A Blair for Leadership
By Chris Hernandez / Managing Editor
After the roar of applause from 400 ministry, business and industry leaders subsided, Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, said, with his signature grin, "It's actually amazing how much people are nicer to you once you stop being prime minister."
Though the aside was made jokingly, it acted as a thesis statement to Blair's address at the 2012 World Leader's Conference held at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The aside unwrapped the age-old stigma behind world leaders: everyone loves to hate them.
After the laughter, Blair unmasked the hidden implications of the aside. "It is a tough time to be a leader," he said.
Blair painted a post 9/11 world where there is political unrest in the Middle East that has made the world fearful and worried, where financial crisis has shaken the world's faith in financial systems and markets and where technology is advancing at rapid speeds.
The DeSantis Family Chapel was packed with a crowd that listened and "tweeted" last Wednesday and Thursday as Blair, Tony Dungy and others rallied them to embrace the struggle of challenging times, each speaker offering his or her own tips to being an effective leader in an ever changing time.
Getting Blair to speak was not an easy task for the president and founding member of the World Leaders Group, James L. Davis. After many attempts, a door opened for Davis four years ago when he was out playing golf with his son. He received a phone call confirming Colin Powell as a speaker for a conference he was arranging. The connection with Powell ultimately would lead to former president George W. Bush lending his voice to a conference. Bush had a good rapport with Blair, and pretty soon Davis was signing Blair up for the conference. "In communications and business, friendships and relationships are the most valuable things you will ever have in your life," Davis said.
With Blair and a number of speakers set to speak, Davis and the WLG board went to find the best place to hold the conference. After hearing from PBA interim president Bill Fleming last fall, the WLG knew that PBA was the best match for them. "We believe that the values and the mission of both organizations are in alignment," said Davis. "That is the most critical to put on something like this."
The Servant Leader
Throughout the two-day conference, ministry and industry leaders spoke about many different facets of being a leader. From leading with compassion to making hard choices to setting an intention behind every goal, the speakers brought their own unique angles to the discussion, but one quality became evident as the string that held all the leadership pearls together: servanthood.
"Most politicians view the concept of servant leadership and see it as an oxymoron because people often think leaders have people who serve them, but in reality that is describing something different," Blair said. "That is describing power.
"Now the means of serving may be leadership, and the means of leadership may mean exercising authority and exercising power," Blair continued. "But the purpose is not power but service."
According to Blair, the servant leader does not start from a position of prominence but begins in humility, a position where the leader is subservient. Like Blair, most of the speakers touched on inverting the organizational business model. Business becomes more about creating atmospheres for customer and co-worker satisfaction than lording power over individuals.
Dungy, the former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts and keynote speaker Thursday, translated servant leadership through his own profession. In a list of eight fundamental principles about leadership, Dungy listed how the leader views his job as his fifth point. He alluded to the inverted pyramid structure. "Most of the times the leader will not even be recognized," he said referring to the fact that often a person's focus is on whether his favorite team will complete a play rather than what the coach said to motivate his team throughout the year.
Making the "right" choice
Though humility is the cornerstone of the servant leadership model, for Blair, abdicating control over decision making to cater to everyone's needs is not a part of leadership. "You may decide that there are other ways you can deal with this, and you may be right," Blair said. "But, my duty as a leader is to do what I think is right; otherwise, what I'm doing is not leading you at all. I'm actually just playing games with you. And that's not what you elect leaders to do."
Instead, according to Blair, leaders stand by their choices because they believe that they have been put into a position to make that choice. Though right for the leader, the choice may not inherently be the right one. But, in leadership, said Blair, "when you decide, you divide."
Dungy experienced this first-hand when he started looking for head coach jobs. The NFL officials didn't know how to handle a man who was not set on motivating his players by cursing at them, and they didn't understand the servant leader model. But Dungy stuck to his guns. He knew himself, and he knew how he wanted to reach his goal. During his address, Dungy cited Matthew 16: 26, which says, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
With this component, Dungy urged the crowd to make sure they get to where they need to get in life by the right means. Reflecting on an experience where he interviewed a fellow coach on that coach's three Super Bowl wins, the coach told him success came at the expense of his family. "If you do have to sacrifice your family to win games, I'm glad I won one instead of three," he said.
Though decision making is often tough, Blair pointed to the spirit of optimism behind these choices as the heart of the human condition. "There are plenty of cases of people behaving badly and doing terrible things. The 20th century was full of them," he said. "But the 20th century was also full of people overcoming that.
"Our way of life is based on values worth believing in and standing up for," he continued. "The world opening up is a world of freedom and justice…universal values of the human spirit."