Authentic leaders are, by definition, singular individuals. They possess an array of qualities and skills that enable them to lead. Yet, we shouldn’t assume these attributes are unattainable or too challenging to learn.
Leadership skills are exceptional simply because most of us likely didn’t receive either the education or the upbringing to develop the inner path toward leadership. If mathematics wasn’t routinely taught in school, mastering math would also be a rare achievement. The same is true of leadership.
Culturally, we tend to focus on the external characteristics of leaders: how they present themselves, their intelligence, their style, and their affect. The path to sustainable and genuine leadership, however, is an inner path that can be learned and cultivated.
There are three pillars of authentic leadership. Learning these skills develops genuine leadership ability for corporations, organizations, associations, and families.
Great leaders communicate with consummate effectiveness. This first pillar of leadership is sourced through emotional intelligence, which is the ability to deeply connect with others through feelings, not simply facts.
Our focus on cognitive intelligence, which devalues emotional intelligence, is stunningly incomplete. The thoughts, ideas, and information we need to share with one another are typically pursued transactionally. We exchange instructions, strategies, and concepts and believe they’ve been received and understood as we intended.
This belief is grossly misinformed. We aren’t robots transacting with one another, but complex humans with unique personal narratives, feelings, and beliefs. The same words or phrases may mean different things to different people. They might inspire some and leave others feeling ambivalent or worse. This this leads to failed, ineffective communication.
Emotional intelligence requires both an awareness of the other’s feelings and beliefs and cognizance of your own stirrings. The subterranean realm of our private, personal existence has a profound sway over the business of business.
From my professional experience, clients don’t typically speak to me about factual or substantive issues they’re having with their bosses or colleagues. Instead, they present their troubled feelings, challenges, frustrations, and miscommunications.
Authentic leaders connect on emotional levels with those around them. They tune in to their people in order to appreciate how the other person perceives matters, addressing issues that typically go unspoken.
Leaders seek correspondence with those around them. Emotional connectivity facilitates coherent communication. This relatedness prospers when empathy is valued. Empathy, the ability to best appreciate what the other person is feeling and experiencing, allows truly informed communication to prevail.
Radical Emotional Transparency
The concept of radical transparency, a fundamental motif of Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, proposes that all individuals should openly challenge one other’s positions for the goal of reaching the most credible truth.
Although this endeavor has obvious merits, it doesn’t also consider that we are not only thinking but feeling people. If we pretend that our values, personal history, emotions, relationships, and beliefs don’t spill over into the reasoned and rational discourse, we are sorely misinformed.
Radical transparency must incorporate how our subjective beliefs and feelings filter and inform what we ultimately hear and how we respond. I refer to this as radical emotional transparency.
Leaders engage in deeply effective communication which seeks shared meaning. This collaborative dialogue checks in to assure what we share is received as intended.
This checking-in process is also respectful and sincere, as it enables leaders to get closer to their team. For the musicians in an orchestra to be “in concert” with one another, the conductor must make certain they are all playing from the same score. The same holds true for consummate leaders.
The next pillar of leadership is authenticity. I use the term authentic leadership to evoke the qualities of truly special leaders. Meeting or witnessing such individuals, one notices they are extraordinary. They shine by virtue of their authenticity, which is a very rare quality.
For example, the Dalai Lama exudes authenticity. You simply know you’re in the company of an extraordinary person.
An authentic individual evokes an image of someone who has not been adulterated by fear, concerns with self-worth, or worries about what others may think of them.
Most people are concerned with what others think of them, or more to the point, what they think others think of them. These individuals may disguise, manipulate, or hide their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs due to their insecurity. This is what I call other esteem, which is sadly common, and absent the authentic self-esteem unique leaders possess.
Most people deflect or mitigate their communications and actions because they worry about how they will be seen. From the authentic self, we invest in and articulate our thoughts and beliefs free from the constraint of worries.
Being authentic allows you to be receptive to the feedback and opinions of others; you simply don’t betray your genuine self out of fear. When our thoughts conspire to weave a narrative about why we shouldn’t say or do something, we lose our authenticity.
Authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner self. Very often, our actions reflect an intention to avoid certain consequences. And so, we alter or suppress our communications and play it safe. These tendencies diminish our authenticity as they constrain our growth and self-esteem.
