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This is a book about people. It's a book about building good character and leading from good character. It's a book designed for people who are ready to get serious about developing into first-rate leaders. It's also meant for leaders who are doggedly determined to solidify first-rate teams.
Almost all of us agree that good character is the centerpiece of authentic first-rate leadership. Good character is the key to good leadership because people tend to follow whatever standard the leader sets. Recent studies in moral intelligence show that the level of morality exercised by a company's character consistently affects the bottom line. It takes good character to grapple with reality. It takes good character to treat people right. It takes good character to build unity among networks of people and causes. Thus every situation that a leader might face calls for the same three attributes: humility, courage, and honesty.
Most leaders have the willingness to improve their character, but so often they are not told how to do so. How do leaders learn to lead "above the line," so to speak? How can leaders grow in self-awareness? How can leaders learn to look inwardly? How can they keep themselves from becoming toodefensive to accept the kind of feedback that they need?
These questions are important because people are important. Moreover, as research studies show, character deficits lead to financial deficits in the long run. Character deficits are very costly. Qualities such as arrogance and presumption, cowardice and people pleasing, deception and image management all weigh companies down.
Of course, no leader wants to lead with character deficits. Yet everyone has seen character deficits play out. I have seen them play out in various studies that I conducted while earning my MBA. I have seen them play out in magazine and newspaper articles. I have seen them in my places of employment. Most vividly I have seen them in myself.
Though by vocation I work in a private university, I wrote this book for people in a variety of fields. My primary target audience is the business community, yet the book applies to anyone in any setting-including nonprofit organizations, churches, and even families.
The uniqueness of this book is that it teaches through an instrument called the People Model. Take note: The People Model is based on Greek philosophy, yet it is original in its form and application. Like other innovations, it began as intuition. It was born from a hunch that burst into a full-blown model because logic gave it structure and meaning. Though the People Model is not scientific or research based, it's empirical in the sense that experience confirms its validity. Essentially it's a grid that describes three sets of people: the Strategists, the Humanitarians, and the Diplomats. But the model is much more than a grid.
The People Model is a tool that can be used for practical purposes: to increase self-awareness, to make sense of confusing situations, to motivate people, to instigate changes, to establish stronger teams, to imagine new solutions, and to approach hard conversations more effectively. The People Model presents such a fresh way of thinking that its fruitfulness is hard to exhaust.
Another way of putting it is that the People Model yields three discrete types of decision-making power: explanatory power to interpret organizational behavior, motivational power to muster up people's willingness to forfeit stubborn habits that have weakened their effectiveness in the past, and creative power to imagine wise solutions for the future.
The birth of the People Model was intentional in the sense that I was trying to crack a code. I was trying to make sense of confusing situations I had personally observed over the years. I also was trying to learn more and better ways to respond to sticky issues in the workplace. I started my reflections-at least on a conscious level-with the premise that people usually do things for a reason; we operate from specific motivations. What the People Model shows is that those reasons and motivations sometimes can dramatically clash.
After reflecting deeply, I realized that the hardest lessons I've learned about leadership have come to me in the context of complex situations. What the People Model shows is that difficult situations can't be fairly sorted out simply by dubbing some people as "good guys" and others as "bad guys." While it's true the world has its tyrants and its heroes, it is also true that tyrants have their good points and that heroes aren't heroic in every way.
Although the People Model itself came to me as a blast of inspiration, it only took one evening for me to see it playing out in every workplace I've been part of and every relationship I've been in. For example, I could see it in my marriage. I could see it in my family, my workplace, my church, and in every organization that I knew of. That's why I have named it the People Model. Wherever people are, the model is there as well.
To be clear, the People Model applies both to individuals and organizations. Though every person and every company is a mix of all three types, there's a test that you can use informally to help you see which category most closely mirrors you. You can also use this test to assess your organization as a whole. If you want, you can take the test (beginning on page 173) now.
Okay, on to the model. My intention is to present it in three ways: (a) by explaining its basic form, (b) by illustrating its implications through a fictional story, and (c) by describing different ways to apply it. These three presentations are respectively reflected in the structure of the book.
