Psychology blossomed in the noughties
Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and mytho-poetic tradition are well understood and taught in psychology and management classrooms in all corners of the world.
But we need a name
Paradoxically though, the technical names for these fields are relatively unintelligible to lay people. If there is anything we want to achieve in this field, it is to be intelligible to ordinary people.
Would personal leadership do as name?
Eventually, I settled on the term personal leadership.
We are concerned about styles of leadership that are personal. What I do, for example is not strictly relevant to what you do. And what I do today, has little bearing on what is relevant tomorrow.
And does the name contribute to our understanding?
Having described the rationale of this new field in these words, is it truly a discipline that belongs in the professions?
How can this definition of leadership generate a theory that is useful in practice? After all, if what is relevant today and is not relevant tomorrow, what use is that theory?
We have an ontological challenge
The difficulty is less in the epistemology, that is in the way we study leadership, than in the ontology, the nature of leadership.
We used to think of leadership as something we do.
Now we look at ourselves in context. Our unit of analysis, as researchers say, is “ourself in context”.
What are the practical implications of defining leadership as ourselves in context?
We don’t exist when we don’t see
David Whyte refers to attention. “When my eyes are tired the world is tired also”. We are our habits of attention. We are what we attend to. We are our capacity to pay attention. When our way is lost, we find ourselves by paying attention. By becoming mindful and “touching and feeling” what is around us.
The big change in our understanding of leadership
Who we are is not what we do repeatedly and well.
Who we are is our frontier. Who we are is the place where we are curious about the world. Who we are is the frontier we cannot ignore.
Paradoxically, often when we feel tired, it is not because we are at our frontier, it is because we are not. We are not at a place where we are confronting the unknown carried by the energy of compulsive curiosity.
Leadership is not a spectator sport
We feel alive when we are in a place where “we want to know”. We are leaders when our curiosity about a situation leads us to ask questions. We are leaders when our compulsive curiosity asks questions which holds a mirror up to a situation.
We are leaders when our questions allow people to ask their questions.
How can we understand leadership in a way that allows us to share knowledge?
This question has two goals.
#1 What is the knowledge I can share?
There are many ways of sharing knowledge and we know stories are much more effectual than dry statistics answering questions that were unlikely from the outset to produce a practically significant answer.
We also know that knowledge is also more likely to be absorbed when people trust the presenter – when the presenter shares the journey of the students.
#2 What can I charge for my knowledge?
And probably more important is the heretical question of what can we charge for our knowledge. How can we claim and sustain status for our knowledge?
It is this question that personal leadership answers. We share knowledge not because we are right, but because we are willing to share in the gains and losses of a decision.
It is here that the field of personal leadership enters into the spirit of our age. Authority comes from being willing to share the gains and losses of a decision.
Are we so curious about the people we are with that they are willing to be changed by them ~ without notice and without guarantee?
That is knowledge to be passed on. Am I willing to act with you right now?