In his year-end interview with Charlie Rose, New York Times journalist Tom Friedman said, "Leadership matters," and "Ownership is the key to life."
When I look back over my experience of leadership, the sense of owning the purpose is crucial. Without purpose, you flounder. Without purpose, you get frustrated. Without purpose, you flat out fail.
Leaders, as I have come to understand their importance, are the custodians of purpose in any enterprise.
Clarity, conviction, and collaboration are the keys to creating processes that align people to purpose. If you truly and deeply own the purpose of an enterprise, you will create clarity, generate conviction, and nourish collaboration around the benefits that your purpose produces.
Think of what it takes to lead an exceptional jazz group.
You create the play list (purpose) - what songs are going to be played in that set.
You gather the musicians you know will best generate the focused energy that will best interpret the tune (achieve the purpose) in as swinging as fashion as imaginable.
You nourish the spirit and space for the kind of collaboration that invites swing and innovation in interpreting the tune (achieving the purpose).
Let me emphasize a couple of features in those short descriptions.
First, 'purpose' dominates them. Everything revolves around 'purpose.' If that is not clear, confusion reigns. No matter how talented and practiced the musicians are, they cannot align themselves together. Further, if you have taken the time to include the other musicians in choosing and/or arranging the play list, they will be that much more engaged. They will have optimal ownership of the potential of the performance.
Second, swing is the key. Perhaps Duke Ellington said it best when he titled one of his greatest compositions, 'It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.'
For Ellington, swing is a "buoyant rhythm." It's an expression of "sentiments and ideas," integrating instinct, emotion, and intellect. And it tells the story of the people playing and listening in their own language, carrying on the long tradition of the music of the folk (for Ellington, obviously, black music in America). Insofar as Ellington could put swing into words, it's "alive" and "creative."
Count Basie once told Mike Wallace in a 60 Minutes interview, "If I've got your toe, I've got your mind and heart." That's what swing does.
If your leadership is going to matter in 2014 and beyond, it needs the swing that emerges from clarity, conviction, and collaboration. Create the spirit and space for those to happen and you will be a leader, my friend. You can do it from anywhere in the team or organization. It's not positional, it's influential.
So, how can you compose your conversations this year to exercise this kind of influence?