Saturday, May 13, 2006

on leaders

Len Hjalmarson over at Next Reformation has a quote on leaders and a summary of Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak.
“A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay between shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.” Parker Palmer, “Let Your Life Speak”

If we as leaders are to cast less shadow and more light, we need to explore our shadow selves and experience the transformation that can happen as we grow and mature. There are five interior monsters according to Palmer.

1. insecurity about identity and worth. Many leaders have an extroverted orientation that makes this hard to see. But often extroversion is a way to cope with self-doubt; plunging into external activity to prove that we are worthy.. or simply to evade the question. When we are insecure about our identity we create settings that deprive other people of theirs as a way of buttressing our own.

2. the conviction that the world is a battle-ground, hostile to human interests. This metaphor grips the imagination of some leaders, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that creates high stakes games, intense competition, and requires fierce loyalty. The fear of losing the fight creates conditions where people feel compelled to live as if they were at war.

3. functional atheism, the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This shadow leads us to impose our will on others, and often results in depression, burnout and despair. It explains why the average group can barely tolerate fifteen seconds of silence. If we are not making noise, nothing good is happening and perhaps something is dying.

4. fear, especially fear of chaos. Many of us are deeply devoted to eliminating chaos in the world. We want to organize and orchestrate thigns so that messiness does not intrude and overwhelm us. We especially want to avoid change, dissent, and pain. This shadow results in rigidity of rules, creating an ethos that is imprisoning rather than empowering.

5. the denial of death. Behind this denial lurks the fear of failure, and the belief that failure reflects on my deep identity. In most organizations failure means a pink slip, and deep shame. The best leaders know that failure is a source of profound learning, and they reward risks. Faith is spelled R I S K.

I think Palmer has hit the nail on the head for many of us in leadership. Has he been reading my notes?


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