Essential Acts of Leadership

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Donald L. Laurie, in his book The Real Work of Leaders (Perseus, 2000), focuses on what he calls “The Seven Essential Acts of Leadership.”

Leaders have a responsibility to communicate what is going on that matters and why it matters, especially in times of change.

Here is how Laurie names them:

1. Get on the balcony. A leader must be able to see far and wide, as though standing aloft on a high balcony. Climbing onto the balcony does not mean the leader loses personal interest in what is happening but rather gets enough critical distance from the activities to assess the whole.

2. Communicate what is real. People know about that with which they are involved but not necessarily about the larger goals in which those activities fit. Leaders have a responsibility to communicate what is going on that matters and why it matters, especially in times of change.

3. Clarify competing values. Thriving organizations depend on a set of shared values. Those values must be lifted up regularly. Also, we live in the midst of competing values. When people look at everything through only one value, then other values are missed.

4. Support changes in values. While success comes from shared values, there are always new values emerging as an organization matures and develops. As change occurs, it is imperative that the leader interpret these new commitments in terms of their importance to the mission.

5. Promote dialogue. Much of a leader’s time is spent in keeping people with differences talking. Maintaining an environment in which it is permissible to have differences and still belong to the whole is essential for an open and thriving organization.

6. Regulate distress. Implementing change is hard. Leaders diligently watch the level of stress in order to maintain a balance between too much and not enough. People take change better in incremental steps. Too much change within too short a time period can lead to an explosion.

7. Make everyone collectively responsible. Responsibility is a two-way street. Everyone is responsible for changes required to achieve the mission. If the leader takes on all the responsibility, or abdicates responsibility, eventual failure is virtually assured.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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