Many years ago I worked with a client who was thinking of starting up her own business. She had many talents, and interests with lots to offer. Part of the process of finding out where she wanted to go, why and how she might do it was to explore her current employment which seemed to be causing her much angst, anger and frustration.
One of the biggest “thorns” in her workplace side was her boss. He seemed to evoke many negative emotions. She felt she was really good at what she did, but was often overlooked. She observed that her boss was quite formal and sometimes strained with her in comparison to other people who worked with him. Worse, she recounted a couple of occasions when others had got great work projects and raises, and she wasn’t even considered despite her obvious and impressive skill at what she did.
The relationship between one particular colleague and the boss made her completely see red. Her boss had a particularly great working relationship with the other lady, and even the little things like her boss saying “good morning” with gusto to this lady and sharing a laugh and anecdotes, made my client feel left out, isolated and unappreciated.
When I asked her to tell me what she thought of her boss she happily rattled away about his ability to be divisive, unfair, have favourites, unappreciative, and moody. I then asked her to put herself in her colleague’s shoes and to think about how she might describe him. The light, even at this early stage began to dawn, when she started using words like, friendly, likable, amusing, appreciative, and many more being the opposite of her own view. I then asked her if she had ever considered that her colleague might have a more successful relationship with their boss because she saw him in a more positive light. Setting a task for her to go into work and to simply view her boss through the eyes of her colleague and to see what happened; even I was unprepared for the magical change which she experienced between that coaching session and the next.
At the next session she was simply amazed at the difference she found with him when her attitude towards him changed, even though she didn’t actually say too much to him. She said he started off smiling at her, began stopping by to have a chat now and then, and even took her into his office to tell her what a remarkable job she was doing. The penny had dropped and she learned a valuable life lesson in that our relationships are often formed by our attitudes we hold towards others. Authentic leadership is born of such understanding.
Human relationships are one of the most fertile, challenging and rewarding arenas for growth and development of self-awareness, and they are the best training ground for authentic leadership. Being aware of and actively improving relationships both inside and external to the workplace is the cornerstone of great leadership development,. and authentic leadership. Not only must relationships be evaluated and given attention and effort, they must be appreciated for the learning opportunities which they hold.
The problem is we look at relationships through the wrong lens mostly. We use relationships to gauge our own or others self-worth, or we use them as if there is a hierarchy of good and bad people (I can hear the outcry now), we use them to suffer rather than celebrate. In the workplace, the extent of our discussions about relationships is limited to those about contractual terms and conditions. These simply ignore one of the fundamental musts for authentic leadership, personal relationships, and I don’t mean romantic ones! If only we could just grasp the fact that relationships are learning opportunities which increase the opportunity for authentic leadership, then we would create a much better world and lay the way for much more effective and caring authentic leadership.
For me, some of the authentic leadership lessons, human relationships hold are:
- Learning that love comes from within, and is not lost even when another is not around – find the love within despite what is happening outside.
- That we hate in others the capacity or capability of that trait in ourselves – Forgive others. and yourself if you manage to see the potential or even the behaviour in you.
- People feel what you are thinking about them, even if they aren’t consciously aware and so honesty is vital – Examine your thought behaviours and patterns as if they were transparent.
- We often project our own script onto others – True listening and open-mindedness is essential to hearing others and understanding who they are.
- Fear makes us want to attack and we fear being attacked – heal the fear and learn to trust one’s own self first.
- Everyone is equally as valuable – without exception. Yes some people do bad things and I am not minimising that, and some people do heroically brilliant things. At the heart of who we are we all have some good, some bad and the extent of the love or fear we allow in our lives dictates our behaviour.
- Perceptions are not fixed, in any given situation they can change. How we perceive others cannot ever be wholly accurate and therefore not to be trusted as an absolute authority.
- Withholding judgment of others doesn’t mean not getting out of harm’s way.
- We are interdependent, no “man” is an island
- Love is the force which we always uncover if we are open to it.
In the workplace, while relationships may not be so intensely reflected as in the above examples, the principals still hold true. Authentic leadership, can flourish when it is know:
- All roles in the workplace are important and everyone is valuable for the part they play. On a human level everyone is equally as valuable.
- People of different abilities and skills will come and go in the workplace equal to the growth of the organisation. Appreciating that there should be healthy relationships for past, present and future employees are essential.
- The quality of the way teams and individuals view and speak about each other in the workplace needs work and attention. Relationship building should be pivotal in growing and succeeding in the business.
- People will live up to the leaders expectations of them. When operating from authentic leadership, the best is expected.
- Communication strategies have to be honest, authentic and two way.
- People must be encouraged to learn about themselves and others with a view to widening understanding.
Relationships are one of the cornerstones of authentic leadership, badging these as “soft skills” simply isn’t tenable any longer. They are HARD, emotionally charged lessons to learn, but if we have the courage to get into that particular class, and truly learn those skills then the rewards will be huge.
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