I have the privilege of working with leaders on a daily basis; each are brilliant in their own right, applying their unique gifts to the things that matter both to them and to others. To be a leader you must truly want the position, not for the perks or the assumed compensation, but because you have a deep desire to be a producer on one of the world’s most chaotic stages, that place where ego and outcome manifest within a context of disorder. More simply put, those who truly aspire to leadership are comfortable working within the unknown.
We ask our leaders to navigate the unknown every day, but often not from a place of curiosity and exploration. Most often modern business assumes a mantel of purpose built context holding in place a lens of proficiency…of agency. This sometimes creates a very thin veil, one we have seen collapse again and again in the media as organizations become bankrupt, involve themselves in scandal, or are so caught up in their own importance they forget why they are there in the first place. Rather than being a call to consciousness, this lens of agency often gives the impression that there is little room for error and often no place for failure in today’s business (profit) model. It is a difficult place to navigate from and within; it can make the unknown a place fraught with danger rather than a place of opportunity with only your conscience as a guide.
Leaders formulate the conduit through which passes the unknown, turning it into the known so it can be acted upon. This act of courage, taking something that is unknown and then making it knowable, is practiced by many; academics, artists, writers, innovators, etc. are all responsible for taking nothing, an idea, and building it into something that was not present before. Leaders do this not in a vacuum or by themselves, but with the assistance of many hands, each providing a piece of the “puzzle” until the picture is complete. As a leader you may not consider yourself particularly creative or “artsy”, but problem solving requires a measure of creativity…and a mind capable of being focused and productive within the unknown. Add to this the beautiful randomness of humans (whom you lead into, and then rely upon to figure a way out of, the unknown) and you have an incredibly challenging role, one that requires conscious leaders to be unselfish in their understanding of both what is happening and what is needed, making quick decisions that have the possibility of impacting others (staff, clients or the organization as a whole). This calls on leaders to have the ability to be in the unknown, and to be there unselfishly, ensuring the needs of others come before your own (or else risk the outcome of the journey).
So how do you ensure your leadership has this unselfish quality, this ability to work in the unknown with calm purpose holding the needs of others in your hands? Truly remarkable leaders have something in common…they listen. This act of listening is undertaken with intent to understand (as opposed to the intent to respond). See if you can feel the difference by using Eric Fromm’s six guidelines for mastering the art of unselfish understanding (from his posthumously publish book The Art of Listening):
How well do you listen? How well you listen impacts how effectively you traverse the unknown.
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.