Posted by: chrismaser | May 13, 2010


No leader should expect instant results, although they may occasionally arise in a most unexpected manner. From my experience, a leader must remember at least two related things about people: (1) whatever the current situation people find themselves in, they did not get there overnight, and hence the situation will not be changed overnight; and (2) the situation will not change overnight because the best way to engage people’s resistance to nearly anything is to ask them to change from a known situation (almost regardless of how bad it seems) to an unknown future, even if it can be demonstrated to be significantly better than the situation at the moment. In other words, people prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t.

A lack of visible signs of what the leader thinks of as positive forward motion may cause them to question their abilities as a leader and to doubt those abilities. Here it is important to learn that you must accept the ambiguities of not knowing what effect you are having, because for leadership to be authentic, it must be an unconditional gift that inspires those who choose to follow. A true leader is, after all, a servant to those whom they would lead.

People in a group, even a political group, often act like clients in psychotherapy in that they seem to get worse before they get better when confronted by change. After they decide to work toward accepting the change, they must deal with a greater self-honesty whereby they must drop their defenses and facades in an act of personal transformation.

Having thus made the decision to accept change, people can be expected to experience an increase in personal pain or anxiety and its accompanying disorganization, which may lead to depression or a panic reaction. When looking change squarely in the face, people often say, “Maybe the old way wasn’t so bad after all. At least I knew what to expect. I feel so vulnerable now not knowing what’s ahead. I may have been better off before. Maybe there’s still time to back out of my commitment before it’s too late.”

A leader, especially an inexperienced leader, must learn patience when dealing with outcomes because they are rarely predictable. As a leader, you must also learn to trust yourself enough to allow the outcome to manifest itself as it will, without trying to control it, if you are truly a servant of the people. To give an unconditional gift as a servant leader, you must learn to be dispassionate.

Albeit a leader may be sensitive and feel acutely the effects of the words and actions that frightened people aim at them when confronted by the necessity of change, particularly that thrust upon them by circumstances, a leader must learn to take the often-disparaging comments wisely and dispassionately. It is of the utmost importance that a leader develops inner strength and poise. They must learn to become dispassionate about the words and actions of frightened people and turn their thoughts outward toward the well-being of those same people instead of brooding over feelings of self-doubt, helplessness, impotence, uncertainty, and even ambivalence about leading, which unkind words and actions can stimulate. Above all, remain positive rather than turning inward to brood on imagined wrongs.

Many leaders waste too much time on such introspection. This is a weakness of leadership that must be overcome. Although everyone makes mistakes, a wise person learns from them rather than brooding over them. It is what a leader is thinking, what they contribute in love, compassion, and truth by example to their constituents and humanity at large that is all-important. Leading by example means you must deal honestly with your limitations.

Series on Leadership Challenges:

• The Challenges Of Leadership

• Dealing With Anxiety

• Use Of Power

• Criticism In The Form Of Projection

• Criticism And Your Image

• Being And Disclosing Yourself

• The Zen Of Perfection

• Honesty With Followers

• Understanding Silence

• Understanding The Need To Be Heard

• Establishing Your Boundaries

• Dealing With The Uncommitted

• Learning Your Limits

• Avoiding Self-Deception

Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

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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.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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