“The happiness that we seek depends on our ability to balance the ego’s needs to do with our inherent capacity to be.”
Dr Mark Epstein, Going to Pieces without Falling Apart.
“Because of our obsession with how leaders behave and with the interactions of leaders and followers, we forget that in its essence leadership is about learning how to shape the future. Leadership exists when people are no longer victims of circumstances but participate in creating new circumstances. When people operate in this domain of generative leadership, day by day, they come to a deepening understanding of, “How the universe actually works”. This is the real gift of leadership. It’s not about positional power; it’s not about accomplishments; it’s ultimately not even about what we do. Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable of participating in the unfolding of the world. Ultimately, leadership is about creating new realities”
Peter Senge, Introduction to Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership , Joe Jaworski.
It is important to understand how leadership impacts on organisations. This is despite the fact that leadership depends inexorably on the characteristics of the individual. Leadership is the most important interface between the individual (the leader) and the organisation (the collective).
Leadership is a reflection of our ability to be able to influence others, and we influence others in many ways – by demonstration, by persuasion but most importantly through the integrity of our being. Many who have assumed formal leadership roles in organisations believe all they have to do is command people and they will follow directions and the desired outcomes will be achieved. Unfortunately exhortation seems to be the least effective way of getting people to follow us.
Effective leaders must be able to envision desirable futures and communicate to those that follow in such a way that they become committed to pursuing such futures. Consequently, visioning and communications skills are essential for good leaders. This I have covered elsewhere in what I have called the Management of Meaning. In essence what I mean here is that human beings want to make a positive contribution to society. It is important then that organisations have goals that have societal benefits and therefore are more than just about making money. And then good leaders show how the individual contributes to such a goal. This makes work meaningful.
A Hay’s study some two decades ago examined a broad range of key components of employee satisfaction. They found that trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organisation. Effective communication in three critical areas was the key to winning organisational trust and confidence.
- Helping employees understand the company’s overall business strategy,
- Helping employees understand how they contribute to achieving key business objectives,
- Sharing information with employees on how the company is doing.
This I believe reinforces the importance of the Management of Meaning.
Indeed I have often said, “The prime tool of leadership is the Management of Meaning but the essence of leadership is the Mastery of Self.”
Effective leadership results from the security that comes from valuing what we are more than what we achieve, or to put it another way, to value the condition of our inner psychological/spiritual world more than the condition of our outer material world.
Effective leaders have a deep belief in the rightness of what they are trying to achieve. The integrity required to influence others can only be sustained over long periods of time where deep and abiding beliefs are held. This occurs where leaders have an uncompromising understanding of themselves and have come to a state of self-acceptance and desire the same degree of personal effectiveness for others. This provides the fundamental strength of purpose required to establish or modify enterprise culture.
What differentiates leaders from managers is the ability to influence others – not the ability to direct, to coerce or to manipulate, but the ability to gain the voluntary commitment of employees to the purpose of the enterprise. There is no comparison between the enthusiasm, dedication and productivity of a volunteer who has bought into the ideals and the vision of the organisation and a conscript who at best is a reluctant follower of orders. The volunteer has internalised motivation, whereas the conscript only contributes whilst there is someone directing them.
An essential ingredient in organisational leadership is that the leader pulls rather than pushes people along. A pull style of influence works by attracting and energizing people to enrol in an exciting vision of the future. It motivates through our identification, rather than through rewards and punishment. The leaders in an organisation articulate and, if possible, embody the ideals towards which the organisation strives. They enrol themselves in a vision of that idea, as attainable as their behaviour displays, and exemplify the idea in action.
Employees will only align themselves in the long term with managers who hold, articulate, and demonstrate commitment to compelling beliefs. True leaders influence through the strength of their example, and not by the extent of their control. Qualities such as tolerance, humility, empathy, integrity and persistence are the qualities necessary to effective leadership. Of these, humility and tolerance are the most important facilitators of good relationships available to leaders. When we have no need to protect our ego, listening becomes easy. When there is no need for self-gratification, the empowerment of others becomes second nature. Workplaces that are led by managers who have achieved a reasonable degree of psychological maturity (who have progressed through the process of Know yourself > Accept yourself > Forget yourself) are characterised by trust. Just as psychological maturity of the individual enables him/her not to divert unproductive energy into ego defence, so it is that workplaces characterised by trust are able to focus on the business at hand without being side-tracked by mechanisms aimed at defending the workgroup from the organisation.
(It is undoubtedly true that managers using fear, compulsion and organisational authority can coerce employees to deliver short-term outcomes. But it is also true that organisations that don’t gain the commitment of their workforces are unlikely to sustain long-term high performance.)
