Being a Successful Common Good Leader

LeadershipI would like to take some time to talk about Common Good leadership. And to do that, I would like to go back to the definition of Common Good:Common good refers to any idea, plan, or actual deed that will benefit a community as a whole and not just help a select few.

Really effective Common Good leaders, as the definition suggests, do not put themselves first; their perspective is directed outward toward others. The “others” could be direct reports, employees in their organization, clients, customers, those who are serviced, and our world in general. In this section I will refer to a number of articles that have proven helpful to the leaders I have coached, irrespective of whether they worked in traditionally Common Good sectors. One does not have to be employed in a Common Good organization to be a Common Good leader. The articles in this section will support that idea.

*** Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins – ***, published in 2005, is a monograph I have used in a number of workshops for nonprofit leaders. There are many important concepts in this monograph tied into the research that Collins and his team have done on leadership. There are two that fit particularly well into the idea of Common Good leadership. First, he describes Level 5 Leaders as “ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the movement, the mission, the work— not themselves…” Collins’ research on leadership, along with the publication of Built to Last, Good to Great and other books and articles, shone a light on the fallacy of the effectiveness of the charismatic, larger-than-life, top-down leader.

Second, he describes the difference between “executive leadership where the individual leader has enough concentrated power to simply make the right decisions and legislative leadership where the leader does not have structural power and must rely on persuasion, political currency and shared interests to create conditions for the right decisions to be made.” He goes on to make the point that legislative leadership is particularly important in nonbusiness organizations because of the way power is distributed. Those who are adept at legislative leadership are not top-down, autocratic, self-absorbed leaders, but they are more focused on interacting with and creating a structure that supports collaborative efforts that positively impact the entire community.

In 2005, The Nonprofit Quarterly published an issue titled *** Heroes, Liars, Founders and Curmudgeons: How Personal Behavior Affects Organizations. In the introduction to this collection of articles, the point is made that “personalities can be powerful organizers in culture and the way that groups function.” One of the articles in this collection is titled The Organizational Importance of Honesty. In that article, the following point is made, “Collective truth for a team is the result of individual encouragement through consent that is informed, uncompelled, and mutual. The leader has a critical and essential role as role model and must understand that his or her behavior is under scrutiny and will be given more weight than that of the others. If the leader fails at this, the organizational setting will also fail.” I would posit that leaders who have a Common Good mindset will be more likely to demonstrate honesty because they are focused on the collective and not just what is right for them. I have met many leaders who have not had honesty front-of-mind in their dealings with others. There are unfortunately hundreds of articles that identify these negative behaviors. The recent economic recession was created by individuals who were not thinking of anything or anyone other than themselves.

Since Common Good leaders think of what is best for the community, they will, in my experience, also have a mindset that puts people and not themselves first. Jeffrey Pfeffer, in his article, Putting People First, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review*** – collection of articles on management, says nonprofits that value their employees are more successful. He outlines seven ways this can be done, focusing particularly on the creation of self-managed teams, training, and information sharing, all activities that might lessen the power of a leader who was primarily focused on getting what was best for him- or herself, since it creates employees who are more informed, effective, and collaborative.

I have previously mentioned *** Compass Point – – as the creator of many free, well-written, and well-researched resources that could prove helpful for individuals looking to enter, move up in, or lead in Common Good organizations. Their publication, Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership, provides research on the state of leadership in nonprofits. One of the findings supports the idea that Common Good leadership—a less self-centered and more collaborative style—is being practiced in the organizations that responded to the survey:

“Fifty-seven percent of executives said that shared leadership—described as a leadership approach that is inclusive and collaborative—very much described their style. Another 34% said that shared leadership somewhat described their approach. And a large majority (81%) reported having someone on their staff that they trusted to make important decisions without consulting with them.”

Another Compass Point research report, Next Generation Organizations: 9 Key Traits, provides an organizational assessment questionnaire that focuses on 9 qualities of successful next-generation organizations. Many of these characteristics relate to culture factors that are inclusive, collaborative, and respectful of an expanded community for success.

The Continuous Learning characteristic requires having a “process in place for knowledge sharing among individuals and across teams”; the Shared Leadership characteristic “understands that shared/collective power and leadership contribute to mission sustainability”; the Constituents as Thought Partners “values the clients as assets and partners, not just service recipients”; the Boards as Value Add “engages board members in provocative dialogue about mission impact and does not isolate or limit the sphere of influence”; and the Multicultural & Culturally Competent characteristic of a next- generation organization identifies that “multiculturalism and cultural competence are organizational values and priorities and have been incorporated explicitly into organizational strategies.”

