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Championship and Leadership Versus Empty Nobility

November 10, 2010

Championship and Leadership Versus Empty Nobility:

I have had the opportunity to serve in leadership roles on numerous boards, committees, and taskforces. I have also had the honor of facilitating organizational retreats and helping guide strategic decision making and planning. These usually conclude with a clear direction, commitments from participants, and a strong foundation for action planning. My approach is practical, designed to overcome or bridge differences, and results focused. I believe in creating a clear direction, goals, and action plan that all organizational leaders can believe in and support – and one that the organization has the ability to execute given their resources.

Then comes the hard part. The biggest challenge, for small to mid-size organizations especially, is implementing the plan. Poor execution is the biggest reason many fail to achieve the breakthroughs envisioned during the strategic planning process. Two of the major reasons why are 1) commitments made by participants during the process are not fulfilled; and 2) the implementation process is not effectively cascaded down to those in the organization responsible for performing requisite tasks and tactics. Accountabilities need to be established and direction provided for achieving goals.

This is when effective championship and leadership make a huge difference. Unfortunately, what I see all too often is that people make commitments with the best of intentions and then disappear – they do not follow through or they begin the process but then fade.  They are willing to sit in a board room and speak their mind but their involvement ends when the meeting is over. I call this “empty nobility.” Some say this is the nature of nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on volunteers to make substantial progress.  It is clearly one of the biggest weaknesses for many.

I also see empty nobility in some people who profess to be committed to a cause but then do not take sustained action to pursue or advance it. With friends and colleagues they tend to talk a good game and then do not put in the effort to make a difference. Intention without action does not bear fruit. It’s as if they want to be leaders or champions of a cause without doing the work. Ironically, it’s the work that brings about fulfillment and meaning.  Purpose without action is simply a noble idea.

In my work with nonprofits, I encourage them to replace the titles of chairperson or committee head with “champion.” The responsibility and task is to champion the project or area of responsibility. The title “champion” emphasizes action, commitment and generating results. In many cases, it changes the mindset, because the purpose is reflected in the title.

The relationship between purpose and action is shown in the table below.

Apathy: This is the absence of both purpose and action, a sense of not caring.

Unfocused Energy: People who fall into this quadrant are energetic but lack direction or purpose. There is significant activity but it yields minimal results. They are not focused on achieving  goals. At the extreme, think of it as a dog or cat chasing its tail.

Empty Nobility: This describes an individual who has high ideals and ideas – perhaps even a vision of a better future – but does not actively work to bring them about.  Purpose without action is empty. It has little value and does not lead anywhere.

Championship / Leadership: Tis describes people who are results oriented. They are guided by a purpose and dedicated to achieving it.  They fuse purpose and action to make the constructive and vibrant difference necessary to realize a vision or dream – whether it is personal or for an organization.  It is the heart of the process; the vital engine that drives personal fulfillment and meaning.

Your sense of personal fulfillment in life evolves from what you actually do – the actions you take and the accomplishments or progress they generate.  Your personal feelings of self worth and your value in the eyes of others stem less from your beliefs and knowledge of what you can do, and more from the actions you take and the impact they make.

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For a great example of the concepts discussed in this post, I recommend Sonia Jaspal’s article, “Management Lessons from India’s Freedom Struggle.”

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in “What’s Leadership? What’s Values-Guided Leadership?”

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The topic on Friday will be “How Can You Restore Broken Relationships?”

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2010 4:15 am


    Excellent post, and I agree with your definition completely. Like the way you have put it in the four quandrants.

    I had sometime back written two posts- Management Lessons from India’s Independence Struggle- Part I &II. It is explaining the leadership style of Mahatma Gandhi and how it is applicable to the present day corporates. You might like it.


    • November 10, 2010 4:52 am

      Sonia, I added a link to your post on “Management Lessons from India’s Freedom Struggle” at the end of this post. I also mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter. You make several excellent points and really show these concepts in action. Thanks for telling me about it. I’m sure my readers will find it valuable too.

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