Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Inner Skills of Leadership

"I've looked at some training programs for leaders. I'm discouraged by how they often focus on the development of skills to manipulate the external world rather than the skills necessary to go inward and make the inner journey."

--Parker Palmer

Leaders, by definition both assume positions of power and impact other people through their use of power. Two key questions are: 1. how do we define power? and 2. how does a leader use their power?

A familiar image of power is the "power over kind," where power is a currency granted to those at the top of a hierarchy, those with the greatest material resources or those who by virtue of being appointed take on positions of power. This kind of power involves manipulating the external environment, including the people who are part of it. In this model of leadership there are "power haves"and "power have nots." Power must be granted to the "power have not" by the "power haves." This model can feel highly empowered and sometimes omnipotent for those on top, and highly disempowering and sometimes impotent for those on the bottom.

Another image of power, one that may be less familiar in common circles, is a "power with" model. In this model, the "leader" may be in the front of a project or effort, but does not operate from a "power haves" and "power have nots" model. In this model, the leader does not wish to control or have power over. S/he seeks to cultivate the natural power that lives inside each of the people s/he works with. To the degree the leader develops his/her own inner resources, and develops an internally grounded sense of power, the leader holds a space with other people that encourages, models and may even inspire, internally grounded power in others. Parker Palmer notes that leaders in our society often rise to power by "operating very competently and effectively in the external world, sometimes at the cost of inner awareness." These people tend toward extroversion, which may include "a tendency to ignore what is going on inside themselves." The externally oriented model is focused more on doing and producing tangible results in a concrete way, than on being and the process by which results are produced, including the impact on the people involved in the process. Worked long and sometimes inhuman hours, overlooking our basic human needs, including the need to eat when the body is hungry, to take breaks to walk around and decompress, to go to the bathroom in a timely manner are common when we focus on the externally driven model of leadership and success. There is often a high personal price paid to succeed under these conditions and a high internal price paid to work for the leader who models and demands this kind of work environment. Some of the inner skills of leadership that need to be cultivated include: * Meditation and reflection, to develop and maintain a spiritual connection with self and the larger world * Learning to listen to and heed the signals of one's own body, including when to eat, when to focus, when to relax and when to go to the bathroom * Learning what ones own natural skills and gifts are and what skills are best sought from other people * A sense of internal power through knowing who one is, rather than seeking external power that can be granted or taken away by others * A sense of groundedness: emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, that leads to "good decisions" in a wholistic sense. Good results are generated through a fair and healthy process for self and others. * An inner sense of timing. This includes a sense of right pace (for self and others), when to stop and when to proceed. * Using intuition as a sense of guidance in addition to facts and other concrete information. Integrating facts and intuition usually produces a more complete picture for decision making If a leader models the above skills, s/he will inspire others to do the same. And both our organizations and our world will reflect more fairness, equity and ultimately, sustainability.

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