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How Important is Leadership?

by Sy OgulnickJune 2015

To know is a more concrete word than believe because it is what we actually experience. So, what I know is that a leader’s words and behavior are far more important to those under and close to them than generally accepted and understood. Too often leaders are unaware of their power to influence whether through a subtle look or actions they take. On the other hand, those who are close to their leader, because they experience directly the words and behavior of their leader, are definitely more aware of who and what the leader is than the leader can possibly know of their impact on them and why. The leader is not blind to the results of their influence, but usually to its cause. Hence, results that meet the leader’s expectations may be rewarded, but if negative, leaders tend to blame others for disappointing outcomes.

 The “why” is simple? Those dependent on the leader, and in particular those close to the leader, experience the experience of harmful and even destructive leadership, or, if lucky, the benefits of quality leadership. People know this first hand if they are close to the leader and not through hearsay. If the leader does not create the environment for dialogue to take place who does? How is mutuality possible without the safe space that needs to exist between the one and the other? And the feeling of true safety in relationship does not exist through words but consistent behavior that exudes respect.

Inadequate, out of touch, destructive leaders are not cast in concrete. Their behavior is learned behavior beginning early in life. And it is what they have learned that is actually possible to unlearn meaning that any person who has difficulties in relationships whether between two or leading a class room of students, employees or a squad in battle has within them the capacity to change, to grow, to know a different way of being and I do not mean or imply acting.

The very difficult challenge is not an exterior experience, but a commitment by the leader to know themselves through the eyes and words of those who know them best. This takes considerable courage on the part of both the other and the leader. The other (subordinate to the leader) takes great risk in being genuine and must know deeply in their gut they are safe to go where they have not gone before. They must feel secure and welcome. They must experience being listened to and confirmed by the leader. At the same time leaders must be seen as vulnerable (open) and accepting even if not agreeing with what is being communicated. (Agreement is not essential to Genuine Dialogue) Without the aid of an appropriate facilitator/mentor this may be possible, but not likely since overcoming previous experiences of misuse of power is a difficult barrier to set aside. People may forgive, but do not forget.

Learned behavior tends, over the years, to become inflexible and rigid, but not hardened to the point that only a sledge hammer can do the job. Clearly, destroying a leader is destroying a human and never the intention of change and growth. In any case, it is not the words coming from outside the person that brings a change in attitude, behavior, understanding, but the way the leader processes what they hear and feel. Nothing written here is meant to imply nuance or subtly. A leader that chooses to grow never does this easily and without considerable trepidation. Not many leaders or people are willing to be vulnerable with those who know them best. True growth means rarely going back to where you have come from. This is not an appearance change, but a change of perspective and understanding.  Sy

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