In times of uncertainty and perhaps confusion, there is opportunity for us all to display leadership. In the current global environment there are so many instances where this is happening: people showing care in honouring the rules of self-isolation, for example, checking in on the well-being of a neighbour, offering skills and services free of charge for those in need, holding space within themselves to experience whatever emotions arise in these challenging times, adopting a spirit of acceptance to “work with what is”.
A Dealer in Hope
Many would agree that the power of a leader lies in their capacity to inspire others to put their best foot forward, to step up, to take a stand for what is really important. To be able to do that, as noted by Napoleon Bonaparte, a leader must be a “dealer in hope”. Hope is being able to face up to the crises and misfortunes that are an inevitable part of being human and to take effective action where appropriate regardless of temporary feelings of discomfort.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
The world is changing so fast. It was only a few years ago that I wrote an article criticising leaders for their head in the sand approach. I did this after several years of coaching people who were unhappy with their managers. At that time I noted that many of our leaders were failing to inspire hope, were taking 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 were failing to do what the late Stephen Covey recommended in his famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Various quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland echo the common approaches to leadership in our businesses and organisations at that time:
“Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction”. Doorknob
“I have an excellent idea, LET’S CHANGE THE SUBJECT”. March Hare
“…that’s just the trouble with me. I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it”. Alice
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 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 people everywhere – please, ‘walk the talk’. In all these examples, the leader has limited self-awareness and is largely oblivious to what is really going on around them. These three form the leadership wall, or block, that causes people everywhere to lose hope. The simple reason is that they don’t feel heard. Even more importantly, they are not seen.
Deeper Awareness and Compassion
A new type of leader is gradually starting to emerge. They are to be found all over the world in response to the current crisis. The power of the new leader lies in their deeper self-awareness and their willingness to listen to what is going on around them; their ability to understand and empathise with what people are going through and their willingness to take action having taken all this into account. Essentially they are promoting shifts in our thinking in four key areas, as outlined by management consultant Robert Quinn in his 2005 article, “Moments of Greatness”. The new leaders are changing:
What are our new leaders doing? The power being exemplified by the new leaders is in part characterised by the following:
These and many more capabilities, which can be learned, form the very essence – and magnetism - of the “dealer in hope”. The result of such an approach is life-affirming mutual respect, the fertile ground in which a bright future grows.
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