Again and again I feel compelled to restate that in essence leadership is built on the mastery of self. Where leaders are not psychologically mature, organisations are diverted to meeting the emotional and ego needs of the leader rather than dealing with the issues at hand. Where the leader is not psychologically robust and continually needs to bolster his/her self-concept by trappings of status, praise and adulation, and is, therefore, excessively outcome dependent, the organisation is exposed to the risk of diverting energy to the leaders ego needs rather than concentrating on the organisation’s requirements. In such organisations when things go wrong the leader seeing his/her ego under threat will respond emotionally with anger, despair or whatever. The people in the organisation then run around trying to appease the leader’s ego needs rather than attending to the business at hand. This is a major distraction and detrimental to the best interests of the organisation. Indeed the best leaders provide an anchor for the organisation in troubled times. Because they are secure in their sense of self they can respond to any emergency with a sense of equanimity that is stabilizing and allows the organisation to respond objectively to the situation.
- The ability to get the leader’s ego needs out of the equation and consequently to respond objectively to organizational issues is well described in the following quote from Blanchard et al.
- (We) .. believe there are two kinds of leaders: those who are leaders first and those who are servants first….
- People who are leaders first are too often those who naturally try to control, to make decisions, to give orders. They’re “driven” to lead – they want to be in charge. And they’re possessive about their leadership position – they think they own it. They don’t like feedback because they see it as threatening their position, the one thing they want most to hold on to.
- Leaders who are servants first will assume leadership only if they see it as the best way they can serve. They’re “called” to lead, rather than driven because they naturally want to be helpful. They aren’t possessive about their leadership position – they view it as an act of stewardship rather than ownership. If someone else on the scene is a better leader, they’re willing to partner with that person or even step aside and find another role for themselves where they can better serve.
Blanchard, Hybels and Hodges.
Leadership revolves around our ability to have others willingly join us on a journey to a new and desirable future. Leadership is synonymous with change. You don’t need leadership to maintain the status quo. That is not to deny the administrative and managerial effort required maintaining and preserving the routine functioning of organisations – it is just that this is not leadership. Leadership is seeking out new ways, new horizons, demonstrating new behaviours, unleashing previously unused potential and inspiring and motivating others in pursuit of excellence. In order to do this, leaders must connect with their followers as human beings.
Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.
More than anything else today, followers believe they are part of a system, a process that lacks heart. If there is one thing a leader can do to connect with followers at a human, or better still a spiritual level, it is to become engaged with them fully, to share experiences and emotions, and to set aside the processes of leadership we have learned by rote.
Lance Secretan, Industry Week, 10/12/98
There are many skills required to inspire and motivate others to follow us into the unknown. Firstly, as we saw above, we must be able to envision a desirable future and be articulate in sharing that vision with others. We must demonstrate enthusiasm for the new direction and the new ways of doing things. We must persist when the obstacles to change are inevitably thrust in our paths. Yet, despite the importance of such skills, really impactful leadership depends on something far more fundamental – who we are as human beings. Indeed in the workshops I have conducted on leadership, I have often said that leadership is more about our being than our doing. Now I would contend that the nature of our being largely depends on whether the person has made the paradigm shift from fear to love.(Refer The Myth of Nine to Five by Scott and Harker, and my blog essay Love Makes the World Go Round of 1 July 2009.) Where the core motive is fear, preservation of the illusory sense of self dominates the psyche and doing will be obsessively pursued because of the attendant obsession with material outcomes.
Leadership and good management are often portrayed as active pursuits, where larger than life figures dominate. They are seen to be the province of restless, driven men and women, who through their own energy and mastery transform businesses and inspire others to follow in their wakes. Reflecting on this I would conclude that this is not necessarily the case. Much of the influence of the leader is attained in a more passive way. The true leader influences, but does not dominate. True leaders are influential, not because of the extent of their control, but by the strength of their example. The true leader influences through tolerance, empathy, integrity and persistence. True leaders listen well. These are seemingly passive characteristics.
Korn-Ferry International, an executive search company, some years ago performed a survey on what organisations want from their leaders. They found that the prime requirements of leaders were to be ethical and trustworthy and be able to communicate a vision of where the organisation is required to be in the future.
Many managers assume that power and dominance are the prime tools for managerial achievement. Certainly some situations demand this. But these are not the tools for long term achievement. They result in short term compliance only. The long term welfare of the enterprise is advanced by gaining the commitment of the workforce to the purpose of the enterprise. Much of this commitment will be determined by that intangible characteristic of workplaces, workplace culture. A very important determinant of workplace culture is how leaders conduct themselves, how authentic is the relationship they have with the workforce. Authentic relationships are a function of integrity and transparency. This is facilitated by leaders knowing and understanding themselves.
