Q&A from American Society of Interior Designers, prior to their summit in Atlanta, GA. Written April 25, 2014
By Marjorie R. Barlow, Ph.D., Counselor, Consultant, and Coach, Interface, Inc.
With what anyone would describe as a full career already behind her, Marjorie Barlow began her work with Interface in 1996, as a part of Ray Anderson’s Executive Leadership Team. Barlow holds a bachelor’s degree in Business and a master’s in Psychology from Texas A&I University, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Barlow, a Certified Strengths Coach, will present at the ASID Design to Lead Summit taking place May 2–3 in Atlanta. She will lead attendees through the StrengthsFinder process to help participants identify their strengths and grow as leaders.
What has been your most memorable experience in teaching the StrengthsFinder?
Watching Interface, Inc., founder Ray C. Anderson and the other leaders of Interface, Inc., discover their top five strengths and witnessing the excitement of the concept of positive psychology has been my most memorable experience. Today in 2014, Interface leadership is taking this program all the way to the mill floor, so that all 4,000 employees will eventually have knowledge of their strengths. This was an aspiration for my contribution to the Interface corporation when I became a consultant to them in the late 1990s.
We began the exploration into how to bring Interface employees into their highest and best development. My introduction to strengths psychology began in 1965 when my husband, Dr. Paul Barlow, introduced me to Dr. Donald O. Clifton, author of the StrengthsFinder tool [and coauthor with Marcus Buckingham of the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths] and late CEO of the Gallup Organization. I learned the StrengthsFinder methods and worked with teachers, counselors, and business people for many years. I am convinced that positive psychology is a good way to bring people into discovery of who they really are. Having the common language of strengths has been very beneficial.
How has teaching StrengthsFinder affected you as a leader?
Applying the principles and beliefs underlying the StrengthsFinder has shaped my whole approach to life and living. The positive approach to human development means that we shift from catching people (self as well as others) when they are wrong or correcting their mistakes into the understanding that what we pay attention to will expand. Therefore, we do well to find what is good and grow that. My life purpose and perspective is now entrenched in this approach, including my own story of personal-professional-spiritual-mental development.
What do you do to continue growing as a leader?
Learner is one of my top five strengths and I constantly push the boundaries of new learning. I love to study human development. My five adult children will tell you that I am always learning something new. The latest work on leadership development in which we see a leader in every person has been part of my growth and development. At Interface, Inc., our organizational learning program is using the “leader-leader” approach rather than “leader-follower.”
What resources do you look to for leadership?
Because I am a consultant to leaders, I listen and help strategize for a future that wants to emerge. Mostly, I look around and see what needs to be done. Then, I look for the talent available and do my best to align talent and job. I have mentors to whom I turn and I keep a current library of new theories and writings for inspiration. I practice my belief that I am responsible for whatever shows up in my life experience. My beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors are my responsibility. Awareness of these and constant updating of these is my best pathway. Thomas Edison had an “inner solution finder,” which is sort of like leadership from within and I choose to practice that kind of consciousness.
What was the best leadership advice/experience you ever received?
One of my best teachers is Dr. Jean Houston and she encourages me to be myself to the maximum. Knowing that each individual is endowed with an essence of being, with a life purpose, is helpful. Jean teaches that each of us has an “entelechy,” a dynamic purposiveness waiting to be expressed and experienced. The entelechy of an acorn is to become a mighty oak tree. My experience with human beings is that many of us have been shaped into small versions of ourselves, like Bonsai trees, instead of flowering oaks.
What is the most common leadership mistake you see?
Leaders (parents, teachers, managers, presidents, etc.) still have a tendency to assume responsibility for others, especially for the feelings expressed by others. Knowing who owns the problem is necessary for leadership. Yet, when an employee expresses some negative feelings, I see some leaders assuming responsibility for those feelings. Consequently, “squeaking wheels may be the ones who get the grease,” meaning that the one who complains and blames may get more attention than the steady worker who waits to be noticed. We are hard-wired for negativity, and some leaders may still be reactive rather than creative. When an employee knows exactly what is expected and has the tools, skills, knowledge, and resources to do his or her job, the leader is in a good position to delegate, champion and support that employee as a leader of one.
What are the biggest challenges facing leaders today?
First is the challenge of Earth’s environmental sustainability.
A second challenge (possibly the biggest) is that the human species may be the most endangered species. That specter looms as a pessimistic possibility.
And third, holding vision, optimism, positivity and finding strategies to forward the growth of those who follow is challenging.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for aspiring leaders today?
My list of opportunities on the horizon includes:
The rise of the feminine in both males and females: We cannot comprehend what this really means, yet. It portends the release of males to become fully human and fully alive as well as the invitation to females to become leaders in full parity.
The network of information hook-up, worldwide: Knowledge is no longer restricted to an elite intelligentsia. A child in a developing country with access through one pocket phone is now able to obtain knowledge. We do not know yet how this will impact world politics and industry. We also cannot comprehend the new inventions and creations in the field of technology. Therefore, we of my generation do not have good answers or advice for what is ahead. I believe we do best to empower and encourage the ensuing generations to stand on our shoulders and believe in themselves, taking the vision forward into unknown worlds of possibility.
The possibility of world peace through expanding consciousness on the part of human individuals: Humans are ready and have the capacity of evolving and using the frontal lobes of the brain, where creativity, compassion, empathy, altruism and inventive strategies are generated. Our past is built on an old brain where we used our neo-cortex in service to the reptilian complex. That old brain is still the knee-jerk reaction in tense situations, with fear of survival and safety, resulting in fight-flight-freeze or fix someone else solutions.
Marjorie R. Barlow, Ph.D., has had more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, mentor, counselor, therapist, and relationship coach.
One thought on “Is Optimism the Key to Developing Leadership?”
Your answers to the questions sound true. One of the giants in human development is Robert Kegan, in my opinion. I’m only now reading (for the 2nd time) his book In Over Our Heads. It talks about the complexity of mind that’s needed to deal with the challenges of the modern world. It’s very exciting for many reasons, not the least of which is that Bob identifies the mind and skill-sets we need to develop. He published this work in the 1990ties. I experience it as a wonderfully positive commentary, impeccably researched over decades, on the challenges facing the human mind.
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