Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of courage and connection

I was speaking to a colleague yesterday about our mutual work with leaders/leadership. We were lamenting the disproportionate number of leaders who confuse possession of a large ego for that special quality of "presence." Fortunately, many of our clients do not suffer this delusion; they are not those stereotypical extrovert glad-handers. In fact, as I have written before, many good leaders dwell in that interesting space between extroversion and introversion. So the general assumption that a super-sized ego is necessary to strong leadership is (thankfully!) an idea on its way out.

Henry V: courageous and inspiring
When looking at definitions of leadership, one quality jumps out at me. It is often mentioned as if everyone knows what it means and how to cultivate it, but rarely discussed: Courage. An authentic leader, one who can inspire followers, must have courage. This is a deeply personal quality, one not possessed by all who want to lead -- especially if the desire to lead springs from a sense of entitlement. Such leaders manqué try to fool people by mimicking courage with a showy ego, or aggrandized view of self. They fall back on "fake it till you make it", applying what can be a useful technique to their inappropriate circumstances. No matter how hard they try, they will never be the leaders their egos tell them they deserve to be. They lack true courage.

But where does such courage come from? Research of social worker Brene Brown deals with the fact that the best leaders are the ones whose courage comes, counter-intuitively, through the recognition of their own vulnerability. See her excellent TED talk  for a fuller discussion of this.

Dr. Brown suggests that we must not only identify our own weakness, we must embrace it as part of the human condition. That is the only way to achieve what she calls the "whole-heartedness" that allows us to feel worthy of love, belonging, and connection. And without that sense of authentic connection, no one can be an effective leader. Look to Shakepeare's Henry V as an example of a leader who has learned this the hard way. He has grown from the wastrel Prince Hal to King Henry who rallies his troops while acknowledging their mortality. His courage and connection are intertwined and fully expressed in the eloquent St. Cripsin's Day, a.k.a "band of brothers" speech.

I tell clients who are working on their authentic leadership presence  that being willing to draw upon your whole self to communicate in this way is not for the faint of heart. But it is the best way to courageously connect. And inspire your followers.

No comments:

Post a Comment