A common story or mythology in many cultures is a theme of ‘beauty and the beast‘. Beauty is often represented in the feminine form, but does not need to be so. At first, she is afraid of what is portrayed as the ‘beast‘, often portrayed as some form of mythical monster, usually male, but this does not need to be so. Through the course of the story, beauty eventually befriends the beast. A seemingly unlikely love develops. The two together in a deep connection, what I think of as ‘genuine contact’, are a powerful unit, and in most of the stories, great good comes into the world as a result of beauty befriending the beast.
I continue looking at how emotional a topic ‘leadership’ is for people. And so I thought about the beauty and the beast mythology. The emotional charge about leadership cannot be explored without examining fear and its relationship to leadership. For the purpose of this exploration, let us imagine that beauty is represented by leadership and beast is represented by fear.
I have spoken with a number of people this week engaged in leadership. I experienced the first reactions to my request to discuss the relationship of fear with leadership to be met with:
1. it is inappropriate for a leader to feel fear about leadership (this was sometimes said with an edge of anger in the voice)
2. I follow the best practices of leadership according to **** and my Board approves of this and so I know what I am doing (this was sometimes said with a tone of bravado)
3. Birgitt, why do you sit in silence waiting for me to talk about this subject I don’t want to talk about. Don’t you know I am training myself to be in positive thinking. Fear is the opposite of positive thinking and I won’t go there. You are causing me harm by wanting me to do so.
And so in these conversations, I would wait in a lot of silence for the reactions to stop…and for a thoughtful responsiveness to begin. When the thoughtful responsive statements would begin, I would hear
1. I am afraid of failure.
2.I am afraid of ruin.
3. I am afraid of defeat.
4. I am afraid that if I don’t stick to only positive thoughts, I will cause the destruction of my leadership.
5. I am afraid of misusing my power.
6. I am afraid of the people in my team turning on me.
Our exploration could then really begin. The unspoken fears tend to have a lot of control on a person’s actions with his or her leadership. It is much like the beauty and the beast mythology. If the beauty does not make friends with the beast, she is in danger. If the beauty makes friends with the beast, she expands and becomes more compassionate, richer, more genuine. in leadership the beauty might be experienced as best practices, positive affirmations, positive thinking, sights on the goal ‘no matter what’. The ‘beast’ (I use this word because I refer back to mythology) is related to the list of fears noted above.
Your leadership capacities are not reduced when you admit to having fear. You will find that your leadership capacities expand when you are willing to explore the fears you have in relation to leadership. And much like the beauty and the beast mythology, you will be enriched with growing more genuine. And people will respond when you are in genuine contact.
Fear is one of the topics covered in The Genuine Contact Way: Nourishing a Culture of Leadership. It may be the right time in your leadership development to read this book and use what you learn in your reading to explore key topics in your development.