Leadership Is Not A One Way Street
This brief article is focusing on one aspect of leadership. It is the idea that Leaders do not have all the answers. Exceptional leaders display a dual nature of courage to act as well as the humility to learn from those around them. Sounds a bit like level five leadership (Good to Great), but it has a few twists and turns to it. Let’s explore those twists and turns. The law of reciprocity states that in order to influence others you must be able to be influenced. No one follows a know-it-all for long. Eventually, we grow weary of always being told that our version of reality is skewed or that it is not a valid perspective at all. We then tune out that person, and stop letting them influence us. So, how do we balance exercising our own voice when we are in authority, but also let room for others to influence the process? As usual, this leadership practice it is about balance, and not about picking a side.
People who excel managing the polarity of influencing and being influenced need to see themselves in a certain light in life. It starts within. A recent Harvard Business Review article titled, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, stressed the importance of never casting yourself as a victim of your circumstances. Further, the authors said this:
“First and most important, they [leaders] frame their life stories in ways that allow them to see themselves not as passive observers but as individuals who develop self awareness from their experiences… Over and over, you replay the events and personal interactions that are important to your life, attempting to make sense of them to find your place in the world…Rather than seeing themselves as victims, though, authentic leaders used these formative experiences to give meaning to their lives. They reframed these events to rise above their challenges and to discover their passion to lead.”
If you are not a victim of life circumstances you can listen to others openly without having to control the situation. If you are a victim, you try to control the circumstances so you will not be hurt again. It is the source of immense power in your life if you are not the victim.
You are then free to let your passion direct and influence others in order to mobilize them in a particular direction. You are free to Challenge the Process as Kouze and Posner write. You can proactively look for ways to improve whatever system, process, or project you are working on. You can experiment with innovative ideas and learn from them if they are not an instant hit. Moreover, you can passionately pursue making a significant difference because you are not wasting energy casting yourself in a victim’s role and all the protection mechanisms involved in that behavior. Next time you find yourself in a tight spot at work, ask yourself this: Am I letting circumstances shape me, or am I actively shaping them around me? The former is the victim’s stance, and the latter is not.
There is another part to this polarity that we mentioned earlier and that is letting others influence the process or us. This is as important as trying to influence others passionately. Leaders need to create space for others to lead the processes that go on around them. Otherwise you will quickly train your staff to be reactive to the boss’s lead. I often hear people in authority complain that their people are not proactive problem solvers. Usually that is because we have trained them to be reactive to what we want, and not to create their own solutions to the problem. If I am a subordinate in this case, I say to myself, “I will just wait until my boss tells me the answer because if I suggest something it will be corrected anyway.” How do you create proactive problem solvers? You can accomplish this by drawing the vision out of your people, not bringing it to them. People want to be part of creating their future. When you create space for them to do that, most will get on board with the plan. If they are resistant at first, it is a sign that they have been well trained to be reactive. Fight that urge to take over and continue to draw out that vision. Then when you have helped them create a vision of the future, make sure that you trust in the plan to help them stay accountable to it.
Other Author’s Works Referenced:
Discovering Your Authentic Leadership by George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer
The Leadership Challenge by Kouze and Posner
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