“Leadership is anything that helps the organization achieve its purpose or improve its ability to achieve its purpose.” Gervase Bushe
“The highest performing managers show more warmth and fondness toward others then do the bottom 25 percent. They get closer to people, they are significantly more open in sharing thoughts and feelings then their low-performing counterparts … All things being equal, we will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel.” Jim Kouzes and Barry Pozner
Leadership is both formal and informal. Every member of an organization can provide leadership by showing up, being observant, and offering their ideas constructively. Those who chose to take on a formal role of manager, often take on stress that exceeds the additional pay. Yet managing is one of the most important jobs because a manager’s attitude and choices affect her or his employees and by extension their family and friends.
The tasks of leadership is made more difficult by the confusion of organizational life. Often we hide things as employees of organizations. We carefully conceal the faults of our own work as we criticize the performance of others. I say that it is your fault that my work is not done well, even when I know that some of the fault is my own.
Of course, these lies are part of human life at work and at home. We can live our entire life and never honestly see and accept who we are in actuality. In Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” the main character asks at the end of his life: “What if my whole life has been wrong?”
We can live our life in a fog, not realizing so much of who we are. The saddest part of this reality is that we do not see the immensity of our own potential as a human being. As a result, our families and organizations are typically filled with inaccurate and confusing communication. Gervase Bush writes that most discussions, especially at work, are “best described as two or more people having different experiences while making up stories about what is going on in each other’s minds: stories that are never checked out.”
Our perception is limited as human beings. We only see and hear so much. Our mind is left guessing, filling in the blanks. We are usually not taught the skills of self-awareness in school or home. The basic tasks of the mind are to monitor and modify. We are forming maps of reality based on our assumptions. Most people do not talk about their assumptions or their mental maps with anyone, but especially at work. Leaders have a tough job, making decisions with a great deal at stake with poor information to base it upon.
Each person has different maps of reality. These maps have different types of scripts. One map is a world where I fear being abandoned. From this perspective, I manage others in order to calm my anxiety. Operating from this point of view, I have poor boundaries and do not distinguish the differences between myself and others.
Another map of reality is one of distrust. I separate myself from others, because I have a fear of being swallowed up if I get too close to anyone. Therefore, I chose extreme individuality and chose not to connect to others. With this world view, I have rigid boundaries. Little information passes in or out of my boundaries. All information will be given on a need to know basis.
The optimal position is called differentiation. This point of view perceives it to be safe to be closely connected to others as well as being unique as an individual. A person operating from this point of view has clear boundaries. I am clear about what my experience is – my thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I can tell the difference between my personal experience and your experience. I look at and examine my assumptions.
Bushe writes that self-awareness has three parts. The first skill is being able to know your experience moment to moment. The second skill is being able to use words to describe your experience. Another part of this second skill is being able to use words to distinguish your experience from others’ experience. The last skill is the ability to know the how my view of reality (also called mental maps) is different from reality itself. An analogy is an actual road map. Road maps are not exact, but approximation of the streets and highways of the area depicted. There remains a difference between a map and reality. So it is within us as well.
Bushe recommends working on being aware of oneself, improving the accuracy of communication, increasing ones curiosity in others, and increasing appreciation of others. These qualities enable leaders to be more effective. Bob Epperly, former Exxon Vice-President, and an expert in alternative energy as he discusses the specific challenges with managing a difficult subordinate. Please watch this video as Bob explores with you the evolution of leadership:
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