#528  Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 4          May 2001

The New Face of Leadership
by Arky Ciancutti, M.D. and Thomas L. Steding, Ph.D.

Dr. Ciancutti is the founder of The Learning Center (www.learningcenter.net).  Dr. Steding is president of Metacode Technologies, Inc. (www.interwoven.com).  They wrote Built on Trust:  Gaining Competitive Advantage in Any Organization (Contemporary Books, New York, 2000) from which this article is adapted.

Trust is more than a highly esteemed human value.  Along with technology and innovation, it is one of the most powerful forces driving business today.  The most important job of any leader is to breathe life into the connected team, and into the trust that binds that team together and creates its competitive advantage.

The New Amalgam

In a trust-based organization, leadership is a form of emotional custodianship and requires the qualities of connectedness, relatedness, empathy, expressiveness, instinct and compassion.  These right-brain qualities join with traditional, rational left-brain business  skills to make up the core of this new type of leadership.

Many of today’s leaders have not been trained in the emotional aspects of high-performance team life.  In business schools, the emotional content of teams is often given lip service but not effectively addressed.  Yet emotions are at the core of any team.  To produce extraordinary results, we need to understand how such emotional dynamics as trust, fear, dignity and meaning operate on teams.

Fast-track leaders sometimes have a difficult time letting go of the idea that traditional leadership skills such as strategy, systems, structure and quantitative analysis—those on which they believe their early success was based—are the only “right” ones.  They tend to focus on choosing the right side of the issue, rather than on converting “Them vs. Us” and other negative interpersonal dynamics into closure and discovering an even better answer.

In an organizational development class at Stanford, students were given a choice of two case studies on which to work.  The first involved a complex portfolio investment problem requiring sophisticated financial-risk models; the other involved allocation of parking spaces in the company parking lot.  The MBA students leapt on the former like hyenas on fresh meat.  The Sloan Fellows, on the average ten years older and more experienced, chose the parking space allocation problem.  They knew what the really important issues were and had more experience in dealing with emotional situations.

Preoccupation with left-brained technique may actually mask a reluctance to delve too deeply into one’s own emotional life, which is a prerequisite to understanding others.  Being willing to engage in self-examination is the only way to achieve authentic growth, and that kind of authentic personal growth is crucial to the new leadership.

We don’t need to preempt traditional business abilities with these “softer” skills, but to create a new balance and a new order of effectiveness.  We want to combine professional acumen and the ability to read financial statements with an understanding of people and skill with relationships, interpersonal dynamics, social capital, and internal currency.  We are looking for more than just small incremental improvements in what we already know.  We want to leap into the unknown that will bring benefits beyond what we thought possible.

Personal Development

While the effort may be great, the rewards for this form of self-development are both profound and unique.  We can move our careers along through maneuvering, politics, or plain dumb luck, but without personal growth, we become increasingly dependent on circumstances.  Real, dependable career progression requires that we grow as people, so that all parts of our internal system evolve together in balance.

Being connected to the team also means being connected with ourselves, and being able to convey to others what is really going on with us.  People can sense if we are not being entirely honest with them, or if we are trying to be something we are not.  They see and remember when we put our own ego needs above those of the team or other team members.  Conversely, appropriate expressions of authentic emotion—fear, enthusiasm, anger, frustration, boredom, hurt—can do more to create a connection than the best intellectual argument.

Over time, our own internal connection with our instincts and emotions provides a source of intelligence that augments the intellectual.  It is as if our intellect sits at the gateway between the external situation and our internal gut response.  We consult first one, and then the other, to gain an authentic consensus.  The head finally recognizes the potential contribution of the heart, and we let all capacities work together to produce a new order of results.

Closure as a Leadership Skill

We have seen, after working with hundreds of groups, that beyond survival needs—food, shelter, safety, etc.—the strongest urge felt by teams is for resolution, or closure.

Early philosophers identified limbus partrum as a special place between heaven and hell for those not good enough for eternal bliss yet not deserving of eternal punishment.  Limbus became limbo, the first circle of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, an excellent primer on unenlightened team life.  There Virgil explains, “We are lost…we live desiring without hope.”  In other words, there is no closure.

The leader of today needs to master the specific skill of closure, along with those skills that facilitate it—listening, resolving “Them vs. Us” dynamics, nonassumptive questions, etc.—in order to liberate the team from despair and to sustain hope.  Lead us not into equivocation, but deliver us from limbo.

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