Hidden Lessons in Leadership #8

A New York Times interview with Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, speaks to a fundamental issue of management. As Niki Leondakis relates “people seem to swing to one end of the pendulum or the other — overzealous with power or, “I’m everybody’s friend, and I want them to like me, and if they like me maybe they’ll do what I ask and then it’ll be easier.”

These are not two opposite ends along a continuum, but rather they each are reflective of different ways of ego-centered management. Both reflect insecurity, fear, and an undeveloped sense of self.  In fact, many times the power zealot also strives to develop a cadre of co-dependents, who also double as friends.  Effective management is neither of these nor is it a balance between them, no matter how they are blended or balanced.

So what would be a more effective approach to managing/leading?  Just as Niki was told by her manager, “just tap into who you are.”  So, why do this?  You do it because it is the foundation of productive relationships and in turn of sustainable managerial/leadership effectiveness.  Acting out of your humanness, and not your title or fear of not being liked, necessitates acknowledging your I-We nature.

Managing with an understanding of your ‘I-We’ nature, moves you toward a greater sense of self. That is, while you and I are different individual ‘I’s’ we are not separate ‘Me’s’. This ‘I’ that I am and the ‘I’ that you are are deeply connected. And by acknowledging and acting on this connection we become a ‘We’. Recognizing our ‘I-We’ nature puts us in touch with the individual and collective aspects of being human and to the simultaneous responsibility we have as a result. We can’t help but to care. When people know that you actually care then you become trustworthy.  You are worthy of another’s trust, which is far better than being everybody’s friend.

Trust is the antecedent to collaboration and learning.  And aren’t these the mark of sound management!  For example in the absence of trust, with no one likely surfacing mistakes and failure, learning opportunities become lost opportunities.  As previously noted in an earlier posting, it seems clear that the more the workplace aligns with our humanness, the more humanly and materially productive the organization will be.  Accordingly, it is the responsibility of management to embody the very conditions necessary for—the antecedents of—a productive workplace.

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