Thursday, December 16, 2010

Presence and Leadership

Leaders are often seen as change agents, who through the force of their own charisma, create and execute a unique vision.

Sometimes, at least from the outside looking in, this appears to be the case. But can it be, really? Is anyone that smart, so talented that they can do all the things necessary to create that vision?

I worked with someone who started a couple of companies that have done really well. And he is probably one of the most humble people I know. He has ideas, plenty of them. But he realizes that the only way that he can execute his ideas is with employees and customers who believe in the vision.

Instead of being a dictator, I would say he is more like a co-creator. He talks to everyone. He outlines a set of principles and asks for feedback. He doesn't try to have all the answers. He sees that his way is not the only way. And what starts as his vision becomes a collective goal that motivates everyone. Even his customers become partners. They are building the vision together.

He is not trying to control things, but to gently guide them. And with that approach, he is able to do far more than he could on his own.

I think we have all had situations where we tried to convince someone of the rightness of our views. I'm in Washington, where that partisan, zero sum behavior abounds. But when I can only win if you lose, then you're not going to want to cooperate. Instinctively, you are going to resist anything I say.

I think there is another way through simple presence. When we bring presence to leadership and persuasion, we set up a different dynamic. We stop trying to fix this moment. We're not trying to change someone. We don't have a preferred approach. We are letting things be exactly as they are.

We can have an open conversation and identify areas of agreement and areas of disagreement. We can find common principles. We can build things together. We can even begin to let go of some of our personal views and instead focus on the goals of the team we are creating.

In this kind of collaborative leadership model, leadership and presence become inseparable. And even the question of who is leading becomes difficult to answer.


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