Great leaders don’t fall prey to these concerns.
Authentic leaders learn from those around them as the separation between self and others falls away. The core sense of authentic self is always an emergent process, never static. Unfettered by the constraint of worry over how you’re perceived, you’re free to tune into yourself, those around you, and your ever-changing environment.
The third pillar of authentic leadership requires a counterintuitive embrace of uncertainty.
Our orientation toward predicting future events—a remnant of Newtonian determinism—has addicted us to seek certainty and predictability and therefore avoid uncertainty. From this paradigm, we see ourselves as separate and detached from future events, which nullifies genuine leadership, as we become spectators rather than leaders.
This state of analytical bondage is contrary to leading. We can’t lead others by sitting back and calculating as if we were playing a chess match.
Leaders must be informed by pertinent information, but not suffocated by an avalanche of data.
When an authentic leader embraces uncertainty to actualize new possibilities, the fear of making mistakes retreats.
What we call a mistake is but a snapshot frozen in time. But time doesn’t stand still. Authentic leaders don’t fret the consequences of their actions as much as they consider the consequences of their inactions.
We need to take a deeper look at the concept of change and the change process. The word change suggests that there are times when things are static and inert, and times when they are not, hence, the concept of change. Quantum physics suggests otherwise. It appears that reality is never static or unchanging. This is why I refer to it as the reality-making process.
The adage, “The only constant is change,” needs to be revised as “Everything perpetually flows.” Great leaders must relish the flow, dive in, and truly lead. This requires seeing uncertainty as your ally, the realm from which new possibilities are created.
This is participatory leadership, as we participate in the unfolding of what we call the future.
These three pillars of leadership create a formidable platform from which to lead others.
Let me know what you think! Be sure to leave a comment
More About this Episode
In addition to an expanded version of the article above, this episode includes a brief conversation with marriage and family therapist Cathryn Leff, PhD, LMFT of Soaring High Counseling, in which Cathryn shares her insights on leadership and the origins of her own leadership style.
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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #122
MEL: Hello everybody and welcome to the Possibility Podcast. I’m your host Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.
MEL: Today we’re going to be exploring the concept, the notion, the phenomenon of leadership. What this word really means, what signifies leaders, and how you can learn to develop the attributes for leadership in whichever way it suits you in your life.
MEL: Now, of course, authentic leaders, genuine or exceptional leaders are by definition very singular people. They stand out. They possess a very unique array of qualities and skills that differentiate them and allow them to successfully lead other people.
MEL: I’m talking about leadership in many capacities, corporations, organizations, associations, leaders of teams. Families require leadership, arguably from both parents if it’s a two-parent family or from the one parent.
MEL: It’s an error to assume that the skills and attributes that come with leadership, that we’re born with them or that they’re too unattainable for us to achieve them. These skills are uncommon for one reason. Leadership is not taught to us in school.
MEL: Think of it this way. If mathematics wasn’t taught in school, then learning to master math at a certain point in life would be a rare and unique achievement. It would be hard. The same is true of leadership. It would have been very different if these skills of leadership were taught to us in school.
MEL: We’re going to be focusing today on what I call the inner path of leadership. You know, culturally, we tend to focus on the external characteristics of leaders, how they look and present themselves, their cognitive intelligence, their style, how they carry themselves and their effect. But the path to genuine, sustainable and authentic leadership is the inner path. This is a pathway that you can learn and I’ll be trying to teach this to you so you can cultivate it.
MEL: I envision three pillars that platform authentic leadership. Notice I said I envision. I’m always reluctant to say there are three pillars or there are seven chakras or five rules because we make this all up. There may come a time when I envision four pillars or two pillars. At this moment, I see three pillars that platform authentic leadership. And learning these skills enables genuine leadership in whatever capacity you choose to use it.
MEL: Let’s start off with emotional intelligence, the first pillar.
MEL: You know, great leaders have something in common. They tend to communicate with incredible clarity and with consummate effectiveness. This principle pillar of leadership is sourced through emotional intelligence, which is the ability to deeply connect with ourself and with others. In our society, our focus on cognitive intelligence tends to devalue emotional intelligence and our awareness of emotional intelligence is stunningly incomplete and harmful in so many ways. The thoughts and ideas and information that we need to share with one another in a leadership capacity are usually pursued in a very transactional manner. In other words, we exchange with one another instructions, strategies, and concepts. We believe they’ve been understood and received as we intended.
