Reframing Learning about Leading

It is an age-old question: are leaders born or are they made? Although we recognize that some people appear to be born leaders, it is commonly accepted that the values, knowledge, and skills of leadership develop with experience. To learn – formally or informally – begins with the organic nature of our lived experience. Much of our knowledge about leading is tacit, buried in our experiences. To reflect on the experiences that shape our leadership and to claim them as unique is crucial to the work of leading. This reflective process opens up the world of intuition, and we become more aware of the complexity of leading our lives and living with others.

How to do this? In seminars, I often asked participants to think about what they learned at the kitchen table about leadership. Reflecting on their role models, stories and images, they realize that these unnamed experiences are still there – shaping their understanding of leadership. They discover what is truly unique in their experience as well as commonalties with other participants. This learning, which we seldom use as a resource, is the base of the knowing and understanding of leadership in general, as well as our own leadership. Furthermore, the way we talk using images, metaphors, sensuous details, puts our leading into the context of our work.

Along with the inward glance, we also search for a conceptual framework, a scaffolding, that opens new perspectives, writings, theories for us. So we examine theories and writings about leadership, power, fear, and communication. The language of our reflections – images, metaphors, sensuous details- encourages the debates, adaptations, and considerations of what framework is best for the work context as we live it day by day. Thus, the language of management lessens and the essential humanity of leading begins to emerge.

Another source of learning is what Hodgkinson (Hodgkinson 1996) calls the “Luther moment”, i.e. the moment when Luther tacked his propositions on the door of the church and said “Here I stand. I can do no other”. It marks the end of compromise. For many of us, there has been a “Luther moment”. Our choice, the decision of how and when to take a stand, varies greatly. But, as Hodgkinson points out, these are the moments when a new order – or a new vision – is created.

Copyright © Patricia Klinck  –  Photo credit: Julie Jenkins

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