Friday, May 7, 2010

Leaders for our times need to be in touch with their hearts

Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell opines:
“If you’re a leader in a top down organization the natural tendency for followers to tell you what you want to hear is nearly insurmountable.”
Rockwell goes on to suggest three challenges for top down organizations:
  1. Leaders in top down organizations create and affirm people that comfort each other by clinging to the status quo.
  2. Leaders in top down organizations never get the real picture because people tell them what they want to hear.
  3. Followers in top down organizations live in bondage to bureaucratic hierarchy.
According to a new article by Bill George, during the last half of the 20th century, business leadership became an elite profession, dominated by managers who ruled their enterprises from the top down. In today’s business world that hierarchical model doesn't work anymore. Learning organizations have replaced the craftsman-apprentice style relationship. Apart from my school boy experiences, I got my first lessons in leadership when I joined the Legionaries of Christ. The following comments draw heavily on George's analysis of "authentic" leaders.

Knowledge workers do not respond well to "top down" leadership. The short-term outlook demanded by excessive focus on stock markets led many leaders to forget about long-term growth. In the past decade the old model blew up, from the ethical scandals exposed by Enron and WorldCom to the Wall Street meltdown.

Because people believe the leaders are serving only themselves and short-term shareholders, the result is people no longer trust business leaders to build sustainable institutions.

The 21st century requires leaders who focus on aligning people around mission and values and empowering emerging leaders at all levels. The fundamental goal is go concentrate on serving customers and developing collaboration throughout the organization. Traditional leaders thought they could solve this problem with rulebooks, training programs and compliance systems, and were shocked when people deviated.

When I look back, with the benefit of hindsight, on my experiences with Marcial Maciel the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, I recall being concerned with our organization’s increasing focus on “methodology.” We had a rule, a process, a method for everything. It took me until the late 1970s to realize that the focus on methodology, combined with a deficient understanding of the concept of religious “obedience” was not boding well for my future in the organization.

George  points out that hierarchical leaders delegate limited amounts of power in order to retain control. Based on my early experiences with Fr. Maciel, I would have to say he totally conformed to the model of a hierarchical leader. This didn’t bother me, at the time, because “hierarchical” was about the only flavor of leadership practiced in the 1960s. I have long since learned – and the experience of working with Fr. Maciel brought this home to me – that our times require a different style of leadership. I confess that I do not know if or how Maciel’s leadership style evolved since I did not work for him after 1982. Maybe he did begin to empower new leaders in the Legion. In fact I suspect he did. But I wonder if the new leadership set up the necessary systems of accountability to ensure leadership commitments were met?

CEOs who spend too much time listening to Wall Street risk ignoring their most important stakeholder — their customers. Maciel certainly kept a weather eye open to "Wall Street" and the successful corporate impresarios who could help support his mission. And he never lost sight of the importance of managing Vatican relationships. However, in my personal experience, he well understood that the organization – in his case a religious congregation – that does not offer better value to its customers than its competitors, will eventually go out of business. Hence, his organization, the Legionaries of Christ, developed an astounding network of colleges, charitable works, and missions in a very short time frame. All of them were carefully designed to offer "added value" for the "customers" - the good people who bought into what seemed to be a transformational vision of lay engagement with the Church. All the while, the Legionaries understood the organizational value of collaboration and, I think, they managed to avoid creating the organizational silos that hindered other contemporary organizations.

Maciel certainly started out as a top-down leader. And like so many other top-down leaders he achieved impressive short-term results. Apart from bequeathing his successors the daunting task of cleaning up the mess caused by his deformed personality and the criminal methods he used to achieve his ends, he left the Legionaries the task of develop a whole new style of leadership that cannot be based on the model inherited from the founder.

I believe that with external help, combined with a great deal of humility, the Legionaries have the resources to produce a new generation of collaborative leaders who can transform the organization and lead it to long-term sustainable performance.

These new leaders, if they emerge, will do well to remember that contemporary leaders need to demonstrate passion. The sub-title of my memoir “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines” is “How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind.” The Legion needs leaders who are in touch with their hearts (and the hearts of their “customers,) as well as their heads. To be successful they need to abandon the founder’s top down approach to leadership. They will need to clearly articulate their values, establish genuine and meaningful interpersonal relationships, and understand the potential “dark side” of their personalities. In my estimation, Maciel never seemed to be aware of the "shadow" side of his makeup. It is this dark "shadow", which for most of us emerges in times of frustration and stress, that sabotages our best intentions. The new leaders must "know who they are" and have the self-discipline to hold on to a new and very challenging course towards rebirth and renewal.


