Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spotting dangerous leaders II

7 Paths for Thriving Organizations, # 98, December 14, 2006

“I was dangerous,” Len Corti, a retired Fortune 500 executive, said to me as we ate lunch in a small cafĂ© in Utica, Illinois, “because I believed in what I was doing.”

Len and I met in the mid 1990’s when I was directing a capital campaign and he was a volunteer leader of the Special Gifts division of the campaign.

As he and I drove from town to town meeting with potential donors, we became friends--despite the fact that my driving scared him. He still calls me the “Tiskilwa terror” after my hometown and my driving.

We completed the campaign in 1997 but we still get together with lunch. I love hearing his stories from his career.

At our last lunch he began talking about a point in his career when he was raising money from investors for business start-ups. That’s when he said, “I was dangerous.”

“Tell me more,” I said, puzzled by the comment.

“I really believed in the start-ups and, because I really believed, I raised money but that doesn’t mean the start-ups were necessarily good investments.”

Since our lunch I’ve pondered Len’s comment. It’s not only business leaders who believe and are dangerous but also nonprofit and church leaders. Not all leaders are dangerous but certainly enough that we all ought to be wary of leaders who really believe in what they are doing.

I really believe in what I am doing. Almost four years ago I called a group of people together and we founded Evergreen Leaders, a nonprofit whose mission is to help other nonprofits and churches thrive through consulting and training.

In addition, I am one of the leaders of Plow Creek Fellowship, a Christian communal group. Last Saturday night I had dinner with a young couple, inviting them to consider joining our commune. After I painted a picture of my vision for the renewal of our 35-year old commune, I said with a laugh, “Either I’m a man of faith or I’m delusional.”

All leaders are persuasive. How do you know whether a person is a good faith leader or some who is dangerous in their beliefs? There are no guaranteed answers but here a few things to look for:

  1. Are they humble when someone challenges their vision? In my experience leaders who are defensive and attack critics eventually prove to be dangerous.

  2. How are their relationships with those closest to them? People are themselves with those they are closest too. Grand visions and putdowns of one’s spouse, children, or parents make me nervous.

  3. Are they eager to learn from those around them? Even the most visionary leader is not as smart as the group they lead.

  4. I’d love to hear from you. How do you know whether a person is a good faith leader or someone who is dangerous in their beliefs?

Wisdom for the week: Humble hierarchy leaders have little personal ambition, an unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and a passion to create space for all to thrive.

Fare thee well, Rich