I have also previously mentioned *** The Bridgespan Group – – as a resource for well-written and well-researched articles and resources pertaining to the improvement of Common Good organizations. One of my favorite articles from them is titled, *** The Effective Organization: Five Questions to Translate Leadership into Management. The research shows that effective organizations demonstrate strength in 5 key areas: Leadership (Clear Vision and Priorities and Cohesive Leadership Team); Decision Making and Structure (Clear Roles and Accountabilities for Decisions, and Organization Structure That Supports Objectives); People (Organization and Individual Talent Necessary for Success, and Performance Measures and Incentives Aligned to Objectives); Work Processes and Systems (Superior Execution of Programmatic Work Processes, and Effective and Efficient Support Processes and Systems); and Culture (High Performance Values and Behaviors, and Capacity to Change).

Finally, there are two articles that for me tie together the points that have been made in this section about Common Good leadership. They both continue to be very popular Harvard Business Review (HBR) downloads. The first is titled *** Leadership That Gets Results, by Dan Goleman, published in the March–April 2000 edition of HBR. The second is titled *** Leadership Run Amok: The Destructive Potential of Overachievers, and was published in June of 2006. Disclaimer: I worked at Hay Group, which is the firm whose research is used and leadership-development model outlined in both articles. While working there, I communicated with, met, and introduced Dan Goleman to one of Hay Group’s clients. In addition, I am good friends with the lead author of Leadership Run Amok, Scott Spreier.

In his article, Goleman provides very concrete suggestions about how to be a Common Good leader (my term, not one used in the article), based on substantive Hay Group research on what makes leaders effective. In the article, Goleman describes in detail a model of leadership that states that the competencies you possess (he describes four emotional-intelligence competency clusters and how to develop them) impact the leadership styles you will tend to use (he identifies 6 styles), which in turn impacts the kind of climate you create—or, to put it another way, what it feels like to work for you (he outlines 6 climate dimensions). I have used this leadership model with dozens of clients.

There are multiple points made in Goleman’s article that provide additional insights regarding the practice of Common Good leadership. I am going to focus on two. Leaders who possess higher levels of emotional intelligence, “the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively,” are, according to Goleman, “far more effective than peers who lacked such strengths.” This finding has been replicated in hundreds of studies of emotional intelligence and leadership.

And effective Common Good leaders—and leaders in general—have developed positive capability in each of the four clusters: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Social Skills. The Self-Awareness cluster is particularly important because it includes “the ability to read and understand your emotions as well as recognize their impact on work performance and relationships.” When you combine that competency with the three competencies outlined in the Social Awareness cluster— Empathy (skill at sensing other people’s emotions), Organizational Awareness (the ability to read currents of organizational life), and Service Orientation (the ability to recognize and meet customers’ needs)—you have a leader who will—back to the definition of Common Good—have ideas, plans, or actual deeds that will benefit a community as a whole, and not just help a select few.

The Leadership Run Amok article, published 6 years after Leadership That Gets Results, also speaks to leadership styles and the work climate those styles create. Some of the names of the styles had changed in the latter article, in order to better define a more expansive understanding of the style being described. The previous style label is included in the description of the newly titled style, so there is minimal confusion for those who also have read the Goleman article.

Leadership Run Amok is very important in understanding the concept of Common Good leadership. The cover page of the article states the following: “If you believe too many executives think, ‘It’s all about me,’ you’re right: Research shows that the ethos celebrating individual achievement has been shoving aside other motivations, such as the drive to empower people, that are essential for successful leadership.”

The authors continue that line of thought in the beginning of the article: “Too intense a focus on achievement can demolish trust and undermine morale, measurably reducing workplace productivity and eroding confidence in management, both inside and outside the corporation.” The article then goes on to explain the extensive research that Hay Group has done on motivation. When a leader’s Achievement motive is aroused, “leaders experience a need to improve their personal performance and meet or exceed standards of excellence.” In contrast, when the Affiliation motive is aroused, leaders experience a need to “maintain close, friendly relationships.” Finally, when the Personalized Power motive is aroused, leaders experience a need to “be strong and influence others, making them feel weak,” whereas those who have aroused Socialized Power experience a need to “help people feel stronger and more capable.”

As the different articles and publications in this chapter on Common Good leadership have suggested, Common Good leaders possess a desire to collaborate and create a positive environment for an expanded community in a shared-leadership manner; have well-developed emotional intelligence; are motivated to achieve in a way that is complemented by a healthy need for affiliation and personalized power; and, as Collins stated so beautifully when describing Level 5 Leaders in his best-seller, Good to Great: “Given that Level 5 leadership cuts against the grain of conventional wisdom, especially the belief that we need larger-than-life saviors with big personalities to transform companies, it is important to note that Level 5 is an empirical finding, not an ideological one…Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”