Effective Leadership need not be complicated.

I live in the middle of Amish country in Pennsylvania.  The Amish are a religious order who emigrated from parts of Switzerland and Germany in the 18th century.  The most well-known and visible part of their culture is that they have decided to forgo modern conveniences such as electricity and motorized vehicles.  They live relatively simple lives; focused on work, family, community, and their religious faith.

Oh yes- one more thing- they are also successful business leaders, even though very few have any formal education beyond the eighth grade.

There have been quite a number of articles written recently about the business success of the Amish.  According a study in the Global Business and Economics Review over 90% of Amish businesses are still successfully operating after five years, compared with less than 50% for small businesses in the US.

What accounts for their success?

Their success is enabled by the parts of their culture we can’t see- yet underlies everything they do- their values.

The Amish culture is founded on some basic core values, which include humility, honesty, community, and service.   Their behaviors, in the home or at work, are extensions of these values.  Examples of this range from their transparency and authenticity when engaged in conversation (even with us “English”), to Amish business leaders working hand in hand with their employees, regardless of the task.

They also recognize a higher purpose in everything they do.  It’s not about the money.  They see great meaning in their work; from tilling the soil in their farms to their beautiful craftsmanship in many creative disciplines from furniture building to carpentry.

Their businesses are successful because of the values they hold, and because their behaviors and mission are aligned with these values.  No pretenses.  No ambiguity.  Simple.

It’s interesting, but not surprising, that in Jim Collins’ classic book Good to Great the values he associates with great leaders (Level 5 leaders) are many of the same values one would associate with the Amish culture.

I used to think that the Amish were “backward” and “missing out”.  Now, after seeking to understand them, and learning about them, I know better.

Effective leadership isn’t complicated.  It’s actually pretty simple.  We are inspired by leaders who reflect back to us the best within ourselves.  We are energized because we can see our own values, our own capacity, our own creativity, in and through them.  Great leaders connect us to our own greatness.

Management gets complicated sometimes- running businesses in the modern world in all this global complexity requires a lot of experience and knowledge to create productive and efficient operations.

But this isn’t about management.  It’s about leadership.

So perhaps one of the keys to effective leadership is actually to simplify your approach, and get back to basics in much the same way the Amish have never left theirs.

Know yourself.  Know your values.

Behave in a way which is aligned with those values, and exemplifies the best in you.

In that process, you will enable those around you to recognize, and realize, the best in themselves.

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