Leadership: Can we still avoid the scary option of authenticity?
Which way to turn?
We happen to live in a world that is showing us increasingly striking situations, which seem to overcome the limit of what we believed was acceptable: economic crisis, terrorist attacks, wars, movements of masses from one continent to the other, madness manifesting itself in acts of unheard violence (physical, psychological, emotional), a level of corruption widespread anywhere, starting with the centers of power that are supposed to guarantee the so called “common wellbeing”, the sense of insecurity towards the future pervading every thought, and much more.
Every time we fear that all the above could happen in front of us, near our home or even at home, we sometimes avert such thoughts by looking elsewhere, engaging in our own usual things, as if hypnotized by them, pretending that it’s all fake or forcing ourselves to believe that “it cannot happen to us”.
All of this, whether we like it or not, makes us dumbfounded, and the truth is that we don’t know what to do. It seems as if the inexorable fruit of this situation is a growing sense of worry, anxiety, maybe anguish, filling our lives with toxic streaks. And very often, we are not even aware of that.
The mourning process
In front of increasingly tragic situations that more often populate our daily life (even if only by TV, YouTube or Facebook) we feel unprepared, as faced with sudden mourning. The spontaneous reactions coming out from our souls are those typical of mourning: first we try to ignore the facts (we tend to narcotize the experience to make it more acceptable and get rid of that sense of despair that could hit us at any moment); then refusal comes about: “it’s not possible”, we deny the facts. Being blind, sometimes, is a way to protect ourselves from looking at pain; then we try to find somebody or something to blame; finally, we try to hastily find a way out, escaping with the first parachute we can find nearby, i.e. the few certainties left (or those that someone close by will try to propose to us). This sequence could last a few minutes or years, it depends.
Then, by exhaustion or simply by impatience (the typically impatient folks are those who are used to having instant answers and claim them as a right), we realize that we cannot make it, we are not equipped, we don’t want to make an investment in energy and try to understand a bit more by ourselves (penetrate unknown territories is not for us, we want to remain as we are, attached to what we are and to what we have).
It is then that, while fumbling around, we take a look around the neighborhood to see if there is someone who is able to give us the answers, while we don’t even know the questions… It’s then that we look for the “strong man”, the hero, the saint, the guru, the leader, the one who has the answers and who will draw us out of the mire, the one to whom we can deliver our destiny. He knows “how to do it”.
It doesn’t take much effort to find one, because they usually come directly at home, through TV or internet. Some names which are typical in this very moment in this very country called Italy: Salvini, Grillo, Berlusconi, Renzi, the right, the left, the party, the movement, the team, the curve, the ideology, religion, fashion, trend, you name it - It's really impressive to look at those names from the point of view of someone who lives far away, not an Aboriginal, a Swiss is enough: they evaporate. Replaced by similar ones.
They have one thing in common: they give answers. Some are easy ones. Some are even embarrassing, defying the concept of intellectual honesty and what remains of our intelligence. Some are less evident, more profound. But yet they are answers. It’s very unlikely that they can evoke a dream that is not trivial. Almost always they put power (visibility, popularity, audience, votes, market share,etc) before anything else, place other issues at the bottom of the ranking. Love and service, for example.
And very often their answers have the tone of promise, very often they are not free of charge: the request (always implicit) is to have a rich return back. So, adjectives like “disinterested” and “unconditional”, have a space in their speeches only if they mean the exact opposite. If we happen to have the impression that their words are “touching our hearts”, it’s likely that we are deluding ourselves or that, at least, the issue is floating on the surface and is not reaching the essence.
At the root of our freedom
But it does not depend on them, it’s not their fault. It depends on our ability to avoid abdicating to our conscience, to our intelligence. In the end, it depends on the fact that we are willing or not to take the responsibility to live as free women and men. Think with our own head, feel with our own heart. Act by our own will. Be aware of the fact that, though busy on the keyboard of our smartphone replying to the last post on facebook, we are a body, a mind and a heart. We are souls. If only we could remember this, if only we could stay connected to this, to our deep essence, then we could be really free. We would not risk to sell (or give free of charge) our head and heart and will to the first screaming guy passing by, confusing him or her for a “leader”, without even being aware of what is going on.
In a world that is increasingly addicted to instant communication and instant gratification, we risk to confuse leadership with celebrity status (i.e. audience). Very often, the consequence of this is that the more quiet and reflective members of organizations and societies turn invisible to the masses and are constantly neglected, ending up as the losers or not even appearing in the ranking of the “race of success”. Also in this case, it’s not their fault: they are not invisible, it’s our gaze that is posed elsewhere. So we don’t see them.
Leadership as a dress?
The topic of Leadership is without a doubt very much over-celebrated: thousands of books, articles, magazines, blogs or posts on LinkedIn are produced every month all around the world on this topic, most of them trying to answer to the increasing demand of meaning on the destiny of organizations, societies and of those who have a role of responsibility and leadership inside them.
Generically, many of those texts try to answer the question “what does it mean to be a leader and how can one become a leader?”. In reality, by posing the matter in this way, they are taking for granted some basic assumptions, they have already operated a choice, selected an option: they take for granted that the profile of the ideal leader exists, a sort of inspirational model, defined through a set of features that can be built and then embodied (or at least wear them as a dress). This way to put things has its own dignity of course. These texts try to tell us “what” a leader is. Not “who”.
Delfino Corti is a senior consultant and facilitator at Impact Italia. He is a strategy and organisational development consultant, whose purpose is to enable organisations and individuals, including himself, to widen the perception skills to find and harvest the best out of any situation and context, developing an evolutional wellbeing.
To be continued - in part II we will return to Delfino’s insightful and challenging look into leadership and authenticity.