Part 1 gives the bare bones of the model. Part 2 shows in detail how the model plays out and elaborates on its endless implications. Part 3 deals with practical application, putting the model to use. Part 4 includes a test and a workbook. Though the workbook is designed for small group discussion, you can use it privately if you like. Since the People Model applies to virtually every situation, you as the reader are left to decide how deep you want to go in your self-examination and assessment of your team or organization.
Now let's dive in and see what kind of impact the People Model has on you.
"Nathan just doesn't get it," John Mark said to his wife.
Cynthia looked at him sympathetically as she rubbed her weary feet.
"I have tried and tried to talk to him," he said. "I tried again today, but as usual, I couldn't get anywhere with him."
She sighed. "You sound disappointed again."
"I am disappointed again. What will it take to get this supervisor of mine to understand that I'm on his team-that I'm actually trying to help him?"
"Are you feeling unappreciated?" She put her nursing shoes in the closet.
"No. I feel frustrated," he answered. "I'm bothered because I can't tap into his wavelength. I don't know how to get through to him. It's almost as if he can't hear me."
"What do you want him to hear?"
"I want him to hear that he's sabotaging himself," said John Mark.
"Is he willing to hear that?" said Cynthia, motioning to her husband to follow her downstairs into the kitchen.
"Maybe not, but he needs to."
"Why do you have to be the one to tell him?" she asked.
"Because I see the problem," said John Mark. "When you're watching someone play with fire, you speak up and warn them. That's the only right thing to do."
"What kind of fire is he playing with?" asked Cynthia.
"He's ignoring reality."
"What do you mean? From what you've told me in the past, Nathan seems to be aware of a number of things."
"Like the customers. Nathan knows all the major customers by name. He's really very good at meeting people."
John Mark countered, "I agree that Nathan is adept at public relations. My point is that while Nathan makes an effort to learn our customers' names, he doesn't really care about them as people. His big concern in business is to make a big name for himself."
"And that's frustrating to you," she said.
"That's what drives me crazy," he confirmed. "Nathan can't appreciate good advice. Take today, for instance. I couldn't have made myself any plainer. During our weekly team meeting, he told us he was planning a few changes to make us more competitive. But you know what he wanted to do? His idea was to violate our marketing schedule! He wanted us to start promising services to potential new clients that we aren't even capable of providing yet. We have strict company guidelines in place to prevent such misrepresentations."
John Mark pulled a bar stool away from the counter and sat down.
"What did you say to him?" asked Cynthia.
"I told him there'd be a boomerang effect if he fudges too much on the rules. That it will come back to haunt him if he makes misleading claims to our customers."
"Why would Nathan want to break the rules?"
"Because he doesn't believe in following rules," said John Mark. "He likes for others to follow rules, so that he will have an advantage when he breaks them."
Cynthia looked at her husband skeptically.
"Believe me, this is par for the course for him. From Nathan's perspective, the sky is the limit because no rules have the power to hold him back."
"So how did he respond when you told him that the company can't implement his plan?"
"He got this silly grin on his face. I don't know how to describe it. It wasn't sinister, but it wasn't innocent either. I guess that you could say it was peculiar. His mouth gaped a little and that peculiar grin set in, and then he said flippantly, 'Why?'"
Cynthia replied, "He wanted to know why it's wrong to break company rules?"
John Mark answered, "No, he was telling me that since it doesn't seem wrong to him, then the company shouldn't think it's wrong either."
"Are you sure that's what he meant?"
John Mark replied, "It adds up with everything else. Think about it. Nathan lives in his own world. He can't see the difference between his own imagination and reality. In fact, I believe that Nathan sees the company as an extension of himself. And let's face it, Cynthia, Nathan has unusual self-regard."
"You couldn't get through to him today at all?"
"Not on the main point that I was tr ying to make."
Cynthia sighed. "Well, I can see why you feel upset."
"It's annoying," said John Mark. "I mean, I'm trying to help the guy. But he elevates himself so far above the rest of us that he simply can't conceive of needing to make changes in himself."
"Does anyone else see a problem in Nathan?" Cynthia asked.
"Almost all of us who work for him see the problem in spades. We talk about it openly. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who has confronted Nathan personally. The others are too afraid. Nathan can be so intimidating. He drops these little hints about not wanting anyone to be fired."
