“Babies cannot do anything and they are allowed to do everything, and adults can do everything but they are not allowed to do anything.”
This was the statement of the eight-year-old son of a good friend of ours. And it’s true in many ways. Mostly because adults think they cannot do anything.
Limitations on leaders
And it’s the same for leaders. When we recently did another leadership course at an international company, we worked on “difficult conversations”. Difficult is very personal of course, and was different for every leader that we worked with.
Generally there was this paradox between “I am saying X, but what I would really want to say is Y”. Adults and leaders can say the truth, or what they really feel. But it is often the way in how they say it, or the belief on what they think they cannot say, that is in the way.
In short, adults and leaders are not taking the role of adults and leaders, they are taking the role of a parent.
Expressing feelings and emotions
A common example is leaders who think they need to talk about content all the time, or about the behaviour of their employees, but they think they cannot talk about their own feelings and emotions in the same context. Nonsense of course!
Vulnerability, and talking about emotions as they are, is always strong when put in the right context and with the right intention.
The different roles we play
In psychology, there is a lot of research done where there are three roles: parents, adults and children. And we all fulfil all three roles at different moments.
A parent is caring, teaching, sometimes patronising, keeping things at a rational level and limiting their own emotions in the relationship. A parent is responsible for a child.
A child is playing and playful, discovering boundaries and the world, expressing emotions very big and exploring new things.
An adult role is one that is feeling responsible for self, a role where emotions are expressed in balance and as they are with the intention to express in a relationship generally to improve the relationship.
Roles and reciprocal behaviour
The pattern in communication is that when you act as a parent, then the response most likely is going to be one of a child. And when you act as a child, the response from someone else will be like a parent.
And when you start communicating as an adult, you usually get a response like an adult. Too often people mix the roles of adult and parent. This is not only about the way things are said, but especially about intention.
Leadership and self-expression
Leadership is no different. Too often leaders think they can or cannot say certain things when it comes to people, emotions, feelings and leading instead of managing. Leadership is not complicated, but people make it complicated. Leadership is simple.
Leadership is simple. Leading is the ability to follow others, their ideas, feelings, contributions and so on. And then turn them into a direction that helps the mission, vision, organisation and individuals.
Three principles of leadership
Three aspects are very important for leadership, namely expressing emotions, curiosity in people and flexibility.
- Expressing emotions
Firstly, leadership is about expressing emotions as they are. Too many times people see leadership as a role, in which they need to copy behaviour that they see in the organisation or of one of their bosses. Or communicate only about the behaviour of their employees, putting themselves in an observer position.Bullshit! The power of vulnerability, expressing emotions as they are, and talking to your employees about what the effect is on your own emotions, is very strong. Especially when you do this with an intention to talk to the other person as an adult in an adult way with an adult intention.Be authentic, and that means being true to your heart and feelings.
- Curiosity in people
Secondly, leadership is about curiosity in people. Leadership is different from managing. Managing has the tendency to focus on content, results, timelines and money. But nothing would be achieved without people. And when leaders forget that, they become managers, not people.People like people who are alike. And when you are a leader, you need to like people. If you don’t, change your business
card to a manager. And forget about people. Just focus on results. But please ask your boss to take you off that role.
When you want to be a successful leader, you generally are interested in people. Every kind of person, no matter their behaviour. Because every behaviour has a positive intention. And when you realise that, you can establish relationships with minimal judgement.
Finally, leadership is about flexibility. Flexibility in how to approach people, how to communicate with them and how to use and utilise emotions, circumstances, obstacles and other challenges to move forward.
When you want people to do things for you, or follow ideas, you need to be able to address different types. And flexibility in the way you communicate, especially non-verbally, is the key for better relationships.
Some people are really into creating new ideas, doing different things every day and creating enthusiasm. Others need details, content, knowledge and security.
Or you have people focused on results, taking action and freedom in approach. Or you have people who like to connect with others, and see the higher purpose of the tasks, or who want to help others.
Whatever the focus is of the people around you, you as a leader need to be flexible to help them get the motivation that helps the vision, the company and the individuals. Serve your employees. And keep it simple.
Keeping it simple
Simplicity is going to the basics every time. Stay authentic and close to expressing your feelings, be curious about people, as well as flexible to the approach.
And you will see that appreciation comes naturally. Appreciation for others and appreciation for what you are doing yourself.
Leadership is simple. People can do more when they lose the misconception of how they think they should behave.
Be authentic, curious and flexible. Just like children. And just like babies. That is why babies can do anything. Because they are loved just as they are.
Peter Koijen and Ligia Ramos