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Posted 6/3/13 at 3:49 PM | Steven Echols
Is the glass half-empty or half-full? It is the classic question to measure whether a person is an optimist or a pessimist. Of course, the actual answer is that the glass is both half-empty and half- full. At times, leaders need both of these perspectives. Good leaders are not unrealistic optimists or cynical pessimists. Further, they do not view things in a distorted manner such as claiming the glass is empty or completely full. Instead, they clearly perceive both the possibilities and the challenges.
John Gardner in his classic book On Leadership advocated the need for what he described as “tough- minded optimism.” By this term he meant that a leader has to have balance between realism and idealism, between visionary hope, and dreamy naivety. Leaders must inspire. As Gadrner observed of leaders, “their number one job is to keep hope alive.” When an organization loses hope, its demise is certain. Instead, leaders must chart a course for achieving a better tomorrow, for fulfilling mission, for transformational outcomes. These objectives involve real problems and obstacles that cannot be ignored. Followers will cease to have confidence in leaders who deceptively hide true reality from them. Nor will they follow a Pollyanna attitude that does not acknowledge the bad along with the good. Tough-minded optimism embraces hope while keeping a watchful eye on the difficulties that may keep that hope from being achieved. Expanding on Garner’s brief discussion of this concept, I offer the following four characteristics as being necessary for leaders to practice tough-minded optimism. FULL POST
Posted 9/21/12 at 11:19 AM | Steven Echols
One of the most challenging decisions for leaders is to know when to leave and when to stay. I had been president at TTU for only a few days when a man who had been very successful as a president at a very large Christian university gave me some unexpected advice. He said, “Start thinking now about how and when you will leave.” As I pondered his advice, I began to realize what he meant. He was saying that I should look at all that I was doing in the context of what I would leave for the next person. But he was also reminding me that tenure of all leaders eventually ends. Sometimes leaders stay much longer than expected, maybe too long. Sometimes leaders exit much earlier than expected, maybe too early. How does a leader know when it is time to leave? Many leaders struggle to find the answer.
The Republican candidate for president of the United States was settled once Rick Santorum dropped out in April. Yet, for many months there was much drama as to when the various candidates should drop out. As the campaign went along, many pundits criticized the various candidates for staying in when they were no longer viable, a common mistake. Military leaders will tell you that strategic withdrawal should not be considered a defeat. While the perspective of Christian ministry is different, nonetheless, the same issues must be faced. Jesus acknowledged that there were places that his disciples should leave and “shake off the dust” from their feet. (Luke 9: 5) By this action, Jesus meant that his disciples would be demonstrating that their message was being rejected and continued efforts would be futile. Likewise, leaders must be able to discern when further efforts are counterproductive, and it is time to leave. FULL POST
Posted 4/10/12 at 4:25 PM | Steven Echols
At the conclusion of a press conference, President Obama broke precedence to answer the shouted question of reporters about the Trayvon Martin case. As expected the president’s comments have been both praised and condemned by various pundits. He had come under significant criticism for not responding much earlier to the shooting death of the seventeen year old African American. In a world with Twitter, Facebook, and all manner of instant social media, there is little patience for allowing time to investigate carefully before conclusions are made.
Like the president, leaders at all levels are frequently pressed for comment on controversial matters. It is particularly challenging when opposing views want a quick judgment on a divisive subject. At such moments we can only wish for the wisdom of Solomon. When two mothers with competing stories as to the death of one of their infants were brought before him, he cleverly devised a way to determine who was telling the truth. Unfortunately, such insight often seems to elude us. Far more often the process is much slower and more painful. In reality, in some situations the complete truth is never a certainty. FULL POST