“You like being in charge,” my husband remarked with a wry grin. We were talking about the first aid course I attended over the weekend (get your head of the gutter!). In a number of scenarios I simply took control and dictated what should be done. I’ve been doing outdoor experiential programs for 30 years, and have completed many first aid programs. It irritated me to watch others bumble their way through the process. Taking charge was satisfying for me, and hopefully educational for them. Alas, the pitfalls of command and control leadership, especially in training, are clear. There is no room for others to learn by their mistakes in a safe environment. They would have to learn through their mistakes out in the field. Sigh. I’m still learning how to let go of control.
In the good ole days of command and control in leadership, influence was simple: do as I say or suffer the consequences. Positional authority dictated influence. It was all about the promotion and the title. Good things happened in this paradigm: roads got built, pyramids rose from the desert, law and order allowed us to build civilised societies.
As we became more educated, we worked out that those in charge don’t always make the best decisions or know the best way. Those being led would not always follow just because they were told to do so. Leadership shifted to learning how to influence others, rather than simply telling them what to do. Two classic texts that stand out in this are: Robert Cialdini’s Influence – The psychology of persuasion. and Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people. Carnegie espoused the philosophy ‘Be nice. Get popular.’ This was a huge advance in leadership engagement. Being a decent person, and not just a competent one, was a new aspect of leadership. Cialdini developed this further with the skill of ‘Pretend to be nice. Get what you want.’ This was an interesting advance in engagement, that could also be used for manipulation in sales techniques. Beware of the Dark Side.
Now we have a tsunami of interest in authentic influence as showcased by the remarkable Brené Brown in her TED talks and books, including her latest one, Rising Strong. Her passion is about encouraging us to embrace vulnerability, paraphrased as being open-hearted. Her message is, ‘Be raw. Get understood.’ We crave leaders who show up authentically, warts and all. Brené wants us to let it all hang out. This helps others to feel more courageous too.
What Carnegie, Cialdini and Brown focus on is self-conscious leadership. Becoming aware of ourselves and our impact on others is a dramatic improvement over ‘do as I say because I am right’. However self-conscious leadership is still self-oriented. If we move past self-consciousness, from being nice or raw to being REAL, we move into a whole new way of leading with others.
Being REAL in leadership means we own all of ourselves. We don’t need to be vulnerable, as we’ve evolved past that stage. We know who we are, we have confronted our dark side, made peace with it, and can now activate the best part of ourselves while not denying the dark side. By being real, we are completely centered, fully open, and fully engaged with others. By being REAL, we allow others to show up as they are, give them permission to be all of who they are without any judgement. We create safety in relationships because we feel safe with ourselves.
By being real, we create a new power: it’s the power of calling ourselves and others to be fully self-expressed, and fully present as a result. This kind of power is deep influence – one that is not power over (command and control), or power on (being nice or pretending to be), or power in (vulnerability), but power WITH. When we are REAL, we connect deeply, we co-create with others, and together we build possibilities. We are liberated. In being real, we are free.
How to get REAL and double your influence:
• Discover what you would deny in yourself (like the need to take over in First Aid courses).
• Confront it, feel it, observe it, accept it (like making peace with a scar, or some other imperfection).
• Show up as you are, with compassion for those who have not yet found their way home.
What are you denying in yourself? What are you prepared to look at, feel and own? What would that free you from?