Glory, Self-Disclosure, and Leadership in a Masked World, Part 2: Knowing Followers
Following up on my previous blog as promised, long-haul leadership requires leaders to practice prudent and honest self-disclosure to followers, but just as importantly, they must truly get to know followers in order to lead them effectively. One of the misconceptions under which some leaders labor imagines simplistically that the task of leadership centers on getting people to follow the leader. In fact, the real essential task requires leaders to turn their followers into leaders in their own right. If one had many followers doing nothing more than just following them, leadership would trace a withered, thin, and one-dimensional line of influence. But in fact, it cannot work that way. The thinness of such a line guarantees that it will break. When leaders lead leaders, they create spheres of influence. Imagine that original withered line as a line of dots, but then thickened with followers attached to every dot. Imagine it in three dimensions to take into account the true transcendence of leadership, which effects follower-leaders on many planes of their lives beyond the narrow confines of organizational performance. A line becomes a sphere. Leadership looks more like that non-linear field of reality.
Of course, spherical leadership does not happen unless we look at followers in terms of their whole selves. According to leadership gurus Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus, one of the essential tasks of leadership involves “the deployment of self.” That does not mean that leaders deploy their own selves, but rather the selves of followers. Every person who joins our cause brings with them a whole self, with talents, experiences, personal traits, orientations, skills, perspectives, and importantly, networks. If we do not know what they bring to our organization, we can’t possibly exercise good wisdom in terms of what we ask them to carry. Obviously, we choose certain role players based on their demonstrated abilities, such as choosing a trained accountant to serve as treasurer or CFO. But knowing people beyond their narrow skill sets offers a key to unlocking their spherical potential as leaders. For example, not every accountant can meet the leadership challenges of serving as a CFO, which requires people skills and political sensitivity and many dimensions beyond the strictly mathematical dimension of credits and debits. On the other hand, everyone has more leadership potential than a narrow look at their primary skill set reveals. People have more potential than we realize. The more we know people, the more we know how to deploy their leadership.
When we know followers well, we can encourage them to bring their whole selves to the tasks of leadership—both in their roles and beyond them. Not only does our enterprise benefit from the resulting wholehearted involvement, so does the satisfaction level of those who serve. People do not like to feel reduced to a single dimension. They know that their real worth goes far beyond a particular skill, that their commitments range beyond a narrow cause, and that they have more to offer than the filling of a niche. Knowing people more roundly, more thoroughly, enables us to know what to ask of them as well as giving them the creative freedom to do more than we know to ask. Real leadership means unlocking the leadership within every follower so that they can achieve not only tasks and goals, but real fulfillment in their work, to the full benefit of the organization as well.
At first glance, the wearing of masks would seem to stand as an obstacle against deep knowledge of the people we work with as leaders. On second look, however, it may spur us to move past easy appearances and seek other ways of knowing. I have decided to work harder to know the people I work with—moving past surface appearances into deeper consideration. Deeper knowledge takes longer, but it goes further. For long-haul leaders, the masked world may lead us to ask, as it used to be said of the Lone Ranger, “Who is that masked [person]?” and find that asking the question yields better knowledge than a quick glance at a face could ever offer.