LeadChange is a really cool word picture.  The message is this: the role of leadership and the practice of change are intertwined. Effective leaders facilitate change; effective change takes good leadership. But, is there a component of leadership that does not change…that stands pat and is unwaveringly constant? There is insight from the ever-enchanting kaleidoscope.

We all love the charm of a kaleidoscope.  Its charisma comes from change—turning the animator or shaking the kaleidoscope enables the mirrored pieces of glass (granddaughters call them jewels) to constantly change positions revealing awesome images. But, the jewels inside never change. We don’t open up kaleidoscopes and put in different jewels.  

Great leaders are constantly changing. And they are advocates for constant change. “He not busy being born,” sang Bob Dylan “is busy dying.” But, the “jewels” of great leaders never change. What are the constant “jewels” great leaders mirror to those they serve? What are their non-altering, never malleable core values of greatness?

The Jewel of Leadership Character

At the lunch following my dad’s funeral, people kept telling me what a very good man he was.It was more than a kind gesture; their emphasis was always on the “very.” They talked about how he never engaged in any action that would have left even a tiny implication of impropriety or inference of underhanded intention. He was solidly good to the core. “Learn to courageously say ‘no’ on your feet,” he would tell me growing up, “or you will come to the end of your life and have to humbly say ‘yes’ on your knees.”

Ray Bell was the manager of my hometown bank most of my childhood. The bank was the primary funding source for farmers in the almost totally agricultural setting. His faith in the bank was demonstrated by his investing most of our family savings in bank stock. And, the bank board chairman publicly lauded my dad’s patience with farmer-borrowers struggling to make loan payments when a fire destroyed a barn or a hailstorm wiped out a crop. After all, my dad knew the honesty of his farmer-borrowers--some were in the Sunday school class he taught for years.

But, the bank ownership changed. And the big city bankers had different ideas about running a rural bank. Their practices, while technically legal, were devious and shady. Mercy was replaced with malice; generosity with greed. My dad resigned. The bank stock value quickly plummeted and ultimately the bank was closed. His leadership stand cost our family most of our savings. My 100 year-old mother still believes the significant financial loss cost him his health. He got a job as the credit manager in his brother-in-law’s small farm implement company in a nearby town.

Novelist James Lane Allen wrote, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”  The jewel of my dad’s leadership was the rich life lessons his family learned. Great leaders lead with a steadfast and unwavering character. And, the jewel of that character becomes the groundwater of how their leadership is expressed. “The greatness of a man [or woman] is not in how much wealth he [or she] acquires,” wrote Jamaican singer Bob Marley, “but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”

The Jewel of Leadership Generosity

Mason Wartman gave up his job on Wall Street to start a pizza shop! Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia started getting a lot of publicity after Mason’s decision to take selling single slices of pizza for a dollar to new level. He was even a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. But it had nothing to do with the price of the slice; it was about a customer-suggested idea for how to fund pizza for the homeless. It works like this: when customers buy pizza for themselves they put a dollar in a container, write a message on a Post-it note, and stick it on the wall. Any homeless person can come into the store, take a Post-it note off the wall and get a slice of pizza. Rosa’s has given away thousands of slices. When I recently met Mason in his tiny pizza shop he reminded me we are all put on this planet to make a difference, not just make a living.

Generosity conveys the kind of unconditional positive regard that characterizes relationships at their best. The noncompetitive nature of generosity means approaching relationships with a "cast bread upon the water" orientation. And each contribution to the relationship causes it to grow, prosper and feel enriched. An abundance attitude creates a legacy of affirmation—it lives on in the language that associates and customers use to describe the leader as well as the organization the leader fronts.

The principle of abundance is about giving more than is expected. It is a proactive attitude of engulfing a relationship with emotional plenty without concern for reciprocity. Granted we cannot “give” our way to bottom line success.  An attitude of generosity is more the belief that if we employ a giver mentality, the customer will take care of the bottom line.  

John Ellis, in an article entitled Strategy in the October 2002, issue of Fast Company wrote:  “Here’s what real business leaders do. They go out and rally the troops, plant the flag, and make a stand. They confront hostile audiences and the deal with the press. If the issue is confidence, they conduct themselves confidently. If the issue is trust, they make their company’s business transparent. If the issue is character, they tell the truth. They do not shirk responsibility; they assume command. Because a fundamental ingredient of business success is leadership.”

Inside the ever-changing kaleidoscope of leadership are the constant jewels of character and generosity.

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.

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