Living and Leading on the Edge
Updated July 5, 2016
This post takes a look at a recent book that has joined the leadership field. Written by a respected leadership practitioner, it has arrived at a critical time for leaders who must contend with competing priorities and conflicting challenges, all the while trying to remain centered and focused on what needs to be done.
Meet Joelle K. Jay.
Jay holds a Ph.D. and is an executive coach specializing in leadership development. She assists business leaders enhance their performance and maximize business results. Her clients include presidents, vice presidents and C-level executives in Fortune 500 companies, such as Microsoft, Google, and Adobe. Her new book The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership is a welcome addition to the leadership field.
The word “leaders” was just used. But who is a “leader” in today’s society? Jay clarifies this in the first few pages of her book. A leader, she emphasizes, may be a:
– Corporate leader in business (though I’d add the public and non-profit sectors as well),
– Professional leader, whether you’re a consultant, entrepreneur or lawyer (to name three),
– Community leader,
– Family leader,
– Inspirational leader, such as within your circle of friends
The main underlying theme in this book is learning how to lead yourself. And to do so effectively means learning how to address challenges and to resist the lure of the multitasking beast whose allure is speed. Thus, Jay’s emphasis on the importance of being strategic and reflective can’t be overstated. However, what needs to be added to this is inquiry, for without it the art of seeing possibilities (something raised later in the book) may be lost in the leadership process, yet it is a leader’s guidepost to personal development.
The Inner Edge: Mastering how you identify strengths, weaknesses, values, feelings, motivations and aspirations.
The Outer Edge: What each of us shows the world at large.
The personal leadership challenge is learning how to connect the inner and outer edges through our daily actions. In short, it’s about congruency, or what the late Chris Argyris, Harvard professor and learning organization theorist, referred to as Theory in Use versus Espoused Theory. It’s easy to lose our personal edge, whether through corporate downsizings or mergers, or a tragedy in the family.
Personal leadership, according to Jay, is smart business. Smart organizations strive to bring out the best in each employee. Another way to phrase this is personal leadership is a way of being. Therefore, the 10 personal leadership practices while not being a ladder, as Jay notes, are more like rocks in a river where, depending on the circumstances, you’ll need certain ones to step on to deal with a specific challenge.
So what are Jay’s 10 practices of personal leadership?
1) Get Clarity
2) Find Focus
3) Take Action
4) Tap into Your Brilliance
5) Feel Fulfillment
6) Maximize Your Time
7) Build Your Team
8) Keep Learning
9) See Possibility
10) All…All at Once
Here are some thoughts on the practices, though I focus on certain ones that I see as key. The first practice, Get Clarity, caused me the most pause for thought. Jay talks about the relationship between clarity and vision. While she notes they’re not the same I wasn’t entirely clear on what her core message is. “Clarity” (a noun) is “…the state or quality of being clear, distinct and easily perceived or understood.” It also, as a secondary meaning, refers to the quality of transparency or purity. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Vision (a noun or a verb, depending on context), in contrast, is “…the faculty or state of being able to see.” It’s also used to describe the ability to reflect about the future with imagination or wisdom, such as creating a mental image of what it could be. The verb aspect of vision to imagine is rarely used.
Given this, it would have been perhaps more helpful to the reader to explain how clarity is a precursor to the process of creating a vision at the personal level, and the subsequent step of enrolling people to share in that vision (as per Peter Senge’s recognized work on the learning organization).
The sub-title of Get Clarity is “What do you want?” which is essential to helping us define clearly what we want in life, from work to family to community. With clarity comes the ability to think about and eventually form a vision.
Find Focus is vital in an age of constant stimuli, instantaneity and the urge to multitask, whether at work or at home. The sub-title of this second practice is “Where will you put your attention?” As Jay states, this practice is about “…choosing where to put your time, energy and attention.” By mastering this practice you’ll be able to move from a state of chaos to control, from random to strategic, and from inaction to action. She presents later in this chapter a five step process to develop “focus areas.”
Two practices that particularly resonate are Keep Learning and See Possibility. While the other practices are indeed important to developing one’s personal leadership, it is the ability to not just keep learning but to especially learn from one’s mistakes and when things don’t go to plan. Learning from success just doesn’t have the same power and impact as reflecting on something you did wrong or where a goal failed to be met. Note the word reflecting, which goes hand-in-hand with learning.
Likewise, learning’s partner in leadership development is seeing possibilities. It was a former boss and mentor who instilled in me the huge value of always trying to see the possible. But this means taking off the blinders, tantamount to questioning our assumptions which determine in so many ways our behaviors and actions. Thus, the practice of Take Action is inextricably linked to these two practices.
I would have liked Jay to have taken more time on the topic of coaching and mentoring, for these two closely related processes have so much to offer us in the form of enhancing our personal leadership. Indeed, mentoring has a key role to play in assisting the aspiring leader (mentee) see the possibilities. In other words, the mentor helps to remove the blinders.
The Inner Edge contains a wealth of resource information, packed into each chapter, to assist the reader in his or her leadership journey. The book is well organized, with a concise summary of the key points at the end of each chapter (leadership practice). There are exercises and questions for the reader to reflect upon, and each chapter starts with a short story of an individual who is going through a leadership challenge.
For the individual who is serious about strengthening his or her leadership skills, it’s important to note that Jay’s book is not a read-through and then plunking it on a book shelf. Rather, the reader needs to work through the book by reflecting on the questions and exercises contained in each chapter. And it stands to reason that because each of us is uniquely different that some people will devote more attention to some chapters than others.
Effective personal leadership wasn’t created in a day. Our respective leadership journeys should be exciting because of the many unknowns and because of the possibilities and opportunities we encounter every day. The Inner Edge is a useful guide for that journey.
For a free summary, go to The Inner Edge.com.
When I look into an ideal future, I see a world in which people know how incredible they are and how precious life is. They know what they have to offer: their vision, their strengths, their values. They connect to their sense of purpose at home and at work. They honor the work that they do, they do the work that they love, and they make the most of their lives by taking care of their health, their families, their loved ones, their friends, their co-workers, and their world.
– Joelle K. Jay
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