MEL: This, folks, this belief that what we say has been received just as we intended is grossly misinformed. I don’t care if we’re talking about a friendship, a marriage, or a business. You see, we aren’t robots just transacting with one another, trading information, but we are complex human beings with very unique personal narratives, feelings, and personal beliefs. The same words or phrase may mean different things to different people. You can use a phrase that might inspire some people and leave other people feeling ambivalent or worse because of their personal history around that phrase or that word or the way they recall it from childhood. Personal communication, communication where we leave it at the surface of the words, leads to failed, ineffective communication, and it completely impedes the ability to be an effective leader.
MEL: Emotional intelligence requires an awareness of the other’s feelings and beliefs, and as well a cognizance and awareness of your own stirrings, what’s coming up for you and getting in the way. This subterranean realm of our private personal existence has a profound sway over the business of business.
MEL: In my executive coaching practice, my clients don’t typically speak to me about factual or substantive issues that they’re having with their peers or their bosses. Instead, they present their troubled feelings and challenges and frustrations and miscommunications to me. But they’re not communicating those in the workplace because they’re not tended to. Leaders have to seek a correspondence with those around them. You see, emotional connectivity betters the opportunity for what I call coherent communication. This relatedness prospers when the quality of empathy is valued. Empathy, the ability to best appreciate what the other person is feeling, not on the basis of what I assume, but a checking in that allows truly informed communications to prevail.
MEL: The concept of radical transparency. This is a term, a fundamental theme created by the hedge fund Bridgewater’s founder, Ray Dalio. Ray proposes that all individuals in his corporation should openly, willingly challenge each other’s positions for the goal of ultimately reaching the most credible truth about any matter. This goal and this endeavor has obvious merits. It puts everything out in the open, but it’s failing. It’s lacking terribly in one way. It doesn’t take into account that we are not only thinking, but also feeling people.
MEL: If we pretended our values, our personal history, emotions, our relationships, and our beliefs don’t spill over into the reasoned, rational discourse, again, we are sorely misinformed. Radical transparency must take into account how our subjective beliefs and feelings filter and ultimately inform what we hear and how we respond. So I call this radical emotional transparency. I’ve added the word emotional. Deeply effective communication requires a shared meaning.
MEL: Shared meaning, again, is a collaboration. It’s a collaborative type dialogue which checks in with each other to assure that what we have just said, what we’ve shared, has been received in the way we intended. And furthermore, it checks in to see how the other thinks and feels about what we have just shared. Leaders realize that what they intend to communicate may not have been received as planned.
MEL: This is true in all relationships. If I intend to articulate A and you end up hearing B, that falls on me. It’s not the listener’s fault. The person sharing the information has to check in and confirm that you’re both on the same page. This checking in process is also respectful and sincere. It enables leaders to get closer to their team.
MEL: Think about an orchestra. For the musicians in an orchestra to be in concert with one another, play on words there, concert in harmony. For the musicians to be in concert with each other, the conductor must make certain they’re all playing from the same score. The same holds true for leaders in all fields.
MEL: The second pillar of leadership is what I call authenticity.
MEL: I use the term authentic leadership to evoke the qualities of truly exceptional leaders. Should you ever have occasion to meet or witness authentic people, you notice there’s an extraordinary quality to them. Let’s think of the word extraordinary as extraordinary. These people shine by virtue of their authenticity. It’s a very rare quality.
MEL: For example, the Dalai Lama comes to mind as exuding authenticity. You simply know that you’re in the company of an extraordinary person. An authentic individual evokes an image of someone who has not been adulterated or in fear because of their concerns around their self-worth or worries about what others may think of him or her. Most people, average people, people who aren’t leaders, are concerned with what others think of us or more to the point, we may be concerned with what we think other people think of us. We may disguise or manipulate or hide or conceal our thoughts or feelings and beliefs due to this insecurity.
MEL: This is the opposite of authentic self-esteem. This is what I call other esteem, which is sadly common and it’s missing, it’s absent authentic self-esteem that unique leaders possess. In the pursuit of learning to become an authentic leader, you must learn to pursue genuine authentic self-esteem. If you’re interested in this area, I’ve written many articles on this. I have other podcasts on authentic self-esteem and you can check out my book, The Possibility Principle, which speaks to this.
