A mistake an inexperienced leader is prone to making is worrying too much about their constituents. A leader can identify so closely with people that they loses their own identity and takes on the other person’s. Empathy with constituents thus becomes distorted and counterproductive.
The most leadership-oriented thing a person can do is to be present (really present in the here and now) with the people, feeling with them and experiencing their struggles with them, but without assuming their responsibility for living their own lives responsibly. A leader who becomes lost in the struggle and confusion of their constituency cannot hope to lead the people out of their darkness. Thus, a leader who assumes the responsibility of their followers does them a great disservice by stealing their struggle, hence their experience of their struggle, hence their ability to grow and master themselves through the gift of insight rendered by their inner struggle.
Another mistake leaders, seasoned leaders, make is trying to derive personal fulfillment for their own needs or unfinished psychological business by becoming inappropriately enmeshed with individuals in their own constituency. The following are a few illustrations of such enmeshment:
1. The personal need to be liked, appreciated, and approved of
2. The fear of challenging followers lest they think poorly of the leader and abandon the cause
3. Sexual feelings and sexually inappropriate behavior on the part of the leader toward an individual(s) in their constituency, to the extent that the leader is preoccupied with sexual fantasies or deliberately focuses the individual’s attention on sexual feelings toward the leader
4. Extreme reactions to certain individuals who evoke old feelings in the leader, such as followers who are perceived by the leader as being judgmental, domineering, controlling, and so on
5. A leader’s need to alleviate an individual’s pain or struggle because their experience is awakening old wounds or unrecognized inner conflicts in the leader
6. Compulsively giving advice, where the leader is always in the superior position of “teacher” and thus continually dictating how the individual should think, act, choose, and live
Because it is not acceptable for you—as leader—to use your followers to resolve your own feelings toward your constituents and the emotions they evoke, it is all the more important that you work diligently on your own, unresolved, psychological problems in an appropriate professional setting. Although recognizing how your personal needs can intrude into leadership is a first step, you—as leader—need to willingly, consciously explore your inner self or be in danger of losing yourself in your constituents and using them, individually or collectively, to accommodate your unfilled needs. In this circumstance, it helps to develop a sense of humor.
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Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.
This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.