Leadership as a Vocation
In his latest book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, David Brooks explores what it means to live a meaningful life and describes four commitments that provide us with a sense of purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith and to a community.
People at the peak of the Second Mountain are Weavers: “They are driven to seek deep relations with others, both to feed their hunger for connection and because they believe that change happens through deepening relationships.” At FPS, we believe Brooks’ “Weavers” most accurately depict what it means to be an effective leader.
To make his fundamental point, Brooks shares stories about Weavers who have committed to a vocation that serve a higher purpose, and the examples primarily involve leaders and entrepreneurs in the public and not-for-profit sectors. The start-ups are truly game-changers:
• SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) – a group which combats urban poverty in Kenya • FamilyPoint – an after-school program in Houston • Thread – an organization that builds a web of relationships for underperforming teenagers in Baltimore
We believe Brooks misses a crucial opportunity as he does not make the connection between what a Weaver does for a community and what a Leader must do for a high-performing team in a business. Above all, leadership in business is about inspiring people to achieve a clearly defined common goal. Maximizing shareholder value is a by-product of incredible teamwork – not what really drives teamwork on a daily basis. Brooks discusses one day at FamilyPoint when a ten-year-old brought Stephanie Hruzek, the founder, an obscenity-laced note that he claimed he found on the floor. After watching security tapes, the staff confirmed that the boy had in fact written the note himself. Instead of punishing the boy, Stephanie sat down to speak with him, and eventually, he cried and said, “I wrote that note to a man who hurt me.” The boy and his mom had been recently attacked in their home by two armed men who threatened to kill him; neighbors were able to save the pair, but clearly the boy was traumatized. He wrote the note as a cry for help. As she considers what might have happened had she moved to punish the boy right away, Hruzek asks herself, “…what trajectory would that have set him off on?”
Brooks uses this story to argue that Weavers “…stay in the conversation long enough; [they] listen patiently enough.” Nearly every case study about a successful business leader discusses how they set clear expectations for employees, but rarely do we read about how leaders listen to their employees and take the time to meet them where they are.
This approach to leadership of any team requires Grace. Grace is one of our four core values at FPS because graceful leaders are more effective leaders. Grace is about meeting someone where they are, and recognizing that their actual behavior may not be a response to immediate stimuli, but rather a function of a cumulative set of experiences that deeply affect their actions at work. We need to put ourselves in their shoes before we determine how to reward or punish behavior. Maybe an employee is in the midst of a divorce; maybe they have a special needs child; maybe they suffer from severe depression rooted in some traumatic life experience? A leader can only unlock someone’s “Full Potential,” hence our name, when they build deep relationships with the people they commit to leading. Brooks writes, “The relational life is a challenging life, but ultimately, it’s a joyful life because it is enmeshed in affection and crowned with moral joy.”
To achieve our mission of creating conditions in which our people thrive, our leaders across our entire company must act like Weavers. Only then can we put our employees’ careers and lives on different trajectories.