Widening the path to leadership

Widening the path to leadership
“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
~ Diane Ackerman

Leaders need followers, but so little time is spent talking, or writing (or blogging) about the followers. And the more potential “followers” I speak with, the more I hear the common refrain of wanting to follow, support, and rally behind and around someone who is broad, “well-rounded,” and real. Someone who has lived, and continues to live, the width of life.

“My boss seems so one-dimensional,” a colleague shared with me. “As if she has no other interests, no ability to admit mistakes, no ‘humanness’ inside of her. And that makes it harder to follow her lead.” Comments such as these cause me to wonder whether we’re a nation, a culture, of leaders and individuals who are focused wholly on the length of life – the achieving of a goal, the realization of an outcome, the need to look strong and “together” through the process. I wonder if we’re truly missing something, as Diane Ackerman suggests, by not broadening our views and lives to include the width of life as well. Perhaps all our potential “followers” are on to something when they notice this gap in those they’re supposed to follow.

The challenge, it seems to be, is to step away from the “length” of life – the doing, achieving, pushing, and intensity – long enough to figure out what the “width” of life truly is (for you) and how to go wider. I’ve witnessed clients who have stopped pushing for the outcome they’ve “known” was right, long enough to talk things through with their colleagues or team…and found an answer they never imagined. I’ve been privy to commitments to put mid-day exercise back on the full work-day calendar, and heard of the greater productivity that my clients then experienced (just by going a bit wider and giving themselves the physical exercise they craved). I’ve watched teams rally behind a leader when that leader shared a bit more of the “human” side of herself and incorporated her outside-work passions into her daily life. I’ve celebrated with clients when they’ve literally scheduled time to stop and smell the roses (on their patio, in the morning), and then found themselves more engaged, fulfilled, and productive throughout the day. I’ve heard of fuller lives, greater senses of completeness, enhanced outcomes…and wider lives.

Where are you focusing only (or mostly) on the length? Where do you need, or want, to go wider? Reflect on your life – at work and at home – and see where a bit of width would add value and maybe even a bit of joy. Go for it!

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What People Are Saying

Beverly Laise   |   01 February 2011

Dear Lisa and Team,

Re: Widening the path to leadership; I read this blog entry earlier this morning, and it really strkes a chord. It’s not a question of needing to be “best friends” with one’s manager, but the question is, why be so robotic? It’s true we are all very busy, but how can you truly build team rapport without some connection on a level other than completing tasks? Personally, I try to find some joy every day, but it’s harder to find within business hours.

Thank you for this tasty food for thought. I feel less like the odd one out now for taking that lunch time gym break and keeping a rubber duck collection in my cubicle.

With best regards, Beverly

Lisa Kohn   |   01 February 2011

Thanks for your comments Beverly. I applaud you for trying to find some joy every day – especially at work. What a gift we bring when we bring smiles to others faces within the work environment…and we’re still able to complete tasks and get stuff done! Enjoy your rubber ducks and thanks again for your comment.