MEL: Now from the authentic self, we invest in and articulate that which we’re thinking and that which we believe free from the constraint of worries. You see the vast majority of people deflect or mitigate their communications and actions and decisions because they’re worried again about how they’ll be seen. Being authentic allows you to be receptive to the feedback and opinions of others, but you don’t simply betray your genuine self from fear of what they think. You take it in, you digest it.
MEL: When our thoughts conspire in a tangled web of why we shouldn’t say or do something, we lose our authenticity. Authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner self, the inner path to leadership. Very often, our actions in a given moment are intended to avoid certain consequences, and so we alter or suppress our communication and play it safe. These tendencies again diminish our genuine capacity and they limit our growth and genuine self-esteem.
MEL: Great leaders don’t fall prey to these fears. Authentic leaders learn from those around them. It’s the separation between yourself and others falls away. You see, when fear retreats, there’s no divide between yourself and other people, and that’s a powerful learning opportunity. The core sense of the authentic self is always in an emergent process, never static. Freed from the fears of worrying about how you’re being perceived, you’re now free to tune into yourself, those around you, and your ever-changing environment.
MEL: The third and last pillar of authentic leadership is the ability to embrace uncertainty.
MEL: This third pillar requires a counterintuitive notion. In our culture and in our world, we are taught to seek predictability and certainty. People at the heads of organizations often are working hard to predict future events. In my book, The Possibility Principle, I speak about our addiction to certainty and fear of uncertainty as being ruinous in all areas of our lives, including personal growth and relationships. This need for predictability is a remnant of Newtonian determinism, 17th century thinking, which taught us that if we had enough information and data, we could reasonably predict the future.
MEL: From this paradigm, we see ourselves as separate and detached from future events, which nullifies genuine leadership. We become the spectators, predicting the future rather than leaders. This is kind of like a state of analytical bondage, and it’s contrary to leading. We can’t lead others by sitting back and calculating as if we were playing a chess match. Leaders must be informed by pertinent information, but not suffocated by an avalanche of data. Leadership requires embracing uncertainty to actualize these new possibilities. The stewards of leadership participate in a reality-making process.
MEL: You see, that welcomes rather than resists uncertainty. And from this vantage, the fear of making mistakes retreats. After all, what we call a mistake is really just a snapshot frozen in time. But time doesn’t stand still. Authentic leaders don’t fret the consequences of their actions as much as they may consider the consequences of their inactions.
MEL: We need to take a deeper look at the concept of change and change process. The very word change suggests there are times when things aren’t changing, when they’re static or inert, but quantum physics has revealed otherwise. It appears that reality is never inert or static. And that’s why I refer to this as the reality-making process. The old adage, the only constant is change, needs to be reconsidered. Maybe we should say everything perpetually flows. Great leaders have to relish the flow, the perpetual movement. They have to dive in and lead and truly lead in a participatory way. And this requires seeing uncertainty as your friend, your ally, the realm from which new possibilities are created.
MEL: This is very participatory leadership as we are part and parcel of the unfolding of what we call the future. These three pillars of leadership create a formidable platform from which to lead others.
MEL: I’m delighted to introduce my next guest on this episode, Cathryn Leff. Cathryn is coming to us from California and Catherine is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the president-elect of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Have I got that all right, Cathryn?
CATHRYN: Of marriage and family therapists.
MEL: Therapists. Okay. Thanks for the correction. So thanks for joining us in this episode, Cathryn, and I look forward to hearing your perspectives, questions, and insights. As you know, today’s episode is an exploration about leadership. People often wonder what do we mean by leadership? There’s leadership of leading others. There’s corporate and executive leadership. There’s more informal leadership. But for me in my work, I often find that some of the leadership is about developing an inner sense of leadership. When we develop that really calm, placid inner authority and inner leadership, it’s so much easier to guide and facilitate others in our lives. What are your experiences around this topic of leadership, Cathryn?
