The profound responsibility of leadership

The most creative conversations of our professional lives engage both our emotional and analytic selves.  These conversations are the source of inspiration and sense-making that leave you buzzing hours later; that wake you in the middle of the night; that create new insights through connecting previously disconnected ideas. 

I had such a conversation a few months ago with a colleague.  Exploring the role of purpose in organisations, he challenged me to articulate my purpose: why do I do what I do? 

One of the outcomes of that conversation was a paragraph I wrote about the profound responsibility of leadership.  I didn’t post it at the time, at least in part because I suspect for many business leaders – prospective clients – it might seem ‘too soft’.  But after some interesting conversations yesterday I decided I would share my world view.  So here’s what I wrote those months ago: 

I believe in the capacity of leadership to create great organisations … organisations that can develop and execute strategies that match the demands of a complex and changing environment; that can build connections with customers that transcend the simple transactions that characterise too many market places; that create customer experiences that build longevity into the relationships.  And this comes about through leaderships’ capacity and commitment to engage with the people who are the body and soul of any organisation and want to make a contribution that goes beyond just earning a wage. 

This is the primal responsibility of leadership.  If not this, then what is our job as leaders?

I also believe in the self-evident truth: it is the leadership teams which need to design, develop and energise the change in organisations.  Our job as consultants and advisors is to help them in that pursuit. 

This is my ‘bias.’  It shapes the conversations, approach, and expectations in my work as a strategist, facilitator and teacher.  And I think this is largely reflective of my clients.  The people I have worked with over the years who I connect most deeply with do feel a profound responsibility. 

But over time many leaders slowly, often unconsciously, withdraw from this profound sense of responsibility, reflecting a felt lack of a shared sense of responsibility among their peers and their leaders.    Or sometimes in the face of challenges that seem overwhelming.  But this model of leadership demands institutional leadership: it is beyond the capacity of individual leaders.

Do you feel this profound responsibility?  How often do you experience deep, creative conversations within your organisation which engage both your emotional and rational-analytic self as you explore your collective role as leaders?  Do the conversations leave you buzzed?  Or just frustrated?  If the latter, I suspect the ‘emotional’ self has been ‘shut out’.  Caution: the failure to engage the emotional self can ultimately lead to ‘burn out’.