One of the best things that happened at KN-002 was hearing the way it was described, as people explained why they were here. The two phrases that stuck were: a collation of wisdom; and, a modern day social salon. We’re starting to realize that a meaningful conversation is actually quite hard to find, and the space and time to allow for that seldom exists between the urgent ticks of our daily routines. That’s why people come to Kennel nights; to share and be heard, to listen and learn, to meet and wonder.
This thinking Thursday the theme was Human Leadership, in the context of the times we live in where methods of communication, ideas about democracy and individual power, and qualities of leadership are changing at the same pace as the technology that facilitates or challenges it. We wonder, are the questions the same regardless of the context?
And so this Kennel. night, So-Young went back to the basics of what it means to be human, sharing her journey and raw story about what it means for her and in her role as the founder of a leadership and business consulting firm. She spoke about coming out into the world as a glossy person – shiny on the outside, perfect. Compartmentalising herself – the self she was with her colleagues and people that needed to be impressed; the self with her family, who she allowed herself to be with her friends, and who she was when she was alone. We all develop blocks of dysfunction over the years, and these blocks pile up one after the other to build walls around us. Something happens that hurts us and in order to deny that vulnerability, another block goes up on this neverending wall.
So what’s this got to with human leadership? Leadership is not about one’s vulnerabilities, its about recognizing others’ weaknesses and strengths in relation to your mission and knowing how to manipulate them to a desired end. Right? Wrong – that’s management. Leadership is about a conscious recognition of values that requires one to clear all those boxes away and have a clear view, to see others not just for their behavior, but for their heart. Human leadership requires one to lead oneself first before leading others. And so we have to take down those boxes of dysfunction and break them down, open them, reconcile them and be aware of them, before we can continue.
Why does leadership take so much inward effort? Perhaps because we all need a leader that we can relate to, albeit in different ways – we do however need to view a leader in his or her multidimensional humanity in order to develop our own particular connection to them as a follower. Janie, a veteran in the fashion industry and familiar with the hoipolloi describes how the people at the top are often the most authentic and real – they no longer have anything to prove. Dennis commented that the basic most fundamental thing about a leader is that they simply care. LKY had no compunction about his boxes, dysfunctional or not; he did however, convey to his constituents a deep sense of caring.
Compare that definition to another opinion that in this day and age leadership must be crowdsourced and earned; any expected respect, fails. No need to cite any spring to demonstrate the point that technology, social media and the empowered new generation demand to be heard and accounted for. Leadership is about inspiring, emotionally connecting, knowing how to respond to others in different situations – situational and context driven, rather than the old school of trait theory. Was Steve Jobs a good leader? He was inspiring, drawing people into his famous ‘reality distortion field’, but did he care about those following him? By all accounts the guy was not a great boss. But is he a great leader simply by virtue of having incredible impact, because he transformed the way we live? Has he transformed the way we live?
A leader must have, besides charisma and conviction, a moral compass. Sanjay tells us about IQ, EQ, PQ and SQ – the last one being spiritual quotient. It’s the same as being aligned with your values – nothing to do with religion, more to do with how one relates to the world, and determining meaning and purpose in relation to one’s life. This is what fuels conviction, convinces others to follow, and is a relentless source of energy, motivation and optimism.
At the end of the day, Severin brought us a little back to reality, opining that direct democracy is all well and good, but it doesn’t work everywhere. Thailand, for example (where he lives). Crowdsource your knowledge all you like, but at the end of the day a leader also has to make unpopular choices and get things done – it’s hard to argue with that.
What does this all mean for those aspiring to become leaders in their own right one day? Mom tells it like it is (Mom is Dennis’ mom, who brought her to Kennel night. We love that) – there is no one definition. It depends. On the situation, the people you want to reach out to, your timeframe and goals, the cultural context, yourself. So, be the leader you want leading you. That’s the most real choice we have.