Estimated reading time: 4 mins
I just discovered the ‘essence’ of leadership, viewed from a different angle. I share what I learned right here.
The term leadership is often narrowed into discussion and tales about ‘methodology’, ‘leadership approach’, ‘leader/follower/situation’ – all of which are valid and have appropriate places in management theory and practise. In fact I talk about them often on my blog and when working.
I’ve been a leader in business for a number of years now, but something happened to me last week that made me think again about what leadership is all about. It had a curious and powerful effect on me.
I read something that resulted in a mind-shift away from seeing leadership from an ‘outside-in’ view, and towards an ‘inside-out’ view. It really challenged how I view other people as real people, or just objects. At the time, I was reading Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box from the Arbinger Institute.
It is an unusual book on leadership.
What struck me at first was that the book is written as a quasi-novel. It’s written in the first person; our ‘hero’ is a man who has just joined a successful organization as an executive, and he is preparing meeting the head-honcho. I don’t read many ‘management’ books like that (do you?)
The story unfolds to bring in the most important aspects of leadership – the interactions of people, not just on the surface, but deeper into how our ‘leadership interactions’ affect our self-esteem and self-importance. Especially when we’re feeling leadership is something being ‘done’ to us, or we’re ‘doing it’ to someone else.
Spoken in the first person, leadership principles are revealed in context and as we think, devoid of the usual text-book BS. Each page I turned, I wanted to know more. (It was like reading a Dan Brown novel!)
As a narrative, the effect of leadership interactions seem more acute, and it led me to see myself in the shoes of the people within the story, rather than viewing it from the outside. It frequently provoked me to think about my own past encounters, from the other person’s perspective. Like ‘did I really make XXXX feel that way? What a jerk I must have been!’ And when reading one part of the book, I could recall a similar moment where I had behaved inexcusably, although I didn’t see it that way at the time.
It’s fair to say that it encouraged me to reconsider some of the things I’ve ‘done’ to people before now, and I’ll be honest with you – I was embarrassed by some of it too. Wow!
The main thrust of the book is to ask one question; are we ‘in the box’ or not. In the box refers to whether we view other people as ‘objects’. From our personal viewpoint, we look at other through biased lens. This means that we often (and mostly inadvertently) try to lift up our own self-esteem by reducing someone else’s. We treat people as things that we do things to. It’s powerful reading, let me tell you.
This book isn’t written to make us beat ourselves up. What you will get from this, I am sure of, is when you read this book you will experience powerful eureka! moments, perhaps even through a veil of tears (or curled toes). It hits hard, but its so enjoyable.
And once you have read it, like me I am sure you will be so glad you did. It did make me think twice about past times and behaviors, and in some instances it resulted in a memory becoming more painful than it was before, but sure enough this book shines the torch on leadership in a totally unique way. It offers us a different view of cause and effect. It results in deep-inward reflection on what it is like to be a leader, and what it is like to be led as a follower. If you can marry the two up without perceiving a gap (measured in units of self-esteem) then you are already a truly great leader, but if you’re like me and you can see still a way to go, then you will have learned something amazing, and cathartic.
If you’re a budding leader, or even an experienced one, you should read this book. It will make you think, and it will reward you too. Although it isn’t for the faint hearted!