When I started designing my business cards, I knew I wanted a quote that summed up my views on leading and leadership to be part of the design. Googling ‘leadership’ was an exercise in excess, but after wading through reams of sound bites and other quotes, I stumbled upon this line from Henry Kissinger. Say what you will about the man, this quote is perhaps not only a fantastic summary of my views on leadership, but also serves as ongoing inspiration for my daily personal and professional life.
I’ve never enjoyed thinking of leadership as a ‘power over’ relationship. While there will always be an implicit sense of power or control when someone is identified as knowing or doing more than others, the notion of a leader as being above others merely by virtue of a title or a few year’s extra experience never appealed to me. Transactional leadership and its emphasis on the need to get things done, while certainly important in today’s fast paced professional world, only scratches the surface for me when it comes to the true duties of someone given the title of leader. I say given because I subscribe to Chester Barnard’s Fiction of Superior Authority, wherein a leader only possess power because their followers make the decision (consciously or not) to give up some of their own power and place their trust in the leader. This act in and of itself may move people from where they have always been to a different place where their views on leadership and authority are challenged.
Leadership, for me, truly is about moving people out of their comfort zone and pushing them to think more broadly, aim higher and consider new and different points of view. Real, productive growth doesn’t happen in a bubble or a vacuum – it is triggered by a new experience, a chance to step outside of those protective walls we’ve built that serve only to shield us from discomfort.
Kissinger’s quote reminds us that leadership is a relationship, a dialouge and a process. I may be able to get you to do something as a leader, but my true purpose isn’t to get you to do things my way, it’s to help you learn how to do something in your own way, getting you to think outside the box and become a more complete, even more awesome version of yourself, rather than a carbon copy of me. In all that I do professionally these days, I want my students and colleagues to walk away from time with me inspired to do better on their own, rather than trying to be more like me. Imitation has never been the sincerest form of flattery for me – it’s frankly disappointing and makes me feel like I haven’t done my job. Moving people from where they are to where they have not been is transformational, not transactional, and requires nurturing that initial spark of inspiration I hope to light into an ongoing process of learning together.