One of the principal advantages that this shift brings is that it substantially reduces the impact of ego in the inter-relationships that the leader engages in. Consequently, as we saw earlier, such a leader can devote his/her energies to resolving the issues at hand and not be distracted by the demands of ego. Because such people have no illusions about who they are and how they need to appear to others, there is a consistency in their actions and a genuineness in their behaviour.
Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.
John Renesch makes the distinction between what he calls conscious leadership (where the leader has mastery of self) and bogus leadership (where the traits of leadership are a façade).
Conscious leadership is an art. Unlike the management tools of policy, procedures, techniques and systems, it comes directly from one’s sense of Self.
Bogus leadership is image based, so the trappings make it appear that a person is a bona fide leader. Like an actor on the stage, they fit the part we have in mind for them. They look the part, talk like we’d expect them to, and carry themselves with an air of confidence. Their picture would look good framed and mounted. But when one engages the world from image regardless of how close that image might be to the real thing, the world gets the menu, not the meal. Followers of these bogus leaders get the videotape, not the real thing.
Bogus Leaders’ first loyalty is to their image. Sometimes people confuse their image with who they really are. They lose touch with their real selves and start thinking they are their image – they start thinking that they are the sandwich pictured in the menu, not the sandwich. When people confuse their image with who they are, their image must be preserved by all means available. It is a matter of their survival. Then after they are assured their image will not be threatened in any way, they can take any of the remaining options. However, some of their options have been removed in order to protect their image, so there are fewer of them now.
John Renesch, Bogus Leadership: Where are the New Leaders and How Do We Know Them? 5th Annual Spirituality Leadership and Management Conference
One of the other problems the intrusion of ego causes for leadership is that it insists that leadership is the sole prerogative of the anointed “leader”. This accords with the traditional view that organisations are led by a single heroic leader. But much of the modern literature is suggesting that leadership is distributed throughout organisations. This can only occur effectively when the ego of the appointed leader is sufficiently diminished to allow other effective voices to be heard as the situation demands. When leaders are comfortable in their sense of self, this happens naturally and the leader does not feel the need to always be at the forefront of things, taking centre stage.
As the Chinese sage Lao Tszu reputedly said,
When the best leader’s work is done, the people all say, ‘We did it ourselves’.
Warren Bennis, perhaps the most influential modern writer on leadership had this to say:
Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.
One of the most frequently promoted leadership techniques in recent decades has been empowerment. We can only empower others when we understand that they have no power over us. If we believe that we need authority and status, or that our personal well-being is dependent on the response of others then we will be unlikely to place ourselves at their mercy. Yet, this is the risk we must take as leaders in order to empower others. When we are assured of our worth as human beings, we know that it is enhanced by promoting the worth and autonomy of others. Indeed it has been said that a good leader inspires others with confidence in him or her; a great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves.
But good leadership goes beyond empowerment. A good leader understands the complexity of leadership and management and will know that nothing of any consequence is achieved in organisations without people acting in concert. This is certainly true of leadership. The range of traits required to take an organisation strongly and confidently into the future is very broad. To name but a few, there has to be:
- Demonstration/Education, and
No leader is likely to have all of these competencies. Indeed in good organisations leadership is distributed. The nominal leader will rely on others to complement his/her skills And again, of course, this is facilitated by the leader not having demanding ego needs to be met.
A leader has to provide constancy and stability to organisations in transition and stress. This only occurs when the leader has certainty about who he or she is and is comfortable with that. Oft times, when managing change, leaders are required to promote and demonstrate new ways of working in the face of great resistance and often hostility.
As Mahatma Ghandi said,
I must first be the change I want to see in my world.
This can only be done from a platform of strong belief and unshakeable self-worth.
Thus in many ways, it is the leader’s being that facilitates and encourages commitment from others. When we understand the true nature of “what it means to be human”, and accept that when we understand who we really are, our sense of well-being is determined from the integrity of our internal world. When we have thus put aside the demands of ego and have come to see the world from a paradigm of love, we are naturally influential because our lives are governed by a real concern for the welfare of others. When, because of the diminished impact of ego, we have no barriers between ourselves and those we are seeking to lead, our relationships are more genuine and we are seen as trustworthy. Where, because of our understanding of the true nature of humanity, our ego needs are curtailed, we can easily and joyfully seek to empower others. This is the nature of true leadership.
Let us then reiterate:
- Leadership is more about being than doing,
- Ultimately the essence of leadership is the Mastery of Self.