Today’s effective leader must demonstrate both a sense of independence from traditional thinking as well as an interdependence with her or his community in order to cause change.
We’re just celebrated Independence Day in the States. In addition to the picnics, barbeques and fireworks, it’s a holiday that honors our forefathers for breaking away from Great Britain.
Here are some critical reasons why as a leader, you need to exhibit independence AND interdependence.
The case for independence…
1. Leaders must be ahead of the pack in order to lead. This requires courage and the willingness to stand out.
2. Leaders aren’t content with the status quo. They must be willing to buck conventional wisdom and act with independence.
3. Leaders must make tough decisions. Sometimes their decisions will be unpopular, but if they are the right decisions, the leaders must stand by them.
4. Leaders set high standards. They don’t succumb to mediocrity nor people’s excuses for ‘why it can’t be done’. They raise the bar on performance levels for all around them including their own.
The case for interdependence
1. No leader, no matter how capable, can bring about their big vision all by themselves. They need the support and commitment of others to make their ‘dream’ come true.
2. Leaders instill loyalty by caring for other people and demonstrating concern for their welfare. As John Maxwell said, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care‘.
3. Leaders create community, bonding people together for a cause greater than their personal and individual wants and needs. In community, people can accomplish miracles that otherwise would not be possible.
4. By definition, leaders need other people. One can’t ‘lead’ if there is no one TO lead.
Therefore, leaders are dependent on the presence of others to make possible and real their leadership role. It’s not approval they’re seeking but without other beings, there is no possibility to express leadership. Therefore, they are dependent on others to experience their Self-as-Leader and Leader does not exist.
Leaders must be competent functioning in both domains, courageously independent bucking the trend while at the same time operating interdependently with others to make magic happen.
“What do the Oscars have to do with business leadership?”, you may be asking. There are five things I believe Oscar nominees and winners demonstrate that land them the preeminent recognition for their artistic achievements.
Having a clear vision is almost a cliché attribute of a leader. However without it, it’s hard to give an outstanding, authentic performance as an actor. In the absence of ‘where am I going with this character?’, the actor would likely amble around, missing opportunities to clearly define what defines him or her. How would they know how to respond in certain situations?
When an actor is able to do this, we find ourselves watching a scene unfold that evokes powerful emotions within us riveting us to the screen and the characters.
A lack of vision would make directing a film equally a challenge. The director must communicate the vision for the overall project so that the players can find themselves and clarify their roles in the film. The players are then able to bring their best into the role and forge a path toward the vision that is theirs uniquely to make.
This ability to articulate a clear vision advances any kind of project, whether it’s being played out in Hollywood, Boise or Philadelphia.
I researched the dictionary for the definition of ‘intention’ because although I know it when I feel it, I wasn’t sure how to describe it.
Here’s part of what I found: An act or instance of determining mentally upon some action; purpose or attitude.
The definition that was most revealing however, was that of the word as used in a medical context: “a manner or process of healing (as in the healing of a lesion or fracture).
This brought a whole new perspective to that which occurs in acting, directing, filming and leading. Imagine that the intention one brings reflects the healing and fusing of two (or more) disparate entities, goals, purposes, personae, people.
In this way, it reflects a sort of will to bring together that which might not have happened that leaves the new ‘whole’ greater than the sum of its parts.
When you’re leading, isn’t that exactly what you’re doing?
3. Going all out
You may have heard the phrase, “Leave it all on the floor”. Oscar nominees put everything they have into their
performance. They completely ‘spend’ themselves. I’ve heard actors say they actually abandon their own personality and dive as deeply as they can into their portrayal character.
That kind of energy, passion and commitment serves a leader as well. Think about people who have deeply inspired you. They didn’t give up their own personality, but they probably did give what they were at work on, everything they had.
It was this demonstration of going for the gusto, that probably had you step up and excel in your own performance.
4. Attention to detail
Think about the mountain of details that must be involved in films as visually complex as Inception and Avatar.
