“Leadership, essentially, is an act of convening—people, perspectives, and ideas” offers Ward Mailliard, an author and educator. Mailliard’s humble definition highlights the integrative act that leadership is.
I asked my 14-year-old cousin, what comes to his mind when he thinks of a leader? “He is powerful, strong, and fearless,“ comes a quick response from Aayush, a school goer in the 8th standard.
I was not too surprised. The modern-day vision of a leader clearly hinges upon domination, power, and masculinity. It is not an act of convening as much as its an act of conquest now.
This vision sharply dictates who can and cannot be a leader. The ones who do not fit the paradigm of a leader must content themselves with being mere followers.
The biggest threat of this linear idea of leadership is that it not only surrenders rampant might to the one at the top, but also expects them to be a hero and not a human.
“A reality constructed by humans’ imagination, that provides a meaning to bind together the groups of people who share the common belief in them, is intersubjectivity” explains Claire Zhao Sun in the book “Intersubjectivity – The Limits of Knowledge and the Power of Bullshit”.
It is one person’s subjective reality sold as an objective one. Leadership along with money, laws, religions, etc, are such intersubjective realities.
Given leadership’s dynamicity, a leader’s personal bias emerging from a certain traumatic experience or unresolved emotions, can quickly become an objective reality for the group they yield influence over.
“Give me a sure-shot strategy to unlock ’empathy’ (of late, a buzzword in business) in my team”, asked a corporate manager, who leads a large team of employees.
“What’s your own relationship with empathy? How do you define it for yourself?” I questioned.
The manager was slightly put off. “Why does it matter?” came the response. He added, “We would like to design a standard policy for the organisation.”
Strategies and policies often aid leadership to externalise inner challenges, and not engage with values like empathy at a deeper, personal level. “Policies seldom create a culture, sir,” I offered and took my leave.
If one looks at the rise in rabble-rousing and hate campaigns by politicians in India and the world over, one can see that it points towards unattended and unresolved personal trauma being directed at the public.
This kind of psychological projection is particularly detrimental given the machinery and resources at a leader’s disposal. State-sponsored genocides and mass slaughter, all over the world, cannot only be blamed on vicious leadership, but also needs to be looked at in the light of psychopathic leaders with unhealed trauma.
One can find psychiatric literature on world leaders’ diagnoses and how it determined their function as a leader. Among them, the psychopathography of Adolf Hitler is the most talked about.
A quick stroll to your local bookstore will give you a glimpse of the mammoth “leadership industry”. Heroes from business, sports, politics, cults, and religions, offering the ultimate key to rule the world.
While a clear connection is made between a leader’s virtues and the impact of these virtues, their vices often remain unacknowledged. No offers on how leaders must work on their personal healing to create a healthier environment for themselves and for those they claim to serve.
Plenty of violence in leadership is swept under the carpet of “productivity” and “practicality”. It weighs heavily on leaders and all the other stakeholders.
In order to make a shift from domination to collaboration, and to move from power structures to ecosystems, our leadership must recognise trauma’s prevalence and adopt healing-centered approaches.
“Having recognized healing as an important part of my leadership has helped me acknowledge the pain I carry. It further supports me to be centered, spacious in my head, and lighter in my being,” said Vibhuti, a core team member of Youth Alliance.
A healing-centered approach takes into account the often-neglected aspects of trust, vulnerability, co-dependence within self-awareness etc. It creates psychological safety to include others in your circle of awareness—which truly makes it an act of convening—of coming together.
The new-age leadership must redefine “productivity” as being whole and in harmony with oneself and others.