What are Leaders for?

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I was prompted to write this musing following a question from a close friend on one of my He’Art of Thriving Facebook Groups. He is one of the best people I know at developing Leaders – which he does in many household name companies. His question was about how the role of leaders might change, or is changing, as more and more people wake up to the inside-out understanding – and what might this mean for the way we train, develop and support them.

It got me thinking back to the workshop I co-facilitated with Michael Neill in August this year, on the He’Art of Thriving in Groups.One of the topics we explored was how people change.

Previously, when I worked with leaders using a more traditional approach (tools, strategies, the 7 how-to’s, etc.), I was fond of the Kouzes & Posner Leadership Practices model. It was well-researched, and posited that there are five things great leaders should do:
• Challenge the Process
• Inspire a Shared Vision
• Enable Others to Act
• Model the Way
• Encourage the Heart
It’s still a pretty good list, in terms of the results leaders are aiming for – but I have changed the way I think about them, because I’ve changed the way I think about what’s really going on when people change.
One of the reasons I liked the model was because it was overtly transformational, rather than transactional. In other words, it argued that the role of a leader was to facilitate CHANGE, rather than merely manage the status quo better.
There has been so much written about Change… so this musing is about the underlying theories – and the strategies that people use (consciously or unconsciously) to change… or more often to get OTHER people to change!
Strategy 1: Information
People will make the right choices and change their behaviour if they have the right information – if they can make a well-informed choice. Well, sometimes. But you’ve only got to look at the levels of obesity, smoking, alcohol-abuse in society to realize that it’s not that impactful as a strategy.
Strategy 2: Find the right buttons, and push them
Frighten or inspire people enough, and they will change their behaviour. Sports coaches and military leaders tend to be good at this. And a good ‘motivator’ knows that the same buttons don’t necessarily work for everybody. Maybe there are a few universals – death and sex maybe. But it’s about becoming good at discerning the ‘programmes’ people are running and then exploiting these programmes to create the behaviour change we want. This seems to work a bit better.
Strategy 3: A New Thought
As human beings, we seem to have the capacity to insightfully realize new things. Often the most lasting changes come about as a result of a fresh, new thought. Suddenly, things just look different to us than they looked before.
And when things look different, we feel different, and we often act differently. There’s no ‘convincing’ to be done. In talking with people who have recovered from addictions, there seems to be a big difference between those who are constantly struggling, using a mixture of will-power and support, to stay ‘clean’. And then there are others who seem to have a spontaneous shift in seeing – so that it just doesn’t occur to them to pick up their previous drug of choice.
They have deepened their understanding about what’s really going on – beyond and beneath their habits, their patterns, their ‘programming’. If you like, they’ve gone up a level in consciousness.

So, how can a leader (or trainer or change agent) facilitate this? Next week’s musing will focus on how helping ourselves and others to understand the fundamental principles at play in any human system makes all the difference. Whether it’s looking after our bodies better, or feeling engaged and committed to achieving this quarter’s sales target.

I’d love to hear your point of view on this.

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