Benchmark Business Group

THE KEEPER OF THE FLAME

September 6, 2010

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’” – Lao-tsu

 There are volumes written on leadership, and quotes that end to end would circle the earth several times.  In spite of the volume, there are only a very few basic themes that keep repeating themselves.  Those themes involve clarity of vision and purpose, an ability to move others to action, and an ability to draw out the greatness that already exists in others.

I once asked a retired CEO of a regional bank how he would describe his function in his former position.  He simply said, “I was the Keeper of the Flame”.  That was both an exciting and intriguing response, so I pressed on with more questions.  He described his view of leadership in that position as creating real clarity around the overall results the organization wanted to achieve…the end-game, if you will…the final picture.  To complete the picture, it then had to be imbued with a clear sense of shared purpose and value, so that it became like lighting a torch…a Flame.  It has an aura of something bigger that any one person in the organization, even the leader.  He then had the job of continually reminding everyone in the organization of the Flame and it’s meaning, and using the Flame to shine a light on all the activity in the organization, to the end that the final picture would be achieved.

That truly is the first attribute of any leader, because without knowing where you’re going, as the saying goes, any road will get you there.  The second attribute, the ability to move others to action, is equally as critical.  Without activity which leads to the final picture described in the vision, the vision will be no more than a dream—the Flame will only represent hot air!  But this is not just activity for the sake of activity.  It is a clear roadmap of objectives, strategies, action plans, timetables, and allocation of resources that inevitably leads to the fulfillment of the vision.  The Flame will make it clear which strategies and actions are “non-productive”, because they don’t bring the organization closer to the final picture, and those that are “productive”, because they do.  Activity without the light of the Flame is a decision to leave results to chance—to invite bad results as a norm, and good results as an accident.

Finally, there is the ability to draw out the greatness that exists in others.  In our business coaching company, we have a saying that hangs prominently in the coaching department.  It says, “Our clients are greater than they know themselves to be.”  It is a part of what Michael Gerber, the best selling author of the E-Myth series of books, calls the “game worth playing”.   

For some, it is about getting past a fear of not being able to do something.  For others, it is about seeing the relationship between a desirable end result and the sometimes monotonous activities required to get there.  And for yet others, it may be about getting past old paradigms and ways of thinking that keep us doing the same things over and over and praying that somehow a different result will happen.  In any case, however, the challenge of the leader is to create an environment that is not only safe for all of these transformations to happen, that not only encourages and promotes those transformations, but makes the transformations desirable.  And all of the time, the environment is embraced in the warmth of the Flame, so that everyone understands why they’re here, what they’re doing, and why their own occasional discomfort in the face of challenging their own non-productive activity is completely worth it. 

           How brightly is the Flame burning in your business?  Or, has it even been lit?   

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