"Yeah, that scares me too. I hope you don't lose your job," said Cynthia.
"I'm not worried about that," said John Mark. "I'm worried about the mess that is likely to ensue. My fear is that Nathan will stay in the company just long enough to create a disaster, and then he'll move to another company. I'll be left there, along with a few others, to sort through all the debris."
"How long has Nathan been a part of the company? About six or seven years?"
"Yes, and as far as I can tell, he still has no interest in studying reports, or holding anyone accountable, or paying due respect to the budget."
"But he's the executive vice president. How can he get away with that?"
"Because Nathan was promoted from the PR department by none other than Max," said John Mark. "He's 'Max's boy,' and Max is the CEO."
"Max must see something valuable in Nathan."
"There's no doubt that Nathan is talented. You've seen him," said John Mark. "He's long-winded at times, but he can make an excellent first impression."
"Yeah," said Cynthia. "I remember how excited you were when Nathan first got the job. You said he was going to be a great role model."
"That's another disappointment," said John Mark. "While it's true that I can learn something from Nathan's way of uniting people, mostly I have learned from him what not to do. How not to lead."
"What makes Max think that Nathan holds promise for the company?"
"Max looks at Nathan, not the facts."
"What do you mean?" asked Cynthia.
"I mean just what I said. Max looks at Nathan, and Nathan looks good. His hygiene is immaculate, and his level of self-confidence is exceptional."
Cynthia replied, "I must admit that Nathan is rather impressive when he speaks. Didn't you tell me that WeServTech was awarded exclusive servicing rights by the state's university system after Nathan made a pitch at their board meeting?"
"Yes ... after the rest of us had been meeting and planning our approach for months on end."
Cynthia raised an eyebrow as she looked at John Mark.
"Look, I'll admit Nathan's got charisma. He's convincing to those who watch him," said John Mark. "He looks good and sounds good as long as you don't listen to what he says."
"How can he sound good to people who aren't listening?" asked Cynthia.
John Mark tried to explain. "It's the tone of Nathan's voice that sounds good. That is, his voice sounds good if you listen to nothing more than its sound. When you listen to the content of what he says, you notice right away it's a bunch of hollow words."
"So what do you think is going to happen?" asked Cynthia. She opened the door of the oven to check if their dinner was hot.
"I don't know because I don't see the numbers firsthand," said John Mark, bouncing his heels. "But I do see Nathan's habits, and I'm telling you-the numbers have to be down. You can't spend money the way that Nathan does without compromising the final results."
"Well, if things go awry, it won't be your fault," said Cynthia.
"What do you mean 'if'?" said John Mark. "Things have already gone awry. If you ask me, we're taking the scenic route on a quiet collision course headed steadily and directly for a crash. I wish someone could communicate that to Max."
"I'm surprised that you haven't tipped him off yourself." Cynthia thought for a second. "Have you talked to Max already?"
John Mark nodded.
"What did you say to him?" she asked.
"I told him that I don't trust Nathan."
"What did Max say in return?"
"He said that Nathan is on a learning curve, and he asked me to help him out as much as I can."
"When did that happen?" asked Cynthia.
"About three months ago."
"You've been trying to help Nathan for three months?" she said incredulously. "No wonder you feel frustrated."
John Mark agreed. "I don't like having a boss who breaks the rules."
"Well, if it's any consolation, Max has always been good to you. I guess the best we can do is trust his judgment."
John Mark couldn't stand to hear this, so he got up and left the room. Soon Cynthia heard the sound of a newspaper being whipped open a bit too loudly and abruptly.
Cynthia peered into the living room. "Honestly, I was trying to console you. Can I get you something to drink?"
"It doesn't console me to know that you trust Max's judgment more than you trust mine."
"What?" said Cynthia. "You don't think I trust your judgment? What gave you that idea?"
"I told you my assessment of the situation at work, and your response, in effect, was to say that I'm probably wrong."
"I didn't say that you were wrong."
"Think about what you did say," John Mark replied.
Cynthia recounted the conversation. "I asked you about Max, and then I said that the best thing we can do is trust ..."
It dawned on her now what she had said.
Excerpted from LEADERSHIP ABOVE THE LINE by Sarah Sumner Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Sumner. Excerpted by permission.
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