It happened every week. Co-workers gathered for the weekly staff meeting, sitting around a large conference table, sipping their coffee and greeting each other. Then, as if on cue, all conversations stopped. The easy flowing conversation abruptly shifted to uncomfortable silence. Suzanne, their district manager, had entered the room.
Suzanne led her team with cold efficiency. Her leadership style was “old school”: fear and manipulation guaranteed results. Any resistance to her demands was considered a betrayal to her and the agency. She rewarded submissive “team players” by lessening her micro-management and scrutiny of their work. They were the only ones who received positive yearly reviews.
Throughout the agency, there had been complaints and grievances filed against Suzanne and others with a similar management style. As a result of the complaints, Suzanne’s agency required all of their district managers to attend annual leadership/management training. Suzanne and many of her colleagues felt any leadership model suggesting a cooperative interactive management approach would dangerously threaten their authority. The idea of minimizing the leader’s dominance (fear factor) and authority seemed ridiculous. She and many of the other managers stubbornly held onto her authoritative leadership style.
There are hundreds of leadership models designed to help the leaders motivate, increase productivity and improve morale. The majority of these models fail to improve management/staff relationships or productivity because their focus is on how to lead not, who is leading.
As a manager, parent, teacher or counselor the effectiveness of your leadership is reflected in the responses of those following you. Vulnerability and openness create connected and trusting relationships that generate willing, creative energy. Trusting, connected, interdependent relationships allow everyone involved access to both their individual and collective creative powers.
Leadership in Your Own Life
Your leadership style is the manifestation of how you live your life. Before you can lead others, you must be the leader of your life. Your approach to relationships, reactions to challenges, victories or defeat are a direct reflection of the thoughts and beliefs guiding your inner leadership. If your inner leadership is driven by anger and insecurity, you will live in the world as a fearful, reactive victim. Fearful victims will be drawn to your leadership.
When your inner leadership has a trusting, open and curious approach, problem solving and creative new ideas and solutions begin to flow. Creative, open people will be attracted to your leadership.
Strong, effective self-leadership develops when we live authentically; being transparent, open and vulnerable. We become transparent when we stop hiding behind our assumptions, hidden agendas, and unrealistic expectations and simply speak our truth. Our openness grows once we stop trying to control everything. Our open heart allows us to receive as much as we give. We become increasingly vulnerable when we lay down fearful defenses and acknowledge our inability to control anyone but ourselves. Releasing control brings us freedom. Courage and a willingness to grow and change take the lead in our lives. Living in authentic self-leadership is a continuous process of accepting our limitations; letting go of the illusion that you can control people’s responses or external situations; embracing our gifts and inviting weakness and defeat to teach and strengthen us.
Authentic leadership is the natural result of living and leading with transparency, openness and vulnerability.
Balancing Inner Leadership
Balancing your authentic self- leadership as you negotiate difficult daily challenges requires you to be mindfully aware of your inner life. When our authentic self is in the lead, we are in a state of creative flow. Our emotions, thoughts and actions are in sync. We feel lightness, speak our truth, use our gifts and move about in the world in freedom. We are acutely aware of the energy we are projecting and able to read/sense the emotional energy of others. When we feel overwhelmed with fear or threatened by an external situation, our openness, transparency and vulnerability are in jeopardy. The creative flow that follows authentic self-leadership is replaced with constricted resistance.
Force + Coercion = Resistance takes the lead.
Feeling resistance, anxiety, fear, sadness, and hopelessness or constantly looking for distractions are signals that you’ve lost your balance. Your feelings of lightness and flow have been replaced with a heavy and constricted internal state that has taken the lead.
The most effective leaders are transparent, open and authentic. In Suzanne’s case, rewarding submissive staff broadcasted her expectation of compliance. Leadership style revolved around her delusion of being in total control. Any action other than agreement and submission was a betrayal and a threat toward her and the agency. Trust and connection cannot survive in this type of milieu. Growth, creativity and flow are suffocated. This type of leadership is tolerated rather than supported. The degree of submission and compliance by staff reflects of the amount of force applied by the leadership. Fear, compliance and force generate powerful energy that takes you and your followers down a path that often ends up in resistance and rebellion. Conversely, vulnerability, authenticity, transparency and openness activate and sustain an energy that leads you and your team in a productive and creative direction.
Your leadership style can be defined by answering one question: Who or what is leading your inner life?