Friday, July 23, 2010

The Art of Leadership

I was recently inspired by this post from Hugh MacLeod on his Gaping Void blog. I've mentioned Hugh once before here on Hourglass. He's a cartoonist that works on the backs of business cards--and has really good insights into what it takes to be a successful artist and, perhaps surprisingly, a successful leader.

Here's the key bit from this latest post, in which Hugh dissects why most artist's blogs fail:

Your typical artist’s blog usually consists of little more than a photograph of the latest art piece, with a brief description like, “I painted this yesterday. I like how the purple dog clashes with the green sofa.” Or whatever.

But the reality is, most people are not reading your blog because they have an inherent love for purple dogs and green sofas. They’re reading your blog because THE PERSON YOU ARE inspires them. They’re not reading your blog because they’re thinking of buying your paintings, they’re reading your blog because the way you approach your work inspires them. It sets an example for them. It stands for something that resonates with them. IT LEADS THEM TO SOMEWHERE THAT THEY ALSO WANT TO GO.

I think the same concept applies to leadership in almost any endeavor--and especially in associations. In our world of diffuse authority and conflicting priorities, it's often less about choosing where you want to lead people and then taking them there. It's more often about finding out where people (i.e., Board members, volunteers, association members, staff people) collectively want to go and then inspiring them to take the steps necessary to get there.

To do that you have to set an example that demonstrates to these various stakeholders that you're open to the possible, that "the leader" is going to value forward-thinking and risk-taking over preserving the status quo. They often say it's not the destination, it's the journey--but I think it's not even the journey. If you really want to make an impact as an association leader, you have to focus on the mode of transportation. How you do business will always be more inspiring to others than the business you do.

That seems obvious to me. But Hugh really caught my attention when he equated this lesson to blogging of any kind:

That’s also the REAL job of any blogger: To be a leader, not fill the space with pretty “content”. Why? Because whatever your blog is about--art, tech, politics, culture, entrepreneurship, sex, it doesn’t matter--it’s either leading people somewhere worthwhile in a meaningful, positive way, or…

Nobody’s frickin’ reading it, end of story.

Here's hoping you're reading Hourglass and that it's leading you somewhere worthwhile.


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