The Light of Leadership

Anger-driven leadership wastes energy through indiscriminate rants and raves.

Lighting promotes Safety, helping prevent accidents by clarifying hazards. Illumination also makes it easier to accomplish tasks and highlights visual distinctions to color and detail. Further, research reveals that different colored light has therapeutic value (e.g., blue light frequencies can inhibit growth of, even kill, certain bacteria.)

There's currently a revolution in lighting. Beginning in January 2012, the United States is phasing out sales of incandescent light bulbs, which for many define artificial light; the European Union banned these in September 2009. Why move away from century-plus "tried and true" technology? The "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007" seeks to simultaneously save the country significant amounts of wasted energy costs, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and greatly reduce greenhouse gases.

Like different leadership styles, all three predominant lighting types -- Incandescent, Compact Fluorescent Lighting/CFL, and Light Emitting Diodes/LED -- have pluses and minuses. Incandescent bulbs are least efficient, converting less than 10 percent of electrical energy into light. The vast amount is lost, wasted as heat.

Spiral-tubed CFLs, at one time incandescent's heir apparent, are only marginally better. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, one of these releases "about 80% of its energy as heat." And they emit UV radiation, tend to flicker, are fragile, can't readily be adjusted/dimmed, and also contain toxic mercury (and so have breakage and disposal concerns.) What's more, to preserve its bulb life, a CFL needs to "rest" 15 minutes between being cycled on and off.

LEDs are by far the most efficient and longest-lasting option, using only a fifth of the energy of incandescents while lasting five times longer than CFLs. Further, they're coolest to the touch, most readily adjusted, and, rather than totally burning out, continue to produce up to 70 percent of new lighting specs even when aged. (I just purchased LEDs that came with a lifetime guarantee.) Downside: LEDs are the most expensive option up front -- with lots of revved up R&D dedicated to reducing their cost. Even so, experts agree they're the most efficient choice for the future.

Help Others Turn On Their Own Illumination
Rather than flicker and fail, bright leaders also maximize their energy efficiency in guiding organizations to move toward the right wavelength. They:

  • Provide illumination without wasting energy on heat. Naturally, the aim of lighting is to convert one type of energy (electricity) to a more task-useful one (light). Encourage efficient conversion.
    The best leaders mostly "glow," rarely "burn." The writer William McFee contended, "The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps Anger-driven leadership wastes energy through indiscriminate rants and raves. cool." I've found "fast-burn" leaders who rationalize their actions as trying to "light up" others, mostly out of control -- of themselves. Bottom line: They might heat up results in the moments others think they're being monitored, but their leadership heat creates pushback ("How dare she treat me this way? I'll show her.") and pullback/self-protection to cool off ("I'll do what I can to avoid him.") And if you value creativity, this requires venturing out into the dark, taking risks, trying new avenues, igniting new torches -- all of which run counter to an overheated culture. Leaders can generate more light than heat by distinguishing between how they react to people and to methods. As organizational change expert Gordon Lippitt remarked, "Look at the issues involved coldly and the people involved warmly." Encourage others' contributions, participation, and critical thinking; default toward attacking facts only, not people. (By the way, I can touch an LED that's been on for four hours yet sheds hardly any heat).
  • Become a "solid state" leader. Rather than attempt to enlighten the entire company at once, shape your illuminations. Tune up efficiency by focusing light where it's most needed. Whereas incandescents spread light in all directions, LEDs emit light in a specific direction. Trying to do too many things at once is one of the biggest blocks to getting things done in time-limited environments. Change planning master Ron Bowles suggests it's better to aim your efforts LED-like toward no more than three projects within any three-month span.
  • Are willing to be "LED." LED lighting is steady, it doesn't flicker when dimmed. Similarly, help others learn to blaze their own trails. Be receptive to their being the guiding lights. Let them illuminate you with out-of-the-dark ideas and approaches; see what you can learn from the sparks they generate.
  • Adjust their lumens. This is critical for strengthening leadership initiative in others. Don't blind or micromanage by default. Dim your power to 40 watt equivalent when you don't wish to overwhelm others or want them to take more buy-in and control. Allow them to discover how to ignite/light their own way; by doing so, they'll be able to switch themselves on, not rely on bosses to continually dispel the unsure darkness.

Dial up to 150 watt equivalent when it's time to wake people up from ineffective blind spots. You don't have to operate at full-of-yourself illumination all the time. ("Look how much I know/can do.") But don't remain this bright for long, it can lead to early burnout. Preserve your "bulb life" by switching off power where you can.

Look for new options to generate cheering light and help others turn on their own internal illumination. By becoming more efficient and focused guiding lights, leaders can better foster discovery and help their organizations shine with creativity.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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