Bing Gordon, partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, claimed in a New York Times interview “that people want leaders who give them confidence. In a start-up company or in a creative process, there’s turmoil. Every day feels like you’re looking into the maw of a black hole, and you want somebody around who’s confident, who you think is competent, who can kind of create a floor and say: Don’t worry. It’s not going to get worse than this.”
What this points to is the idea that leadership is about providing a sense of order. Why? People, all people, fundamentally need to have a sense of order, a touchstone of stability and trust. Leadership is about developing humanly productive relationships. This is particularly the case in times of change.
I am sure most of us have at one time or another heard the advice you have to trust someone. It appears that trust is something we all strive to want others to have in us and want to have in another. We are social beings and as such we require trust. Could it be that without having relationships built on trust we feel insecure, alone and adrift? What is it about the human condition that makes trust an essential part of life?
No doubt trust is a very precious yet precarious phenomenon. Deciding to put your trust in another is quite a risky proposition. Yet without trust none of us could have a humanly productive relationship with others. Perhaps this is why many leadership development workshops utilize experiential exercises such are ropes courses or climbing walls that require—actually force—participants to trust each other. Avoidance of trust isn’t natural it’s that fear—the untrustworthiness of the other or the culture—makes it appear so.
As Bing explained, “Once you decide you want to accomplish something in an organization, you kind of get a sense that you’re in a room and people are looking at you and you kind of bear a mantle of responsibility.” What is this responsibility? It is the responsibility is to be worthy of another’s trust. That is, the challenge to those who wish to be a positive influence upon others and to access the will of others for their collaborative efforts toward change is to embody truthfulness.
There is little doubt that fear is a very powerful emotion; it causes us to stop in our tracks. Fear alerts us of danger; it alerts us when the situation is risky—so we feel fear. It causes us to defend against that which we perceive as danger, even if it is opportunity. So if leadership is about helping people see opportunity ahead, initiating fear would be antithetical. We now can understand the wisdom in Deming’s point #8, drive out fear…and replace it with leadership. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, most management practices are grounded in the use of fear. Why do so many talk of leadership yet continue to teach and adopt these hurtful practices?
This is an excellent exploration of the real meaning of leadership: Building constructive two-way relationships that encourage joint effort to the benefit of both/all.
You’re a absolutely right that leadership cannot be imposed — it is freely given by the “led.” My long work with Project Management has taught me that leadership comes from the hearts of people who believe this person (leader) can help me attain something of value to me. All I need to do is listen and join.
True leadership in difficult circumstances moves around the group, and the effective leader endorses and falls in behind emerging leadership of others in the group as appropriate.
Thanks for the insights.