Leadership as an Experience in Humanness
At the beginning of my career, desperate for experience, I took whatever job I could in my field. Fortunately, my first manager treated employees and customers like gold. Luck struck twice when I was hired by yet another wonderful manager.
Regrettably, subsequent managers provided the “opportunity” to witness appalling treatment of both employees and customers. Still relatively naïve, I unconsciously swept their behavior under the rug in an attempt to gain valuable experience.
As my skill-set grew, I became disillusioned with my own attempts to lead. Emulating a combination of previous managers, who overall, seemed successful, led to followers who appeared blatantly angry, humiliated, and hostile. Advised not to take it personally, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing wrong and how I could change. With a warrior mentality, I read every work regarding leadership I could find and studied leaders as if by doing so I could internalize their success merely by being in their presence.
My leadership skills improved, yet something was still missing. I fervently questioned reasons why I was obsessively engaged when being led by some and so greatly disappointed when being led by others.
It took a truly unfortunate interaction with a leader long ago for me to embrace that even in the workplace I was a learning, feeling, developing, mistake-making fallible human being….and that there was nothing anyone could do to change this. The difference between those leaders who got the best and worst of me was their willingness to unconditionally accept me. Those who received my highest level of loyalty, performance, engagement, and respect were those who liked and even embraced my humanness.
Downshifting emotionally, I tapped into a level of humility that allowed me to personally, yet not unprofessionally, connect with those I was leading. Forgiveness, understanding, compassion…the willingness to let go of control enveloped me. Resultantly, I felt the vulnerability and fear of those I was leading. I could see and feel the need for hand-holding and that was okay! I could connect with their lack of confidence and disbelief in their abilities.
I listened. Then, I listened some more and allowed for silence and space. Never have I experienced employees so willing and hungry to give everything they have to their work. The change was so fast and dramatic it was emotionally overwhelming. There was no need to question how those I lead felt; it was clear that through their actions they felt just as I had at the beginning of my career.
*Photo courtesy of http://i368.photobucket.com/albums/oo121/4thfrog_2008/2uel34n.jpg
Cheryl DePonte is a Human Resources Learning and Performance Specialist at The Ken Blanchard Companies and has over 15 years experience in the fields of organizational effectiveness and human resources development.