Just few steps into the new year, on January 3rd, a new book bubbled its way into bookstores and bookselling stands, ‘Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success’, by Morgan, Lynch, and Lynch. The authors, leadership experts at ‘Lead Star’, a consulting company devoted to providing leadership expertise on strategy, organizational development, and talent management initiatives, devote the book to highlight the benefits for any organization of having ‘sparks’ among its personnel.
The authors define ‘sparks’ as people who recognize that they don’t have to accept what’s given to them; people who can do things differently to create the change they’d like to see. Their actions can, therefore, directly shape their future, and that of their institution by making things better.
‘Sparks’ become leaders in the sense that they are people who influence outcomes and inspire others. They are people who welcome (constructive) criticism and appreciate it, and whose main qualities include:
- Credibility. They have to be credible to others. To that, someone has to be trustworthy, something that can only be archived by being reliable. There is the need of understanding and meeting the standards of others and to do what one preaches. And while communication of intent and expectations is crucial, also it is freedom of performance.
- Accountability. They hold themselves accountable to their own challenges. One must not only know what’s expected of oneself but always perform to the level of excellence that one would demand from oneself (and others) against all the standards that have been set.
- Wisdom. Good decision makers while under pressure to act. ‘Sparks’ look for a way to solve the glitches they face instead of trying to pass them on to someone else.
- Confidence. They are able to express confidence in clutch moments.
- Cohesiveness. They can bring a group of individuals together to form a full and cohesive team that allow for mistakes, since being able to discuss issues openly as a team, with the application of acquired knowledge, facilitates going forward better and faster. We learn from ours and others mistakes.
We all can be a ‘spark’, but we cannot forget that, in any place and at any level, excellence and high performance happen only when everyone on the team – not just a selected few – chooses to lead; and therefore, influences outcomes and inspires others. But if leadership, when having subordinates, might initially appear not so difficult of a task, peer leadership is extremely challenging because peers may easily offer resistance without fear of consequences.
The authors relate ‘sparks’ to the cognitive processes derived from the Johari Window, a communication interpersonal awareness model (Luff and Ingham, 1955). Combining what from oneself is known and unknown to self and others we can construct a Johari Window. In it, from what we know about ourselves, there is an open door that reflects what we decide to show to others, the part of our personality that we make public and are aware of sharing; and there is a closed door, that part of ourselves that we keep just to ourselves, hidden from others, or share only with people whom we trust. Then, there is a part of ourselves that we ignore, we are blind to it, but others know; therefore, they can provide feedback for us to improve if it is their wish to present this gift to us by having the courage and tact to let us know about it. And finally, that part of ourselves that is unconscious, that is, unknown to us and to others, and from which new awareness can emerge, a passageway to new behaviors and possible evolution pathways.
To master those processes, which may well be conducive to leadership, the influence of outcomes and inspiration to others, it is required of cognitive flexibility, the ability to switch thinking in order to solve problems, and of cognitive discipline, the ability to inhibit an instinctual or common reaction and substitute it by a more effective, less obvious response. Additionally, close attention has to be paid to created expectations that other people may have of us, critically important although may not always be so clear.
Embedded in leadership there is also motivation; motivation that is driven by the fulfillment of basic needs, which in turn are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency (Maslow, 1943). When basic needs are satisfied, at once other higher needs emerge and these, then, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new and superior ones emerge and so on. Hence, the best performers are going to be those who feel valued among and by their team members, those who have fulfilled all their inferior needs.
When individuals commit to service it does not take long for them to disseminate positive service behavior to surrounding individuals. And beyond the intrinsic value of helping others, this ripple effect can often be used to address pressing business challenges.
However, there are barriers that might prevent individuals from demonstrating service based leadership:
- Unhealthy competition
So, there is a strong need to promote cooperation by focusing on empowering individuals ensuring that service rules are in place:
- Take the initiative to help someone struggling instead of waiting for the call to help.
- Do not keep score
- Avoid favoritisms
- Leave room for mistakes, as they are the basis for improvement.
- Promote feedback
We need to get uncomfortable in order to develop (…) no one is immune to fear, worry, and insensitivity. (…) by understanding how these natural emotions affect our ability to move forward confidently in the face of crisis, we are better prepared to respond to them.
And as important as it is to commit ourselves to service is to learn to decline a task for which we are not prepared, or for which we do not have the time. If needed, we have to learn and be prepared to say no: “I am really sorry, but I cannot at the present time”. Be sure that if you commit to a task, you will have the time and skills to have it done as expected. We should not overburden ourselves by an excess of volunteerism. Otherwise, we are risking to lose some of the qualities a ‘spark’ always carries along: credibility and accountability.
In short, walk the extra mile for patients, providers, and fellow interpreters, and the team will follow; the broader and diverse the team, the higher the points of view and that of available approaches to problem solving. Hence, the more likely a solution will be found earlier.
At the end, the key to success is undoubtedly going to be team work, as nicely put by the main characters of Alexandre Dumas most famous novel: All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.
- Dumas, A. 1844. The Three Musketeers.
- Luff, J and Ingham, H. 1955. The Johari Window, a Graphic Model of Interpersonal Awareness. Proceedings of the Western Laboratory in Group Development. Los Angeles. University of California. Los Angeles.
- Maslow AH 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review 50 (4): 370-396.
- Morgan, Lynch, and Lynch 2017. Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success.