MUCH of a leader’s power lies in their capacity to inspire others to action. To be able to do that, as noted by Napoleon Bonaparte, a leader must be a ‘dealer in hope’. The art of hope is the ability to deal constructively with the crises and misfortunes that are an inevitable part of being human and further, to take effective action regardless of temporary feelings of discomfort.
Many of our leaders fail to inspire hope, with employee turnover reaching dizzying heights as people try to sustain hope for themselves by forever chasing more dollars elsewhere. The reason for this is, in part, because many leaders take a dogmatic, simplistic approach to leading people; imposing their perspective on others, rather than taking the time to fully understand people and situations.
Essentially they fail to do what the late Stephen Covey recommended in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.
So what are our leaders doing? Various quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland echo common approaches to leadership in our businesses and organisations:
“Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.” Doorknob
“I have an excellent idea, LET’S CHANGE THE SUBJECT.”
“...that’s just the trouble with me. I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”
The Doorknob reveals the command and control leader. They tell people how things will be and tend not to be good listeners. The March Hare exposes the head-in-the-sand approach where the leader refuses to embrace change, instead arguing that everything is just fine as it is, when in fact every indication is that it isn’t. The last quote by Alice reflects the plea by employees everywhere of their leaders - please, ‘walk the talk’. In all these examples, the leader is lost in their own world and therefore largely oblivious to what is going on around them. The power of the new leader lies in their awareness: their willingness to listen to what is going on around them; their ability to understand where their people are coming from; and their capability to take action having taken all this into account.
Essentially, the new leaders are changing their thinking:
1) From being in a comfort zone and solving familiar problems to moving in the direction of possibilities that do not yet exist. Most importantly, this refers to the way we interact with and lead others.
2) From giving in to others’ expectations and conforming to the status quo to being clear about what is really important (core values), being prepared to deal constructively with the conflict that comes with authentic expression of diverse views.
3) From pursuing relationships driven by self-interested politics to committing to building relationships that serve the collective good.
4) From controlling the environment through established routines, making only safe, incremental changes to learning from the environment, at times letting go of the status quo and accepting the need for significant personal change.
What are our new leaders doing? The power being exemplified by the new leaders is in part characterised by the following:
• Having the confidence to see and deal with things as they are rather than how we think they should be. This involves learning how to ‘throw off the bowlines’ and embrace new ways of thinking and of relating to others. This prepares you to be able to take appropriate action to suit the individual, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
• Having the courage to be authentic. The word ‘courage’ derives from the Latin ‘cor’ which means ‘heart’; so to be an authentic leader means to balance your logic by opening your heart and being guided by your core values in everything you do and say.
• Interpersonal openness. Knowing what is best to say to another stems from listening as much to what is not being said, as to what is being said; that is, understanding the other’s point of view.
To do the above, as a leader you need to give up your expert status, deal with your own fear and embrace learning and growth - that means allowing yourself and others to occasionally make mistakes/fail and still sustain confidence in the process.
These and many more capabilities, which can be learned, form the very essence of the ‘dealer in hope’. The result of such an approach is people who respect you and want to stay with you.
Sarah Newton-Palmer is director of Perth leadership firm Intus Consultancy. She facilitates leadership workshops nationally and is currently providing executive coaching and mentoring to senior managers.
Contact Sarah on 9299 6507 | 0438 788 624| sarah@ intusconsultancy.com.au | www.intusconsultancy.com.au