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Whirling Chief

At the Core of Leadership: Choice

A few years back, during a very difficult conversation around portfolio divestment, one of my colleagues in charge of our group facilitation asked us, a room of corporate executives in charge of 55B USD core industry business, what may be the essence of our leadership…

It was a difficult question to answer then, and it is still today. It is difficult because the concept is embodying so many beautiful opportunities.

Yet, over the years, I have come to learn, understand and experience there is an essence to leadership. There is a core.

Before influence, leadership is a choice one makes. A choice to stand for one’s truth and make a meaningful difference in the world and in the lives of others.

In our consulting work, we come across many people in influence positions that have never made the choice to lead – not for themselves, not for others. They do, however, very capably act the part of a given role and respond to the expectations around them. They use all their mechanical skills to use, exercising authority, power, decision making, etc., but they don’t ever reflect on the fact that leadership is not about management of mechanical tasks. It is rather about a choice one makes day-to-day toward the work of becoming an influencer.

To lead effectively and sustainability requires that we respond to an inner wisdom, accepting responsibility to remain connected to our whole self and to be the change we want to see in the world; only after, we can inspire hope in others to have them participate in a meaningful journey of change.

Kurt Lewin, one of the founding fathers of social psychology, offered a version of the following equation in his 1936 book, Principles of Topological Psychology:

B = ƒ(PS).

It states behavior (B) is a function (ƒ) of the person (P) and their environment (S). I have always loved this equation. It takes into account the element of choice as well as some other attributes that motivate intrinsic commitment for people. Don’t get me wrong there is an intrinsic and extrinsic element to employee empowerment, yet, if you are aspiring to change someone’s behavior – for example, to motivate your employees to embrace a new way of working, you should absolutely consider changing yourself and their circumstances around them first, and not the person. As people leaders (and as human beings, really), we have no control over someone’s personality traits, emotions, experiences, but we do have a whole a lot of influence over our own way of showing up (for and with people) as well as over various outside factors that impact the way others show up.

I want to challenge my colleagues – 21st century executives to keep this question in mind:

What’s the essence of  leadership?

I do hope some recognize in time, leadership is indeed about having a choice.

And for those currently in people influencing roles, I do invite you to exercise your choice to lead based on both (P) and (S), where (P) does not represent personality but you as a person—including your demonstrated purpose and values and (S), which may call for having grand visions and creating new realities depending on circumstances and exercising courage everyday.



  • 22 August 2018

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