Sharing Power: Motives, Methods, and Madness of Aspiring Leaders

RITCH HOCHSTETLER

Sharing Power: Motives, Methods, and Madness of Aspiring Leaders

You’d have to be a mole to not see the power vacuum that exists in leadership today! Across the spectrum, from politicians to CEO’s to managers and coaches, ego stroking, posturing, and gaslighting anyone or anything that gets in your way have too often become habits of practice for those in power.

What have we become? Is it possible to do a reset on the core identity, motive, and work of a healthy leader?

I believe that finding our way back, not only to civility, but to a healthy mindset and practice of what it means to lead others will ultimately require two things; 1) An invasive assessment of the state of our self-awareness, and 2) A bold pursuit of feedback that includes an openness to solicit radical candor from those closest to us who we share life with and work together.

Organizational Psychologist Tasha Eurich, in her book Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think, shares research that 85% of people feel that they are self-aware, while only 15% actually are.   She goes on to share how the research shows that self-awareness—knowing who we are and how others see us—is the foundation for high performance, smart choices, and lasting relationships. 

Without a strong sense of self-awareness, leadership becomes a dangerous proposition.  Ego, which when operating within healthy boundaries, fuels competence, agency, volition, and voice.  But when unhealthy, ego hijacks motive and means of exerting power for its own selfish ends.  This results in leaders who wield power through manipulation and control with a distorted view of authority.  You don’t have to look very far today to see examples of leaders obsessed with power who claim to be public servants, but whose attitudes and behaviors are ultimately fueled by desires to achieve their own advantage. 

If lack of self-awareness is a root cause of toxic power broking in leaders, then what can be done to cultivate it? 

Travis Bradberry, in his book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, shares a basic definition of self-awareness as the process of getting to know yourself from the inside out. This requires competencies that must be developed including; the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment as they are happening, and the ability to differentiate between different emotions and what is driving them.  Only then can you understand your trigger points – what causes your reactions to specific events, challenges, or people.

The reality is, without a strong sense of self-awareness, you may think you’re a nice person and doing well as a leader…at least that’s what your ego is telling you.  I’ve not encountered people who can get real clarity on who they are and how they are coming across to others without intentionally stopping, becoming mindful, taking an assessment, or consulting with a quality coach, to grow authentic awareness of who they are and growing competencies to sustain a healthy sense of competence on their leadership journey.  Otherwise, whether you perceive it or not, the lure of power seduces us and twists our motives. Robert Greenleaf, often referred to as “The Father of Servant Leadership,” once said, “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” This clarity of motive can only come with self-awareness that disarms our ego and keeps us from being enamored by our own words, ideas, and presence.  And this is the only way to be the kind of leader who shares power with deep respect for others and the responsibility that comes with holding a position of authority.

A second practice I believe is essential to finding our way back to a kind of leadership that understands the importance of sharing power is a bold pursuit of feedback.  This should come with the warning, “Not for the faint of heart,” as it unveils weakness, imperfection, blind spots, bad habits, and  ulterior motives. Though all of this may sound as enticing as getting a root canal, it is essential if we are to reach an essential benchmark as leaders: humility.

Daryl Van Tongeren, in his book, Humble: Free Yourself from the Traps of a Narcissistic World, says, “In relationships, intellectual humility is on display when admitting we’re wrong, revising our beliefs in response to a good argument, avoiding arrogance or superiority when presenting our views, welcoming feedback, being curious about new ideas and alternative viewpoints, and interacting with others who hold different opinions with respect and empathy.”

He goes on to say that when we become so attached to our own ideas or belief systems, it becomes encoded in our brains to such an extent that we struggle to change.  In my experience, the only way out of the cave of our own making is to solicit radical candor from people we trust will give us authentic feedback, even if it hurts.

Humility that results from accepting and validating authentic feedback has the power to change how we engage with and lead others.  It has the power to alter how we see disagreement or difference, not as challenge to our authority, but as an invitation to learn.  Ultimately, this opens the way to share power and co-create something better together.  And it opens the way for the development of team and organizational cultures where everyone has ownership and believes that their contribution matters.

Aristotle asked the question, “What is the essence of life?”  And his answer, “To serve others and do good.”  What if we all made the commitment as aspiring leaders to increase self-awareness and pursue and validate feedback in order to grow humility?  How might our culture or world be different if sharing power and leading from a desire to serve the needs of others first become the true marks of leadership?  You and I may not be able to change the world, but we can commit to being the one person, manager, or leader for others who makes the difference.

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