How to be a true leader in business

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We are all faced with paradoxes on a daily basis. Leaders know how to overcome them, Bill Locander, Dean of Loyola University’s College of Business told advisers at EBA’s Workplace Benefits Renaissance.

Locander gave attendees at the New Orleans show last week tips on how to deal with clashing ideas and apparent contradiction. It starts with thinking of the paradox not in typical terms of “either/or” but rather by using “and.”

“Handle it by not accepting it,” he said. “Choose ‘and.’”

Leadership is about perceiving what we fail to perceive, which starts when our minds select cues or preconceived notions the moment we look at an object. We put things in categories that are already pre-filled with information. For example, when a person is told to picture a generic doctor, they are most likely to picture a man. “You have a filter up and you put that filter on …” he said. “The trick is to see the filter and see what you’re doing to yourself. … Break that cycle.”

Often, organizations operate like a group of blind people feeling different parts of an elephant, Locander said. Thinking of the elephant as an organization, such limited perceptions would lead to drastically different views of the company. “The job of the leader is to put the elephant together and ride it somewhere,” he said.

But, he added, being a leader is not only about doing. It’s also about being. Character, authenticity, trustworthiness and a strong ethical compass drive the best leaders, Locander said.

‘Emotional oxygen’
The single most powerful force a leader can create and nurture is the culture of a company, he said. It is the “invisible emotional oxygen” of a business.

Bosses have a propensity to advocate for and debate their position, when instead they should be inquiring about it and starting a dialogue on the topic, Locander said. Doing so often “requires a psychological adjustment,” he said, emphasizing the point that the best way to tell someone to do something is to ask them.

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One trap leaders can fall into, however, is failing to move beyond an “intermediate impossible,” meaning a problem that is getting in the way of a desired solution. General instinct is to stop talking about the solution once the roadblock comes up, but leaders will reverse-engineer their way through the problem, Locander said.

Overall, problems themselves are the symptom of a weak system, he told attendees. Far too often leaders get too caught up in solving problems at the task level when they should be working on high-level company systems.

“The leader of the future is a servant leader and a teacher,” Locander said.

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