A leadership question: “What do you believe in that most of your followers or peers disagree with?”
I heard Warren Buffet use this question to tease out people’s core values. He notes that while it makes sense for leaders to be in synch with their followers, he is seeking to find the values that drive their leadership moments.
Compassion. That is where I have unfortunately diverged from my peers on many occasions and even disappointed some of my followers. It seems incoherent that such a universally appreciated quality as compassion would evoke disagreement. But it does. Our management training, which is far too often mistaken for leadership, is intentionally result-driven, imposing a widely accepted harshness on people. We are to seek our objectives seemingly at all costs. We are rewarded because we make the hard decisions; we cannot and must not flinch or show weakness; vulnerability has little room in the C-suite.
We have all had situations when we are confronted with actions forced upon us by lawyers, bosses, boards, etc. The action, most often, is masked as a binary choice, doing or not doing (which we all know is not a real option). Everything is set in motion to fire someone; let’s take that as an example. Whatever the reason, the person to be fired has been reduced to a letter; eye contact is minimized, third parties are present to soften the blow or deliver a dispassionate, procedural message. We are told this is for the best; rip off the band-aid sort of an explanation.
Compassionate leadership recognizes the very fact that we have a choice; we always have options. As a friend of mine used to say, there are many numbers between zero and one. Even if we believe that the final action is necessary, we can choose How to do what we must do. It is never easy to live up to one’s values; the pressure is unbearable at times. We are told of protecting the institution, minimizing risk. Isn’t this the same as killing the other soldier because if you don’t, they will kill you? But we are at work and not at war; when we act as such, our atrocity is that of being inhuman. Shouldn’t that give us pause?
Sun Tzu or Machiavelli and contemporary management books masquerading as leadership lessons have been required reading for far too long. There are no followers in these books; organizational hierarchies and fear-based or incentive-based concepts define the relationships and, as we all know, that is for a limited period only. Books on leadership are found in the humanities sections of the bookstores!
Faithful followers are moved by compassion, authenticity, courage, vulnerability, vision, and a leader’s integrity even if they disagree with the intended action. Their relationship is based on an emotional connection which is far more resilient than those we form around content, fears, or incentives.
Since the Epic of Gilgamesh(the oldest work of literature-circa 2100 BC), we have known that the brain has the capacity to betray us while our hearts remain true to who we are. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line of our progression, we severed the connection between the heart and the mind, literally rendering us heartless in most of our decisions. 21st-century leadership must be human-centered, serving our humanity, consumed by breaking down this artificial wall and, in the process, changing our trajectory.
But human-to-human (#H2H) endeavor is not for the fainthearted; it is a relentless slug against societal pressures which praise objects over essential human needs; to be valued, to matter, to be appreciated and recognized, to be trusted, and finally, to be loved.
How can we give our leadership an H2H boost? Dr. Richard Davidson, neuroscientist and mindfulness expert, shares the four pillars of well-being and by extension the leadership journey to strengthen our humanity. It begins with awareness of who we are and what we value; our emotions, triggers, and responses are how we present ourselves in moments of stress. We learn to believe that human connections are strengthened through deep sharing of emotions, gratitude, kindness, and vulnerability. We use our curiosity to gain insight into ourselves, learning to have a different relationship with the negative narratives we have assembled about ourselves or others. Last but not least, we work to give meaning and purpose to everything we are already doing or wish to do; we connect it with our values.
As I said earlier, this is a road laden with difficulty, setbacks, and disincentives; a Chutes and Ladders mindset is necessary to keep moving forward. Relentless forward progress is how we collectively fight for humanity and win.
What do you believe in that your followers or peers find objectionable?
With gratitude and care,
Ramin and EmC Team