Even the characters in Inception were focused on keeping every detail of the dream levels as realistic as possible.
When you’re a leader, you don’t need to attend to all of the details, but you must keenly care about them and communicate that care to the people whose job it is to attend to them.
5. Challenging the bounds of reality and ‘what’s possible’
It’s a delicate trick to balance reality and possibility. Films need to have some semblance to reality or else they won’t be understood.
However, if all they reflect is reality and don’t challenge the edges, we’ll be bored watching them.
Successful screen writing requires some sort of break with the predictable; some dichotomy or unexpected crisis is needed to keep the plot interesting. Great actors are able to take ordinary people (even in bit roles) and make memorable characters,even heroes out of them.
Exemplary leaders are able to stand in the reality of where things are now, both the circumstances and the people. They are equally able to articulate what’s possible and galvanize people around getting there. They don’t succumb to ‘it’s never been done before’. They’re actually challenged by that and rise to the occasion. As they rise and light the path ahead, they elevate us all.
Imagine what it would take for you to bring the traits of an Academy Award winner into ‘playing’ out your leadership role, whether at work, at home or in your community.
How might you behave differently? What would you and those around you be able to accomplish? Think about that the next time you step onto your ‘stage’.
It’s helpful to trace and understand the origin of the two words. For a more elaborate explanation, read this article, empathy vs sympathy.
I’ll summarize here.
Empathy was brought into the English language from the German word Both are acts of feeling. With sympathy, you feel FOR the person. You may or may not fully understand their predicament, situation, problem or feelings.
With sympathy, you feel sorry for the person. With empathy, you truly understand the sorrow, from their perspective and the world they endure as a result.
Empathy takes more work. It requires more imagination in that in order to empathize with a person, you must attempt to understand their thoughts: walk in their moccasins, so to speak. Empathy helps you identify with and feel closer to the other person.
While sympathy is also a tender feeling, it keeps you at a distance and sometimes even a bit above the person. Your perspective reflects that the person is somehow not only less fortunate than you but also ‘less than’ you, at least at the moment. The ‘less than’ may an assessment of their (perhaps temporary) competence or power level.
The most frequent expression of sympathy is felt when you hear that a person you know has lost someone close to them to death. Feeling sympathy is almost an immediate reaction on our part. Empathy would step in if you were very close to the survivor and understood, to a strong degree what the impact of that loss actually meant to them. it might also kick in if you’ve lost someone
yourself and can actually experience that feeling of grief.
So, how does one bring empathy into existence when there is no tragedy to demand its emergence?
Here are three ways to sharpen your instinct for empathy.
1. Practice recognizing the signs that you’re about to distance yourself and dismiss the other person.
Empathy is an exercise in self-awareness and flexibility. When you sense an arising experience of some negative emotion (disgust, sadness, anger, resentment), know that the first signal is your OWN emotion. Once you know it’s YOUR reaction you’re trying to tame (rather than the other person’s), you’ll have more success in flexing and responding.
2. Imagine the other person’s life and try to feel what they are currently feeling.
Take into consideration not only their current life, but years past that have formed their perspective and outlook on life. Be curious about how they have come to adopt their opinions. Ask open-ended questions that will help shine a light on their internal thoughts and help you understand them.
3. Legitimize their feelings
Even if you struggle to understand the feelings or opinions yourself, acknowledge that the perspective is a legitimate one for the person holding it. When you tell them you could see how they came to believe what they believe, it will be easier to have a meaningful dialog. The natural tendency is to disagree with them; to dismiss them as a nut-case. It’s hard to solve problems when you each think your ‘adversary’ is a lunatic. Someone has to have some collaborative energy. It might as well be you.
As Michael Jackson said, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.” If you’re always looking for someone else to change their ways, they won’t. If you keep denying their opinion, they’ll hold on to it that much stronger. Meet them where they are. That’s how you find common ground.
