Last night, as we in Greensboro, North Carolina were experiencing Polar Vortex II: The Return of the Arctic, Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address. After taking advantage of the rare snow to go sledding down the middle of my street, I came inside and sat down to watch the address. I was immediately struck by two important parallels between his message to the country and the concerns and priorities of our industry:
1) That leadership is a multifaceted quality that requires not only a range of skills, but also an awareness of how and when to use them.
2) That an imperative of leadership is to promote good, increase understanding and act as a force for improvement in our world.
Obama kept returning to a discussion of what defines American leadership, and to this question in particular: Is leadership defined by the country’s military strength? Manufacturing prowess? Diplomatic reach? National character? The president’s refreshing answer was e.) All of the above. His assertion that a combination of many factors contributes to the character of U.S. leadership is something that we in the OD industry know very well. A team leader cannot lead effectively without developing multiple strengths and knowing when and how best to use them. In “a world of complex threats,” Obama said, “our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.” The same goes in the business world. A manager that relies solely on her tendency to use asserting to influence those around her may be ineffective, or even cause harm, with others in the organization who have a different influencing style. In the State of Union address last night, Obama emphasized the importance of developing and using different skills in different situations, rather than just relying on one strength to lead. This is an awareness the OD industry struggles to convey every day.
Second, the president encouraged Congress to “remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe.” So we’re not just trying to deal with each catastrophe as it occurs, we can also work to improve the leadership status quo. As trainers, coaches, and HR professionals, doing good and promoting understanding is exactly what we are trying to accomplish every day. We understand that developing good leaders is a learning process, and that leadership is not a magical quality naturally bestowed on a few worthy individuals. So it turns out, Obama’s vision of leadership coincides with two important aspects of our industry: 1) an awareness that leadership is multifaceted, and 2) we strive to improve the world around us by building more enlightened leaders. I also learned something new yesterday: you know those words coming out of politicians’ mouths? Apparently some of them can be relevant!