Leader Pathways

The Life of Leading Greatly  
October 2010

Mentoring Leaders for Bold Tomorrows

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In this Issue:

A Relationship Apart:
The Leaderís Aspiration

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   A Relationship Apart: The Leader's Aspiration

Michael Shenkman The framework offered by the Arch of Leadership shows how leading sets in motion a different kind of relationship, a relationship apart. “Apart from what?” you might ask. By the standards offered by one anthropologist, leading is a relationship apart from all models of the ways humans interact with each other.

In a recent article in The New Yorker (10/11/10), Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and The Tipping Point) cites the work of anthropologist Alan Page Fiske, who describes four models people use “to guide the way they interact with each other.”

  • Communal Sharing offers people free access to each other’s resources and property.
  • Equality entails reciprocity.
  • Market Pricing finds a “value” point at which an exchange can be made.
  • Authority Ranking is a hierarchical relationship of subordinates giving way to a higher authority.

I had a sinking feeling as I read this list, because all these models presuppose that life is a zero-sum game. They assume that we are merely agents who allocate set amounts of resources, then merely decide who will give up what, and on what basis.

Leading stands outside of this zero-sum, dead-end arrangement. Instead of limited resources, leaders see opportunities and prospects for abundance. Instead of seeing people as divvying up the remainders, leaders envision how giving creates something greater than what had existed at the start—no strings attached. The leader offers a unique relationship: give of your time, talents, energy, sweat, courage and insight, along with others, to this vision of what is yet to exist, and magic happens!

Leaders fully grasp that they create followers by completely sharing their own aspirations. Such sharing might seem to resemble the communal model, except for one big difference: what leaders and followers share doesn’t exist yet. All that exists is the aspiration to create.

And so, the respective value of the people in the endeavor is not what they are worth now, but what they give throughout the process. There is neither exchange nor reciprocity: there is giving out, offering an effort worthy of the endeavor, and then giving out some more.

And finally, the leader’s sway is in effect only as long as the aspiration is alive for everyone. Temporary hierarchies do form, from moment to moment, as people align around tasks that are intended to help accomplish the goal. But these temporary hierarchies then realign when different tasks have to be done. Leaders throughout the organization rise and drop back as the process unfolds from one phase to another (what I call “kinarchy”). The “top” leader keeps the aspiration alive through all the changes, phases, progressions and setbacks, and gives of his energy and resources so that everyone stays in the game. The leader’s “authority” is based on how much energy and vitality he keeps flowing among all the participants.

People who live the life of leading have stepped outside of zero-sum norms because their expectationsof themselves and othersare different.

  • Leaders create themselves anew, from day to day, as their aspirations come to life, and as the endeavor changes and (hopefully) advances.
  • Leaders share what they have to give: sometimes they have more, sometimes they have less, but they always give so that the next day will arrive.
  • A leader’s sense of value lies far beyond exchange or even measure, and culminates only in the pride of accomplishment, not possession.
  • Leaders do not seek to be atop a hierarchy, but strive to instill vitality, and sustain a shared adventure.
  • The reciprocity leaders seek comes from seeing more expansive and more encompassing products, services and organizations taking hold.

All this makes leading and leaders hard for people to understand and appreciate, no less emulate. It also makes leading impossible to “teach.” The aspiration that drives someone to lead has to burn in the leader’s soul; such aspirations can’t be implanted by workshops, coaches or professional degrees.

But here is the good news: at the Arch of Leadership, we know that leaders can be mentored. The mentor can offer that space where being alone does not mean being lonely. The mentor can offer aspiring but hesitating leaders that moment when their energies gather into the firm stance of self-trust that leaders need every day in the course of doing their work. Mentors can free the aspiring spirit from the grip of the fears that naturally accompany the role, by helping the leader refuse to be just another token in that zero-sum game. Mentors can help leaders transform that aspiration into a compelling vision.

At the Arch of Leadership, we mentor the leader’s aspiring spirit. For the leaders who do, no zero-sum model will do, because they know in their hearts that their aspirations promise so much more.

Help us! You can then say that you too joined forces to launch a new way to develop the aspiring leaders who bring us bold tomorrows. To learn more about how Arch can work with YOUR organization, contact me personally or visit our website.

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