It’s tough to move forward when you’re confused or immobilized by fear. The natural tendency is to lay low and do nothing, but that just keeps you stuck. When you confront a big hairy goal, the secret is to move forward even if you’re not sure how you’re going to get there.
I experienced something yesterday that illustrated this point. I wasn’t confronted by a BHG nor immobilized by fear but was mildly confused about a relatively mundane process.
I was heading to the Arizona State Fair (check out my Facebook album) on a route I’d never taken before. I wasn’t sure what the most direct path would be but decided to get on the nearest highway and figure it out from there. (It would have been
Well, sure enough after driving just a mile or two, I realized exactly how to reach my destination. Here’s the lesson, if I had sat in the parking lot or even consulted my GPS, I would have wasted a few moments (or perhaps a lifetime).
Here’s what to do instead.
1. Know your destination
Be crystal clear about the end result you’re aiming for. If you don’t know where you’re going, it will be a fluke if you get there.
2. Take one step in what you think is the right direction
Any step is better than no step at all. Just as my path unfolded as I drove, your path will become illuminated as you move toward your goal. It won’t if you stay.
3. Course correct along the way
Once you start moving toward your goal, you’ll get feedback that will tell you what to do next.
Pay attention, trust your gut and go with the flow.
The secret is to stay in action. Move toward your goal. Don’t let your fear or confusion immobilize you. Identify one tiny step you CAN make, then make it. Repeat.
Many people think that leaders are born, not made and that if they aren’t officially a Manager, Director, Executive Directory, Vice President, President or CEO, that they are really a leader.
I beg to differ. Leadership is a set of specific behaviors that can be learned.
Here are seven keys I believe are critical to transforming ordinary people into extraordinary leaders.
1. Evoke the emotions of others
True leaders inspire people. They touch their hearts on issues that are important to them. They raise hope while acknowledging and accepting the human frailties we all possess. Leaders make people connect the change they are striving to cause to their own needs and desires.
2. Believe in people
It’s hard for us to see skeptics or critical, negative people as leaders because they don’t do anything proactive to make us feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, leaders see the rough diamonds buried in our hearts and bring them to light so that WE can see them too.
3. Have a compelling vision and be passionate in expressing it
Great leaders see a future that is dramatically different than the present we live in and they don’t keep it a secret. They articulate that future and tell us WHY it’s important that we move toward it. They know they are on the right track even when the rest of the world is still asleep to or in denial about the problem.
4. Never give up but stay flexible
Leaders with big visions are often seen as crack pots or zealots before the masses catch on to the imoportance of their platform. Expect to encounter some resistance at the beginning, but don’t give up on what you believe in. Do however, stay present to new developments and trends and what’s on the minds of the people in your burgeoning ‘tribe’. Find common ground with them an incorporate what you can into your vision, but don’t dilute it too much by trying to please everyone. You won’t.
5. Be an exemplary model
The increased visibility that your leadership will generate will put you in the spotlight. Keep your hands clean. Don’t be tempted by your growing power and influence. Also, don’t avoid leadershp if you have a shady past. If you have truly repented, take ownership for your humanity and mistakes. Share what you’ve learned from your errant ways and promise to stay on the straight and narrow. And then stay there.
6. Demonstrate integrity
Keep your word. Be consistent in your actions. Do what you say you’re going to do. Tell the truth. Make decisions your mother, spouse, children, grandmother would be proud of. Live as though your life will be played out in the media because it might actually end up there.
7. Ask for input and help
Don’t try to get to ‘the promised land’ alone. You can’t. And even if you do, it won’t be very gratifying. As you enroll others in your vision, identify key people in your cause and solicit their opinions and help. The more people you have actively engaged and on the bandwagon with you leading others as well, the easier your road trip will be.
Do these things consistently and you’ll find yourself living a fulfilled life, making a difference and leaving the world in a better place than you found it. That is your purpose so go live it.