How To Work With The Personal Challenges Of Leadership

In dynamic-turbulent times positions of authority require those who fill these positions to exercise leadership: to stand for a sense of purpose, to articulate a mission, to lead people, to effect change in attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, practices, relationships. This is challenging work; we (you/i) find ourselves situated in particular ways of life and are deeply fearful of any change that hints at adaptation, discomfort and loss for us.

If you find yourself in such a leadership position and the burdens-cost of such a role are having the kind of impact that I have listed above, I offer you the following in the hope that it will make a contribution to you:

Partners

…. leadership cannot be exercised alone. The lone-warrior model of leadership is heroic suicide. Each of us has blind spots that require the vision of others. Each of us has passions that need to be contained by others. Anyone can lose the capacity to get on the balcony, particularly when the pressures mount. Every person who leads needs help in distinguishing self from role and identifying the underlying issues that generate attack.

Partners come in two general types: the confidant and the ally. The confidant is the person to whom one can cry out and complain. A confidant can provide a holding environment for someone who is busy holding everybody else. People attempting to lead need partners who can put them back together again at the end of the day. These partners, often friends, spouses, lovers, or close colleagues, provide perspective. They help on climb back up to the balcony to understand what happened….

Listening: Using Oneself as Data

To interpret events, a person who leads needs to understand his own ways of processing  and distorting what he hears. To sustain the stresses of leadership, he needs to know enough about his own biases to compensate for them.…Compensation requires the inner discipline to step back and test the accuracy  of one’s own perceptions and the appropriateness of one’s reaction….

How do people maintain an adequate level of self examination? …. two general principles apply. First, we learn by reflecting on daily actions, successes and failures, of ourselves and others. In particular, we can learn from those habits that repeatedly get us into trouble and from those behaviours that surprise us….. Second, we can use partners as hedges against self-deception…… often they will be informal partners, who, when permitted to do the job of debriefing us, can promote reflection because they are the people to whom we ordinarily can talk openly…..

Finding a Sanctuary

Listening to oneself requires a place where one can hear oneself think.…. When serving as the repository of many conflicting aspirations, a person can lose himself in the role by failing to distinguish his inner voice from the voices that clamour for attention outside. Partners can help greatly, as can a run, a quiet walk, or a prayer to break the spell cast by the frenzy of the floor. We need sanctuaries.

To exercise leadership, one has to expect to get swept up in the music. One has to plan for it and develop scheduled opportunities that anticipate the need to regain perspective. Just as leadership demands a strategy of mobilising people, it also requires a strategy of deploying and restoring one’s spiritual resources.

– Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers

I dedicate this to a friend whose existence elevates my existence. And whose commitment to do good and contribute to a world that works for all leaves me inspired.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

2 thoughts on “How To Work With The Personal Challenges Of Leadership”

  1. Maz, a friend of mine is in a very senior position. He is always on show at large corporate events and site visits and investor discussions and and and…

    He admitted to me that it gets very tiring.

    His solution is to go and sit in the gents by himself for 30 minutes. I suspect (and hope) that this is his sanctuary. Any port in a storm.

    James

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  2. I agree Questioning oneself and comparing perceptions is important to develop ones EQ. I Often use leadership/executive 360 tools such as the Life Styles Inventory (LSI) or the Leadership Circle 360 to open the door for such discussions. These tools provide a confidential and credible process for individuals to receive (via coaching) constructive and honest perspectives.

    The raters are chosen based on criteria, ie people that they respect and because feedback is anonymous, raters who may otherwise ‘filter’ (if approached in the ‘partner’ concept you’ve outlined here) are more likely to be honest. I agree with the concept, just believe that tools such as this are a more valid and reliable ways to gather such data and therefore open the door to richer coaching conversations.

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