CATHRYN: Well, Mel, I’ve been mulling this over for a couple of days and I often wonder how I got into a leadership position because it was something I never planned on or even necessarily wanted to be. My earliest memories, I’ve always been, from being a little girl, I was always really shy, never wanted to speak in front of people. I used to have to be dragged up into the front of the class and have my teacher help me to give speeches. Those are my earliest memories. And then something happened in high school where we were doing a debate and the class was divided into, or there were two teams in the class. And one was arguing against the use of nuclear power and the other group was for nuclear power. And in the for nuclear power group was our school valedictorium. And I was in the other group and I remember we were having this discussion and I was pretty passionate and saying why I was against nuclear power. And as I’m expressing myself, my group, they all kind of got quiet and they looked at me and they said, you should take the lead on this. You should lead the debate. And I was like, oh no, no, I don’t want to do that. But they were insistent. And so I did it and I actually won the debate against the school valedictorian.
CATHRYN: And I was so amazed that she left the class in tears. And I thought, what just happened? And that was kind of my first taste of that I have the ability to influence and to be a leader. But I think a lot of it comes from having an inner passion about something. Because if you have a passion about something and you can’t hold it in, then you have to speak about it. You have to speak about it. And that often puts you into then a leadership role, which is how I got on the California Association State Board for Marriage and Family Therapists. The same thing happened where, this is back in 2013, I was on social media and I was voicing my opinion on some things that were happening. And the next thing I know, or the next thing I knew was I got a phone call from someone on the board asking me to run for an open position. And so that has happened repeatedly in my life. It’s something that I just will start speaking about and people seem to notice it in me more than I think I do in myself. And so beginning to recognize that and trying to nurture that more is something that I’ve been working on.
MEL: So I’m sure some of the listeners may have questions about how you quiet any insecurity or self-doubt that you may have in regard to this, about how you have overcome self-doubt, insecurity, hesitation. Has there been a process for you to be able to allow yourself to embrace the uncertainty that’s necessary to become a leader?
CATHRYN: I think I just embrace uncertainty. I think that’s what all life is. I mean, we don’t have anything that’s guaranteed from moment to moment, really. And so I try to embrace that uncomfortableness and push myself to get out of my comfort zone. I just think it’s healthy and that’s where we grow. And so that’s just the way that I’ve approached it, even doing this podcast. I was like, do I really want to do this? This is something that I think I am interested in and would like to speak about. So I just tell myself, you should do this.
MEL: So therefore, I assume for you, I know it’s this way for me, there is no threat around the idea of making a mistake. The concept of mistakes kind of falls away in its importance if you’re going to embrace uncertainty and lead.
CATHRYN: Correct. I agree. And mistakes are okay. I do them all the time. And like you said, I embrace them. I think that’s how you learn and how you grow. If you didn’t make any mistakes, you wouldn’t grow or learn anything. So I think mistakes are positive and a lot of them you can correct. So I don’t really see mistakes as a negative. I see it as something that’s necessary that helps you grow and helps you develop into a leader, in fact.
MEL: So therefore, simply put, we choose not to honor the importance of mistakes. We view mistakes as absolutely vital and necessary life experiences.
MEL: Now, as you know, as a therapist, we often come across people who in the past have been embarrassed or traumatized by their mistakes. In my book, The Possibility Principle, I talk about how simple experiences, often early in life, create core beliefs about ourselves, like you raised your hand in third grade and you answered the question in such a silly way that everyone in class laughed at you and you decided, I’m never going to take that risk again. I’m never raising my hand or saying anything unless I’m completely certain, because there was an emotional trauma around the humiliation and the embarrassment. So certain people, regrettably, a lot of people have this fear and this apprehension of making a mistake. Do you have any advice for those people?
CATHRYN: Well, I look at it as if you’re in the third grade and something like that happens to you, of course it’s traumatic because you’re so young, you don’t have any real life experience, so it hits you so much harder. But I think as you age and get older and you have more and more experiences, I think those types of blows you can absorb so much easier. At least I know I can, and I’ve seen that in my clients as well. And so I think it’s important though, if you recognize that you’re still hesitant about things that happened when you were a child, that that is the time to seek therapy and to try and work through whatever trauma that you experienced with a therapist, because that’s the only way you’re going to move forward. And I know for me, the past traumas that I’ve had in my life as a young child, I look back at it now as, well, yeah, that was really traumatic at the time, but I’ve talked about it, I’ve worked through it, and it’s just now just a small chapter of my life that’s a part of who I am. And I’m actually grateful for some of those traumas because they really helped me grow and learn and to be a better therapist.
