By Bonnie Hutchinson
Leading from the inside
I’ve been thinking about “leadership” these days – my own and other people’s.
Whether watching the Oilers or the federal Conservative party’s leadership campaign, noticing our family’s dynamics or how we as a species are responding to climate change, leadership is a factor.
And, of course, we all love to criticize whoever is leading whatever level of government. The typical stereotype of “leader” I grew up with was the person with official authority who gave orders, expected and usually got obedience, and was assumed to know the right thing to do.
As I grew into adulthood and as the world changed, I began to see other kinds of leaders. I learned about the value of “influence without authority” as a form of leadership. I learned about “legitimizers” – people who may or may not have formal authority but whose influence is such that others will not cross them.
Leadership is not … One intensive weekend, I was one of about 40 participants with guest lecturers from the Kennedy School of Leadership at Harvard. They turned my ideas about leadership upside down.
“Leadership is not about power; leadership is not about status; leadership is not about money; leadership is not about charisma; though all those things might be useful,” the speaker began.
I could feel my brain start to form question marks. “Leadership is about getting the work done.” Pause here to let that sink in. “And the work is – helping people meet their developmental challenge.”
What? So what’s a developmental challenge?
A developmental challenge is something you need to master – and everything you know so far doesn’t equip you to master the challenge.
Child example. Watching a little one master the skill of walking is a great example of a developmental challenge. Activities that help you crawl don’t help you walk. Nothing about crawling on hands and knees helps you learn to balance on two feet. That’s a good example of a developmental challenge–when, in order to grow to your next level of development, everything you know so far doesn’t get you there.
Adult examples. Learning to walk is a physical example. As adults, we may still have physical challenges (golf comes to mind!), but our greater challenges are often social, emotional, mental or spiritual. For example, many of us have had the experience of knowing how to be a good parent–right up until we had children! Then it got more challenging, in ways we could not have predicted.
As near as I can tell, every decade has its unique developmental challenge. To use a personal example, over many decades I learned how to make things happen and move things forward. But now I’m encountering situations where all my finely-honed skills actually get in the way. Everything I think I’m good at is not helpful.
Besides the blow to my ego, mastering the art of letting go, of allowing instead of striving – those might sound easy but they are not. However, they are easy compared to being at peace with acknowledging I am incorrect! That goes against the grain of what I have valued for decades. I have to overcome or work around my own brain pathways.
It’s definitely a developmental challenge. Lucky thing I already learned to walk! And why does that matter?
Circumstances, opportunities and our own thoughts, emotions and actions keep creating challenges we didn’t have before. In order to keep going in our lives, we will be well-served if we can master those developmental challenges. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of leading from the inside out, of mastering our own developmental challenges, and even sharing our missteps with fellow travellers as forms of leadership.
On a larger scale, as a human species, we’ve created challenges bordering on crises. There is no leader who can save us. We need openness to new kinds of thinking and receptiveness to new kinds of leadership if we are to survive on the planet. That’s a human race developmental challenge! I expect to keep pondering this for the foreseeable future…
If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send a note to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com