.  

Suggesting corporate leadership embrace "oddballs" and form "covenantal bonds" with employees was outside the mainstream for management books nearly three decades ago.   However, his clear thinking and fresh ideas resonated with many. Leadership is An Art sold over 800,00 copies in hardcover and paperback, influencing a generation of business and nonprofit leaders. 

Character-shaped principles 

Here are principles that guided Mr. Dupree's life:

1. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?

2. Try to think about a leader, in the words of the gospel writer Luke, as "one who serves."

3. Leadership is a concept of owing certain things to the institution. It is a way of thinking about institutional heirs, a way of thinking about stewardship as contrasted with ownership.

4. The art of leadership requires us to think about the leader-as-steward in terms of relationships; of assets and legacy; of momentum and effectiveness; of civility and values.

Leaders should leave behind their assets and a legacy.

5. People are the heart and spirit of all that counts. Without people, there is no need for leaders.   

6. Leaders are responsible for future leadership. They need to identify, develop, and nurture future leaders.

7. Leaders owe a certain maturity. Maturity is expressed in the sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of expectancy, a sense of responsibility, a sense of accountability, and a sense of equality. 

Another way to think about what leaders owe is to ask this question: What is it without which this institution would not be what it is?

Final thoughts from Max Dupree

No doubt humility plays a role in the progress of an artful leader. At least, that was my impression after hearing from Mr. Dupree.  

What do his closing words below say to you?

"In a day when so much energy seems to be spent on maintenance and manuals, on bureaucracy and meaningless quantification, to be a leader is to enjoy the special privileges of complexity, of ambiguity, of diversity. 

"But to be a leader means, especially, having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead."


(C) Bredholt &  Co.