Real Leaders Create the Environment

Once again a good idea came to me while I was worshiping in the house of the Lord. On a recent Sunday, my wife and I spent an enjoyable hour or so singing hymns at the Colts Neck Reformed Church. Reverend Scott Brown has created a special worship service where we in the congregation are allowed to select the hymns.

Each person in the congregation is encouraged to write the name and number of our favorite hymn on the form provided within our order of worship. Scott then has someone pick the slips out of a basket. He calls out the number to the organist and we sing a couple of selected verses. In this way each of us has the opportunity to influence the way in which the service flows.

In essence each worship participant is allowed to play a role in the service. However, it is really our leader, Scott Brown who has set the tone and tenor of our worship service. He created a particular environment that allows for us to express our feelings, preferences, and perceptions. We then do just that.

His talent for drawing out the best in the church congregation involves one of the rarely-mentioned roles of a leader. It is my suggestion that a truly effective leader takes positive steps to guide the organizational environment in a positive direction. They create a focus whereby people become desirous of playing an active role. They make it a place you want to be rather than a place where you must be.

My friends, it is my intention to share some thoughts with you about a way in which a leader can and should influence their organization. After all, where would we be without the people who guide our organizations toward that uncertain place called the future?

We complain about the need to change, however, an effective leader will create an environment where people seek out and embrace the future, rather than cowering in fear. We complain that we need members. We then create leaders who do everything in their power to drive away people. Something is wrong with this picture.

Over the past few years, many of you have commented to me about the role of leaders in everyday life. In some cases you told me about the lack of leadership in your world. Others among you have decried the bad leadership that has made a shambles of your life. The rarest of all messages from you involves praise for those good leaders abroad in the world laboring amongst us.

It is my intention in this week's commentary to speak of one of the most important tasks that a leader must accomplish. I am referring to the way in which they create the operational environment for their organizations. It is my fervent belief that it is incumbent upon the leader to set the tone and tenor of their environment. It can pay great dividends. Sadly, far too many who claim to be leaders leave this important task to chance.

They act as though they were members of a comic improvisation group. They provide no direction, no guidance, and precious little in the way of caring or concern for the people who are looking to them for guidance. They just flit from crisis to crisis, flailing their arms and flapping their lips. These people spend their entire careers winging it.

Let me assure you that life is not a chance occurrence my friends. You can alter your destiny by trying to set a course for the future. Far too many alleged leaders among us fail to recognize that they must take the time and expend the effort to impact the people around them. They live as though the world was created for their sole amusement and enjoyment.

Even worse are those people who proactively care only for their own selfish wants and needs. They live by one half of the famous "one for all and all for one motto." Everything is OK for them only as long as they are the one who is allowed to gather in the "all" that is in question. Some of these people even take the time to steal bread from the mouths of the people around them.

Let me suggest to you that it the truly effective leader who learns how to tune into the inner spirit of the organization. They learn early on that is the people for whom they are responsible require a comfortable environment to create the greatest gain for the organization.

They are comfortable around people and enjoy working with others on a regular basis. They take the time to learn about others and what makes them tick. They also derive a great deal of pleasure from making the other person's life a bit easier.

Let me use a very simple, but appropriate example to make my point. Please think about the way in which the conductor of a symphony orchestra works to create the approach an orchestra will take toward interpreting the music of a particular composer. The best conductors recognize that they are responsible for creating the environment wherein the 40-50 individual musicians come together to make beautiful music, and they work hard to do the right thing.

A number of factors are at work in the creation of this performing environment. The interest, education, and experience of the conductor are brought into play in the creation of an ensemble's musical repertoire. The manner in which a conductor has climbed the ladder of success will also play a great part in determining the success or failure of their operation. If a conductor does not like the work of a particular composer, that music will continue to gather dust in the archives of the orchestra's library. It matters not what the members of the orchestra think or care. The musical preferences of that leader will create the parameters of that group's environment. Does that sound familiar to you?

If the education of the conductor has led them in the direction of a particular school of musical thought, then that is the genre with which they feel comfortable. Hence they will play things that fall within their comfort zone. Some have experienced a very tightly-controlled musical education. These people will be rigid in the creation of their environment. Does that sound familiar to you?

Other conductors who have been trained to cast the net widely in search of the components for their musical repertoire will work differently. They will seek to create an eclectic mix of music from a variety of sources and styles. The hallmark of their tenure will be exploration and trial of new works and stylistic approaches. These groups are generally fun to be with.

Some conductors solicit the opinions of their musicians. Others do not. Some maestros care about the mental attitude of their musicians, while others could care less about how their people feel. Others work to create an atmosphere that is conducive to good feelings. Both types of conductor are available for you to see and hear on public television. The same is true in the world of fire and emergency services.

Like every other field of endeavor, conductors come from every point of the leadership compass. Some create order out of chaos, while others thrive on making people battle it out in the midst of a no-holds barred battleground of musical contention. Others can only work in the eye of hurricane.

Every musical organization has similar nuances. Every band has a leader and each band responds to their leader. Some bring out the best, while others do not. Some leaders care about each member. Others do not. Does that sound familiar to you?

It has been my good fortune over the past decade to have been allowed to play in a wide variety of community musical ensembles. Let me assure you that the analogies put forward for the professional symphonies mentioned above hold equally true for the world of industrious community-based, volunteer musicians.

If you are a leader, or aspire to be a leader, you will discover that you too have the same opportunities to create an environment. My experience in the fire service world mirrors to some extent my band-related experiences.

It has been my pleasure to have labored for some really neat leaders. They were able to create an environment of carrying and sharing. These folks were open and caring. You always knew where you stood. They were open to discuss things and willing to listen to the other person's opinions.

Others really did not give a hoot in hell about anyone other than themselves. The created an environment of confusion. They created competing groups and then proceeded to seek a selfish advantage from each. They always tried to keep people off balance and guessing as to what should be done. I can recall that these folks created some really bad cases of upset stomachs among the troops. Talk about a bad environment, wow, these people created the worst.

Please do not get the idea that we were all a bunch of touchy-feely sissies scampering about the streets of the city of Newark. The really good leaders knew the job and were well aware of what needed to be done. The work was usually tough, dirty, and dangerous. These fine men also cared more about people than things. We were far more than just numbers to them.

They laid out the requirements, created a great environment, and were lavish in their praise of a job well done. We were able to navigate through the environment they created for us. In short, they were a joy to work with. The environment they created was stimulating. Their support was outstanding. They served as a beacon to guide us. Many of us worked to emulate the lessons were learned from them.

It is my hope that you see the need in your organization for an environment wherein you can enjoy playing your part in the overall accomplishment of its mission, goals, and objectives. If you are the follower, work to play a solid part. Do your job. Let the powers that be know they can count on you to be there when the going gets rough. Be a part of the solution and not the problem.

If you are the leader, it is up to you to do your job. Set the tone and tenor of your operation and work hard to create an environment that is both stimulating and supportive. The job must be done, one way or the other. Is it not better to create a place where you people will enjoy contributing and participating?

It is up to you to allow your people to pick the hymns. It is up to you to create an environment wherein they will feel comfortable singing along with the group. You will be responsible whether the product of your work is good or bad. Better that you create a place where people want to be, than to create a place to which they must be dragged, beaten and whipped into submission.

The call is yours. You can imagine what I think you should do. Go for it.