I’m starting to prepare my workshop on the Gold Coast of Australia in December. This year’s workshop is called The Leadership Lab. It focuses on the inner development of the leader, something I’m very interested in. I’m fascinated by what is not included in leadership development. Conventional leadership training usually focuses on 1) so-called soft (yet hard to master) skills such as communication, coaching, team work, 2) technical skills such as strategy, financial management, negotiation, innovation, leading change, and 3) power, influence, and understanding one’s own leadership styles.
What’s missing though, is learning how to use your skills under pressure. The moment is not the classroom. If you don’t practice under stress, you can’t perform under stress. It’s that simple. Cops understand this, the military understands this, athletes understand this. But leadership training doesn’t always understand this. You cannot access your tools under stress unless you have trained to access your tools under stress. Arny Mindell focuses on this aspect of facilitation in what he calls “the second training.”
The following three areas pose psychological challenges that leaders face. Each day, we’ll look at one of them:
Being able to perform under extreme pressure can only be learned by studying yourself under pressure. Leaders have to have a rock solid capacity to find balanced and fluid, to be able to remember the big picture in the most turbulent of situations.
Under pressure, funny things happen. Our attention narrows on the immediate threat; our ego, pride, and emotions kick in, and everything in us, physiologically and psychologically is primed to make quick, reactive decisions. Unless we practice using our skills under stressful situations, we won’t be able to recall them when we most need.
When leaders step into the role, they have a lot more to contend with then just their own personal psychology. The role is a vortex of energy, expectations, emotions, projections and responsibilities. It’s an extremely complex thing to inhabit. It’s both personal and impersonal, real and imaginary, all at the same time. Roles are like lightning rods; they attract and absorb atmospheric pressures and tensions, that are meant for the system. The more we take those pressures and tensions personally, the more the pressure of the role will sink you.
Along with the role, comes status and authority, power and expertise. Some of it is personal, why we were chosen for the role, and some of it belongs to the role. Using power well depends on our own personal power. And that in turn, depends on our history. We do not enter positions of power as blank slates. Our own history of power and authority, our own social identity intersects with the power of the role, creating a potential perfect storm of variables. To use power well, we have to learn and unlearn what we have already experienced about power. We lead with and from our wounds.
Looking forward to learning more about this with my friends and colleagues Down Under. Oh, which reminds me – #4: the cultural dimensions of power and leadership!