Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Photo by William Bout
In the “barbaric yawp” post, we discussed how awareness of small moments of leading can have big effects on how we make sense of our own leadership. In this second part of the ‘making sense of leadership” series, we will unpack the first step in this sensemaking process: seeing opportunities to lead and develop leadership.
Often, we are triggered to lead when we see a moment that is familiar, which can come in the form of having had a similar experience in a different domain of life, yet, the situation and requisite behavior to lead is familiar. An example might be that you have to motivate people in your volunteer organization all the time by inspiring them. Your work might call for similar leading behaviors to motivate your subordinates. In these moments, our internal thought process is that the moment is connected to other past successes in leading and all we have to do is behave just as we have in the past in similar situations in order to influence. Such moments we label “noticing connections,” and while these are great moments for us to claim leadership, rarely do they challenge us to develop into more complex leaders with broader skill sets. In short, what we have always done always works, so we keep doing the same thing. A connection.
But people tend to develop and grow when they are challenged. Leaders are no exception. When people lead in many domains, i.e., at work, with friends, with family, in the community, the demands for leading may differ. When a person uses the same leading behaviors with family or in the community as at work, sometimes those behaviors are ineffective. These become head-scratchers for the leader – how is it that I’m so effective influencing change at work, but I can’t get anywhere convincing my child to do his homework? In these moments, the leader is seeing a disconnection.
Disconnections often come in the form of conflict, challenges, and in some instances, they can be quite profound. As an example, one of our students described a disconnection when he realized that his organization valued a certain leadership style: aggressive, abrasive, and at times, abusive. The student had adapted his leadership to fit into the organization’s culture, and had been very successful there as a result. He had been promoted a few times and was constantly praised by his supervisor. However, feedback from other life domains identified that this abusive manner of leading was spilling over to where it did not belong, namely, in the family domain. By seeing this disconnection, our student became more mindful and deliberate about his leadership behaviors. The manner by which he was triggered to reflect based on this disconnection is the topic of the next post in the making sense of leadership series. Take a look at your own leadership in the domains of your life. Do you see connections? And how about disconnections?