Too many of us think that leaders are born, not made. We presume that leadership is an innate skill that we either have, or we do not. The reality is that leadership skills can be successfully taught, and learned. More importantly, good leadership gets demonstrated in a variety of contexts, by people of all levels and from all walks of life. Leadership isn’t necessarily the product of conscious intention; it shows up because it is needed. Above all, though, leadership is a performance; it involves embracing the behaviours and performing the roles that are essential in the moment, in response to the situation, to attain the outcomes that are required.
Last week was a difficult one for many. In one decision, rights have been taken away that were long-accepted as fact. There has been a lot of rage and sadness and frustration expressed already. There have also been calls highlighting the importance of others making their voice heard in support. That’s an interesting challenge. It is not easy being an ally. It is not something we are trained for. Nonetheless, there are approaches and strategies to engage in that will help.
How do we make a difference in the world? In particular, how do we make a difference in the face of adversity? These are difficult questions to ask at the best of times. They are especially challenging questions to ask right now. The world is a scary place that feels like it is getting scarier. It is easy to despair of it all, to want to give up and withdraw and make it all go away. Figuring out what to do instead is hard. One path forward comes from the intriguing intersection of ideas shared by a writer, an admiral and a psychologist (not the punchline for a joke).
One of the enduring phrases my father taught me is “trust, but verify.” It is not one that I use myself very often. But it is one that I think about a great deal. Within those three simple words is a great deal of complexity, and an opportunity for a profound amount of insight. It is a phrase that can also be misused: we can be overly intrusive in our approach, but we can also be neglectful. The challenge, as always is finding balance. How much can you trust? And how much do you need to verify?
A recent article made the assertion that being helpful was undermining your job performance. That strikes me as a pretty astonishing take. Not only have many—and hopefully most—of us been raised to see helpfulness as a virtue, it is just about the only way to get things done organizationally. Organizations already have a knowledge management problem. Senior staff start approaching retirement, taking their expertise and their insight with them. Creating boundaries that keep them productively focused may be a short term strategy for profit maximization. It doesn’t play out well in the long term. Here’s what does.
We are faced with a world of complexity. We also have a craving for simple and easy. Our brains and our psyches would really prefer to avoid the messy realities of the world and the inherent difficulty of trying to solve persistent and intractable problems. When faced with a complex problem, we will very often substitute a much simpler answer and pretend that is true. This is where simple gets very complex indeed.