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Lead Where You Stand

Lead Where You Stand: 2015 Conference Recap

A group of 130 people ranging from college students to retirees participated in Westmont’s first leadership conference, Lead Where You Stand: Lessons for Leaders from Lincoln, Drucker and Bill Gates. The three-day event in May featured interactive sessions focusing on practical principles, the experiences of corporate and organizational leaders, and inspiration from Abraham Lincoln, Peter Drucker and Bill Gates. The participants left with renewed motivation, new skills and a plan to tackle a current leadership challenge.

Doug McKenna developed the C4 Leadership Framework Model during the 16 years he led executive development at Microsoft, where he worked closely with Gates. CEO and executive director of the Center for Organizational Leadership, McKenna has identified four essential principles of leadership: composure, conviction, connection and courage, and he devoted a session to each at the conference. His wife, Kimberly McKenna, executive director of the Center for Family and Community Leadership at the Oceanside Institute, led exercises for each principle.

Doug McKenna

Beginning with composure, McKenna noted that anxiety is contagious and people who fail to control their reactions set of waves of drama and emotion in themselves and others. “Emotional experiences overwhelm our brain mechanisms, and we lose access to our best thinking,” he said. “Composure gives us the freedom to consciously choose versus automatically reacting, and it’s an overlooked and undervalued genius of leaders.” Composed leaders hold steadily to their convictions, tolerate tension in themselves and others, feel confident in their ability to handle difficult situations and know their own emotional state.

Conviction is how we define ourselves. Convicted leaders are passionate and resolute rather than aloof, they think for themselves and value alternative views, and they focus on facts, evidence and reality instead of emotion. McKenna recommends that leaders ask what story they are telling themselves. Is it based in reality? To better understand people with differing convictions, discern the story they are telling themselves. Conviction focuses on what we are for, not what we’re against.

Successful leaders develop effective relationships and networks, and McKenna explains the importance of connection. Connected leaders value strong, capable people with different views, navigate the ups and downs of relationships with a steady moral compass, and clarify the goals and ground rules for working together. “Leaders need to be thoughtful and disciplined in building and maintaining relationships,” McKenna says. When a relationship falters, leaders take the first step to repair it and assume responsibility for their role in the breach.

Leaders need courage when they take action. Courageous leaders are incisive, bold, direct, efficient and practical. As they move forward, they adjust to circumstances and bounce back from difficulties. “Leadership is like running a tackling gauntlet in football practice,” McKenna says. “You take hits on both sides. Remembering your purpose makes it possible for you to be courageous.” He is bullish on movement and action. “Leaders must find a way to act, to move forward, to have more impact.”

Jack Sinclair

Four corporate leaders shared personal experiences, including some daunting challenges, to illustrate each C4 principle: Robert Emmons, former CEO of Smart and Final (composure); Kathy Ireland, founder of the $2 billion company Kathy Ireland Worldwide (courage); Jack Sinclair, former head of Walmart’s Grocery Division with 4,000 U.S. grocery stores (connection); and Peter Thorrington, current board chair and past COO of the global logistics company UTi (conviction). Their stories added a heartfelt, human dimension to the conference.

Ronald C White

In three talks, Ronald C. White, a Lincoln scholar and bestselling historian, used Lincoln’s words to illustrate his development as a great moral leader. The author of eight books, White has written three about Lincoln, including A. Lincoln: A Biography. He began with Lincoln’s announcement for political office, where the candidate expressed a desire to render himself worthy of the voters’ esteem. “Lincoln put his emphasis on the people to be served, not on testimonies about himself,” White said. “He was a self-effacing person from the start.” While gifted as a public speaker, Lincoln also spent time honing his skills, always reading aloud, constantly rewriting, and seeking to understand the context for each speech to better communicate with his audience. White also looked at Lincoln’s addresses as president, noting how he personalized the text. The president knew how to balance the past and future, honoring the founding fathers but also wanting to “think anew.” Countering the prevailing interpretation that Lincoln’s faith was strictly deist, White noted his attendance at New York Presbyterian Church and quoted from some of his private writings, such as “Meditation on the Divine Will.”

His last session focused on the Second Inaugural Address and Lincoln’s desire to bring the South back into the union. Realizing it couldn’t bear the entire burden of blame for the war, Lincoln began the process of healing despite the anger much of his audience felt toward the South. White said that the president’s rhetorical strategy incorporated inclusive language that imputed the best possible motive to the South. “What would happen if we impute the best possible motives to our opponents?” he asked. Lincoln’s referred to the offense of “American slavery,” tacitly acknowledging the role of New England ships that profited from the slave trade. In the often-quoted concluding paragraph, Lincoln displayed both his humility and his remarkable moral leadership: “with malice toward none, with charity toward all...” “Is it possible to ask a deeply divided nation to practice forgiveness?” White asked. “There is one word for Lincoln: magnanimity.”

Westmont President Gayle Beebe

Westmont president Gayle D. Beebe reflected on his 15 years as a college president and his studies under management expert Peter Drucker in a conversation with McKenna. Distributing a study guide for his book “The Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership,” Beebe referred to some of the lessons listed in the work, including Ford CEO Red Poling’s identification of consistency, dependability and predictability as the most important contributions of top management. Beebe talked about his own challenges, such as staying emotionally connected to people whose convictions clash with his. He also expressed his belief in the importance of self-regulation and treating others well. “Drucker liked the Avis motto, “We’re No. 2,” and said leaders shouldn’t be full of themselves because those who are will eventually fall,” Beebe said. “So many times we have incomplete information, and we make the best judgment we can as we persevere toward our ultimate contribution. We all want to think there is a positive purpose to our lives.”

John Ortberg

John Ortberg, a prolific author and senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian, spoke about his experiences with all four C4 principles. He noted the importance of self-awareness in cultivating composure and discussed the difficulty of acting on convictions when the values are clear but the steps to be taken ambiguous. “Sometimes a leader has to make a call and lead the organization in a particular direction,” he said. “When someone is on the opposite side of an issue, we sometimes want to interpret their actions in the worst possible light. I try to resist that and ask how we can be our best selves.” Ortberg encouraged connections with people you wish to emulate and suggested finding a friend to whom you disclose everything to be accountable to someone. Describing living with “strategic uncertainty” as “good,” he said, “When we depend on God, we grow in remarkable ways.”

The conference ended with participants identifying a specific leadership challenge and working with a partner to develop practical steps to address and overcome it, drawing on the C4 Leadership Principles.