MEL: That’s precisely right. These events happen to all of us one way or the other. What our power is about is our choosing how to deal with it, whether we’re going to hide it and secret it away and make it part of our shame and insecurity and self-doubt, or whether we’re going to expose it and make it transparent and it then loses its power over us. I think a key component of leadership is around being comfortable not knowing. It’s about being comfortable not having the answer or choosing not to pretend to know in advance the answer. It’s about navigating the unknown. So for me, authentic leadership is not pretending that I know what’s in the future or what is out there and telling you I’m going to guide you through it. That sounds more like data analysis and predictability or playing chess. For me, the embrace of the uncertainty in terms of leadership is I trust I’ll be able to figure this out. Often when I am working with people around parenting issues and the individual may say to me, well, I get stuck. I don’t know what to say. That’s not the issue. The issue is that they don’t trust that the words will come to them, that the wisdom and the insight is potentially there so they don’t access the inner wisdom, which is there for all of us because we’re looking for a script to follow rather than just the intuitive sense it will come to me. So leadership can really galvanize and manifest when we allow the uncertainty and just trust it will come. Do you experience that?
CATHRYN: Yes, I do. It’s interesting you bring this up because yesterday I ended working at a nonprofit organization where I was supervising associates, seeking licensure. I’ve been supervising them for the last two and a half years. When I started in this role, I had never done supervision like that before where I ran a group of eight and also I did individual supervision with another different group. My sendoff yesterday, they put up a chart and everyone went up and wrote what they thought about me. It was just such a great sendoff and so meaningful to me and what they wrote. They wrote a lot of the things that you’re speaking to about how they really appreciated my authenticity, that I was collaborative. I would let them struggle to find the answers themselves. I didn’t always just provide them the answer. All the things that they listed, and I’ve been reviewing them even this morning, I realized it was something that I stumbled in and I wasn’t too sure about, but it really worked out great. Just trusting my inner spirit, what I think is true for me. I didn’t always have the answers either, but I would just say, I will look into that for you. I think it goes back to not being afraid and being to embrace that uncertainty. Of course, it’s very important to be authentic. That’s one of the things that they really loved about me and I just so appreciated that.
MEL: You and I have both used this word authentic a number of times. Why don’t we drill down a bit and share each of us what we mean by authentic or authenticity? For me, authenticity or to seek to become authentic means that I won’t hide anything, that my feelings and my thoughts are transparent. I will share them and I may be sensitive to what others think about me. I care about what they think, but I won’t betray my own genuine self to try to get others to approve of me or like me or think I’m smart because that’s inauthentic. For me, authenticity is I wear no masks. I am comfortable being who I am and you’re free to see me any way you choose. Of course, we live in a culture in which authenticity is probably not valued. It certainly isn’t taught. It’s genuine self-esteem. We teach what I call other esteem, which is that people are trained to elicit approval or avoid disapproval, that is contrary to authenticity. That’s why people who are authentic stand out, they shine. Do you mean anything different or would you like to add something to my description of authenticity?
CATHRYN: No, I think your description is spot on, Mel. That’s what authenticity is. One of the ways I think I illustrated that when I was running my group is that I would share mistakes that I did in doing therapy or even because my team would go out in the field and visit homes and work in a wraparound program with foster care kids. We often talk about safety. I shared a story how when I was once doing child abuse investigations, I really did everything wrong that you’re not supposed to do. I ended up getting assaulted, actually, by somebody in the home. I sat opposite the door. I just did everything you weren’t supposed to do. The mother was intoxicated. I tried to engage with her. I just did everything wrong. The whole group was laughing as I’m telling this story. I used it to illustrate how they can protect themselves and be in the future when they go out in the field and don’t do what I did. I think they really appreciated that, that I was able to share things that I did wrong and made mistakes. One of the things they said to me yesterday that by me telling those stories, they felt that it really freed them up to share with me and the group their mistakes. Our group was often that where someone would start sharing and saying, okay, I really think I screwed up yesterday, and here’s why. We were all very accepting of that individual and just supported them and helped foster that growth and let them know that it’s okay. They always felt real comfortable. They always said I was real approachable. I think it’s because I was always my authentic self with them. That’s why I think it’s so important. Embracing our vulnerable side allows authenticity.
