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More From The Late Jim Farr – on Leadership

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Potpourri: More From The Late Jim Farr – on LeadershipSelf-help

I struck an emotional chord with some of you with my column on the death of leadership expert Jim Farr and about his often life-changing teachings.

Ray Arnette in Richmond wrote hundreds of words in tribute and said, “We will continue to see the results of his being, and spirit, for many years to come.”

Stephanie Pinnix said, “… I’ve yet to find another individual who challenged me intellectually and offered me the opportunities in which to grow that he did.”

Chuck Melton wrote, “As I enter into a period of uncertainty on where I am taking my business, it is critical that I revisit the many conversations I had with Jim – both individually and in group training. I can still see him leaned back in his chair working on his fingernails, while giving us some profound insights.”

Several encouraged me to relate more of the Farr philosophy.  So,here is part of an interview I did with him four years ago.

How do you like to define leadership?

One of the simplest terms is it’s that which gets people to follow you.  Now that’s a circular definition that scientists laugh at, but when you look back and there’s nobody following, then you’re not leading.  If they’re following, you are leading.  In a more theoretical kind of answer, leadership is a process of putting forth stimuli and conditions that cause other people to decide to follow and do what you ask them…

Are some of us thinking we’re leading, when in fact, we really aren’t? 

Lots of people think they’re leading and they’re really not.  You can tell, because nobody is following them.

But they can get people to follow them by ordering them around.

But that’s a part of leadership.  If I have enough authority to kill you if you don’t do what I want, you will do what I say and I can lead you.  On the other hand, if I need you to be creative and loyal and supportive in a very subtle way in an organization, I have to do much more than have the power to order you.  I have to be able to get you to motivate yourself to decide to follow me and that’s very complex.  In our society, since leadership is so crucial and you can’t exist without it, there has to be a certain amount of followership or we fall apart.  So we’ve invented something to make that happen. We call it authority.  What authority is – is we give people power over things or conditions so that they can hurt, damage, even kill the other party and they use that force to get people to obey.  In a police force, they’ve got a right to shoot you under certain conditions.  That’s essential.  If we don’t have a police force, we can’t have a decent society, so we give the police force power to get us to follow, whether we want to or not, up to a point.  The problem with that kind of leadership is it only motivates to the level necessary to avoid the threat.  That doesn’t work when you’re running an organization where you need complex, creative, cooperative,loyal, subtle followership.  That calls for leadership much more difficult and complex than just having the power to force you to do it.

Common question: Are leaders made or are they born?

They are, in my book, largely made.  Leaders lead through their personalities, their minds, their emotions, their bodies, their actions, and leadership takes different forms, some forms more effective than others.  Those forms are shaped by your personality and your make up.  Some people, therefore, are born or at least they grow up with characteristics that are better fit, on the average, to what you have to do to get followership, but that’s just luck and they become just average leaders, so to speak.  If you’re really going to be a full-fledged professional leader, you have to learn to adjust your personality, mind, emotions, behaviors to meet the demands of the situation…

I believe that an absolute requirement for the development of professional leaders and leadership is training in self-awareness…  The instrument of leadership is… mind …body …emotions …personality…  It’s very complicated and most people know very little about how…their personality works, how their minds work, how their emotions work.  I believe in that kind of profession they need training… and it can be learned.  I think that’s where we ought to move.  – December 1996.

Before he died, Jim Farr had launched an effort by founding the Leadership Trust to credential leaders through training, similar to the way the AMA works with physicians.

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