The Ecology of Leadership: A Twist on the Idea of Professionalism

In our attempt to be ‘professional’, it seems that our society has become afraid of our own human-ness. Have we lost our sense of how to be with each other in the messiness of our humanity?

I was reading my LinkedIn Groups this morning and came across Mike Smith’s ‘Life Back West’ thoughts on people, teams, organizations, effectiveness and success (thanks Mike!). Now, it may seem that I jump around here a bit, so buckle your seat belt and see if you can stay with me on this …

So, after reading his short blurb on leadership that caught my eye, I went to Mike’s blog planning to oppose what I anticipated would be a description of an old belief system that suggests, if we are professional, our feelings are to be suppressed in the workplace.

Instead, Mike described how his young son has inspired his professional nature to include expression, compassion, and emotion. Having a young boy myself, I can totally relate to how he and I allow each other space for emotional expression. But then, why is it that we are not allowed too much expression at work without being sited as a problem?

leading revelation through chaosIt seems that our society has become afraid of our own human-ness. Have we lost our sense of how to be with each other in the messiness of our humanity? For me, today’s sorely needed emerging leaders can not be likened anymore to the stoic guy on a horse riding off into the sunset after he single-handedly saves the town from Godzilla. Why? Because this guy (usually someone we all aspire to be) rarely shows the kind of emotion that allows for each of us to change ourselves – a collective transformation. Rather, the so-called hero tends to be about eliminating a problem by taking out the people that go with it. This doesn’t work anymore.

What if instead, we began to choose our leaders (at least in part) based on how well they have learned to express their emotions, and how well they exemplify ways to share the messiness of their own humanity, while also being able to hold space for others to do the same?

I propose that we dare ourselves to allow more messiness in the workplace by helping to teach and “lead” groups through spells of negative emotion, rather than try to find ways to avoid or expel it. No more heroes of elimination. The key here is teaching groups or teams to hold space for their peers during their time of need, rather than expect the so-called leader to do it alone. This is known as collective leadership, or an ecology of leadership. And I believe that, using this approach, gold can be found within the mines (minds?) of our organizations, which will generate amazing new forms of innovation. Why? Because the form and function of all innovation is the result of the expression of  the group (or company) who created it. Seems we may have forgotten the fact that companies are made of people, from which products and services are an outcome; and not the other way around?

Daniel Goleman’s talk on TED points to this evolved form of leadership that I speak of here.

It starts with what he calls a ‘human moment’, which are the times when we are paying full attention to the person(s) we are with. He suggests that there is zero correlation between intelligence and the awareness of another (this is known as compassion). Yet we hire our leaders and managers almost completely based on their level of intelligence and rarely rate them based on their ability to express themselves, to show compassion, or their ability hold a group through troubling periods. Why is that?

Also interesting is that he correlates the rapid growth of information to compassion, and it makes sense! Creating this new synergy of perspectives begins to define what I like to call an ‘ecology of leadership’ – a new process of thought and relationship-building. It is an evolved form of collaboration where, as we become more present to the relationships in our lives, it actually helps to form a unified ‘whole’ world that works better, while also increasing personal identity and  individual value at the same time. How cool is that?!

Now, this is a bit of a paradox because our increasing access to information often pulls us away from being present with each other. But we have to remember that both are happening at the same time. What I am trying to suggest is that an ecology of leadership, along with increased awareness of our relationships, is changing the meaning of ‘professionalism’. It is morphing into something completely different than we know it today. In ecological terms, this means that even the concept of “the leader” has lived out it’s time, and we now need to consider what a collective leadership can look like. This evolutionary process will empower each of us, rather than just a mere few of us, and can then be carried into any group dynamics to help generate a deeper form of authenticity, purpose, and meaning within ourselves and our companies.

If your mind is spinning a bit, it suggests that the well goes deep here. I plan to write more about this in my blogging. But for now, let us all reconsider what it means to be a “professional”, and discuss together what kind of “leadership” we want and need in this new, interconnected world of ours.

[ See related content on Authentic Leadership]

Learn more about the author, Vic Desotelle 

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3 thoughts on “The Ecology of Leadership: A Twist on the Idea of Professionalism”

  1. Hi Vic

    I found your link over Biznik at the “How to Ruin Your Business Reputation” post.

    You make some interesting points and I agree with you that the well runs deep and so look forward to further thought on this.

    Couple of points.

    Have you read Strauss and Howe’s work called Generations? It might add something to your description of a hero and likening this archetype to modern society’s needs.

    The concept of openness and honesty is an interesting can of worms to open and I think that levels of honesty and integrity are in direct correlation to how clean the actual washing is.

    A political leader who declared himself to be a former drug dealer, had spent his life predominantly as a self serving hedonist, and who had probably messed up just about everything he had touched, but managed to buy his way out of trouble with family connections, isn’t likely to gain popular support or achieve their aims of leadership. So instead they will promote themselves as the latest in a long dynastic line of statesmen and hope that they had hushed up anything that was embarrassing.
    In that example, openness and honesty is completely at odds with their aims. I am convinced that this the reason why so many leaders have to lie and why power corrupts so absolutely. In its place is this image of the white knight that nobody can really live up to but which was necessary in order for their aims and ambitions to be furthered.

    Society seems to be a harsh judge of humanity and prefers to be lied to so that they can gaze at a picture of perfection whilst it lulls itself to sleep in a contented comatose haze of delusion.

    In a business sense I prefer to look at rules of commerce and am particularly fond of Nash’s Equilibrium Theory, which I have translated (for the sense of my company’s values) as ‘We will always act in the interests of our clients’.

    That may mean that I don’t milk an account the way that some of my competitors will, and that the client is not aware when it is happening, but these values seem to me to be placed in a sense of fairness which I believe will ultimately result in higher client retention and greater trust in the client agency relationship. Interactive Mix is a young company and I may find that these assertions are challenged but this approach fits my personal world view of business. If I am wrong I will get torn apart in the marketplace so its going to be interesting to see what happens.

  2. Thank you for this detail article/blog!

    I am concluding quite fast that no matter which industry you are in, you/I will never satisfy everyone walking through your doors; also, opinions are so divided.

    I have read a review about me and the business, and people brought up the fact that I was making reference to some other then the business and their visit here;

    In short: I express frustration over the remodeling times,…I was mentioning to them other of our business extra curriculum activities.
    At no point in time I think, I got too emotional, but being HUMAN, talking real life stuff; so, once in a while, I might say, people get the impression that I am hosting “royalties”/them.

    But, I also learned that we can not put to heart everything we read, and there is no way we will satisfy 100% all of our customers, all the time.

  3. I have to say that I agree with the message, but not the history. When we look back at business, what we were used to seeing was the disallowance of anyone standing out from the crowd. Everyone called those above them by “Mr” and “Miss” (almost never “MRS”) and worked hard at keeping people in their place. They lied about family because they knew that message sold to those employees at the time.

    The reason it’s such a big deal today is that most managers, without training by the way, are trying to emulate what they believe are old school tactics, but they’re applying them to people who don’t believe in the work/family concept anymore, who don’t trust employers to act in their best interest (which they never did, so that was another lie), and are ready to leave in a heartbeat because they believe most companies are only stepping stones to something better.

    In essence, there’s no loyalty on either side, and I place most of the blame on employers, with society running a close second. Truthfully, the best we can all hope for is a little bit of professionalism, which helps to bring some balance back and gives business a chance to at least compete in today’s world.

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