MEL: As you told that story, I recall a story that I can share. I was rather new in practicing psychotherapy. One of the first groups that I taught was called Surviving the Divorce, Before, During, and After. I had recently been going through a rather horrendous divorce. I was working out of a home office. As I was facilitating my group on surviving the divorce, my ex-wife barged into the house, walked into the room, and harangued the group, casting horrendous dispersions at me, talking horribly about me. So I called the police and had them get her out of the house. And then calm settled down. And I walked back into the room, and I looked at everyone. I said, well, I couldn’t have arranged that any better. This is an example of how to handle a situation that’s out of control going through the divorce process. Now, I chose not to be embarrassed. I chose not to worry about what will they think of me. The same motif that you’re talking about, which is step into it. To really lead, we have to step in and not defend and not act with fear and trepidation. We have to allow ourselves to be our genuine self. And that to me is the principal pillar or a core foundation of leadership. And no doubt, that’s what you’re employing in your role.
CATHRYN: Yes, exactly. And I think in your situation too, you set a very fine example for them that these kinds of things happen, especially in a contentious divorce. And like you said, you step into it, you handle it, and you did. And you role modeled that for them perfectly. And you weren’t embarrassed. And this is life. These things happen, and we need to embrace those things and not run away or shy away from it or feel bad about it.
MEL: The other quality that I just wanted to introduce, which we’re touching on, but just to give it a word or a term, is that I think that genuine leadership requires a participatory element. In other words, it’s not directional. It’s not the proverbial school teacher standing up in front of the class and directing what to do. It’s not the military person leading the troops into warfare. It’s not even the typical CEO telling the executives underneath them what they have to do. Genuine authentic leadership requires a participatory spirit and emotional intelligence whereby we are attuning to the people around us. We’re checking in. We’re not just operating in a transactional way, delivering cognitive pieces of material, but we’re tuning into those around us, making sure that our words have the same meaning for each of us and for all of us, and tending to the feelings as well as the thoughts. Emotional intelligence, in my opinion, is absolutely necessary for effective leadership.
CATHRYN: Yes, I would agree. I really like the term that you just used, participatory spirit. I think that’s what I did in my group supervisions. One of the things they wrote on my chart in describing me is they wrote the word hierarchy and then they crossed it out. I said, what does that mean? They go, you did not take a step up above us. You were not firm in that boundary. You were real collaborative. You allowed us to all be on the same page, but you would lead and step in when necessary, but we never felt that you were above us. I think that’s what we had in that group, was that participatory spirit.
MEL: That’s great. You’re introducing no hierarchy, but collaborative or an equivalence, but nevertheless a leader. A picture just came to mind if you look overhead and watch a flock of birds flying in alignment. There may be a leader, but the leader doesn’t stand out from the group. A leader is simply part. It’s participating with the group and in a much more subtle way is leading. Well, thank you so much for this conversation, Catherine. By the way, if anyone’s listening, would you like to share how people who are interested in your work can get in touch with you?
CATHRYN: Oh yes, they can go to my website, which is www.catherineleflmft.com.
MEL: Where was your practice, Cathryn?
CATHRYN: It’s in Temecula, California. I also do online therapy as well in the state of California.
MEL: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for participating in today’s show.
CATHRYN: Thank you for having me, Mel. I really appreciate it. It’s been great.
MEL: So today we’ve begun to scratch at the surface around the art of leadership, this inner pathway of leadership. And doing this helps you in all walks of your life. It provides a safe, calm, inner authority where you can summon your intuitive, deeper wisdom. I was not born with the capabilities and skills of leadership, but one day I found myself in front of a large crowd of people, moved on, spurred on by my passion. I was in college during the Vietnam War, and I surprisingly to myself found myself leading a protest. And during those moments, some of the qualities of leadership became evident to me. Over the years, I learned to craft them personally.
MEL: And in my therapy practice, I’m devoted to helping people develop an intuitive ability to find that inner voice of wisdom, that inner voice of personal authority, of feeling safe within yourself and emotionally communicative with others. And so I encourage you to pursue the path of finding your inner leadership and doing whatever you choose with it as it may benefit you and others in your life.
MEL: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at mel at melschwartz.com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.