Lauretta said...

I've been following news on the Legion for a couple of years now and keep running across your comments. As time has gone on, I keep having the urge to pass something on to you and decided to post on your own blog rather than one of the others.

This is just my opinion but I wanted to offer it to you. My gut reaction when I hear someone repeat over and over and over again that they didn't do something or didn't know something is to suspect that they really did do or know that which they are denying.

I have had a similar feeling about your many comments on various blogs. It seems that you are quite adamant about your ignorance of Maciel's actions--to the point of raising one's suspicions about your culpability rather than lessening it.

I know nothing about you at all but I can't help be concerned that you are as focused as you are on one aspect of your life--being in the Legion. You have been out longer than you were in and I'm sure have accomplished much more since than you did when part of that group. I hope you can let go of that period of your life at some point to fully appreciate the life you have now.

Jack Keogh said...

Lauretta, thanks for posting your comment. I guess I should tell you that the Legion hardly featured in my life - after a year or two of readjustment - from the time I left until I read the news reports of Maciel's crimes and the news of his death.

Independent of the news bulletins, I decided to write my memoir as a complement to my management consulting work. Over the years I have done a great deal of public speaking on leadership and cross cultural issues. Many participants asked if I had ever written a book.

To make a long story longer, I wrote the book and, as expected, writing about my past brought back a lot of memories of my twenty years in the Legion. My book is NOT about Maciel or the Legion - it is about my experiences. As part of the writing process, I certainly visited several LC or RC related blogs. My impression was that opinion was exceedingly polarized. Some blogs will tolerate nothing remotely positive being said about the Legion. And the few that are very pro-LC lack credibility. This dichotomy persuaded me to write a book based on personal experiences from a subjective and non-judgmental point of view.

Because I got the impression from some of the more openly critical blogs that it is hard to believe that people in the LC didn't know about MM's crimes,I surely left comments alluding to the fact that I and my peers (whom I queried about this) had no idea of the depth of the founder's aberrations - beyond the obvious cult-like traits in the organization. I refer only to my experience prior to 1982. I mean for this to be a statement of fact, not a justification.

You may notice that I no longer post on one of the blogs where I have seen your name a lot. Indeed, I don't read it and its "sister blogs" anymore - only because I really don't find them helpful to me - and my sometimes alternative point of view was clearly unwelcome.

You are right to perceive that writing about my 20 years with Maciel and learning what we now know towards the end of that process stirred up a lot of memories and emotions. The process turned out to be quite cathartic and helpful. However, I completely agree with you that while my time in the Legion was an important part in my life, I have accomplished a great deal in the rest of my life - and the life I have now, my family (including grand children)is far more important to me than the Legion ever was. Maybe someday you will read my memoir and tell me what you think? An editorial decision was made to stop the memoir when I left the Legion - and, perhaps, to reserve "the rest of the story" for part two which is probably more interesting! That would cover, working on conflict resolution between the North and South of Ireland, working for a big labor union, holding some pretty senior level jobs in multinationals, and eventually founding my own company. Thanks again.

Lauretta said...

Thank you, Jack, for your very kind words of explanation. I am glad that you have found resolution to your time in the Legion. You obviously have gone on to do great good in the world and were able to take the positive things from your time in the group. That probably has much to say about the strength and health of your personality. For those who do not possess those similar traits, I am not sure that their time would be nearly as positive as yours. Many, I believe, are deeply wounded by their time under the control of the Legion.

Out of mere curiosity, at what age did you enter the group? The younger recruits seem to suffer the most harm overall, it seems.

Jack Keogh said...

I joined the Legion when I was 17, when I graduated High School. Unfortunately, when I finished HS, I was a year younger than my class mates - which made it very easy for me to decide to "try out" my vocation for a year.

My guess is that those who are most obviously hurt are the Consecrated women. On the Legionary side, I think the amount of damage suffered has more to do with personality than age. Of course, the young ones who joined the Apostolic Schools received most of their spiritual formation in the Legion, and, in the measure that the spirituality was deformed they have to have suffered great culture-shock when they left, most especially in the USA.

I must say that despite my expectations when I joined, the young men from the Apostolic Schools in Mexico and Spain (there was none in the US) were very impressive and many matured into excellent priests. One of my assignments in Spain was to help Juan Jose Vaca recruit for the Apostolic School - there was quite a tradition there where the oldest son was often shipped off to junior seminary to get an education. The junior seminary system was never my cup of tea and there is no way I would have allowed my children to attend. However to be truthful, I have to say that I did see some great results - but those were different times and a different place... For many, it was their only ticket to a decent education.