Leading With Soul

By Chris Chittenden

In one of his adventures, that famous boy wizard, Harry Potter has to deal with the Dementors, the feared warders of Azkaban prison who survive by sucking the joy from people. When a Dementor wants to destroy someone, they lower their hood and give their victim the "Dementor's Kiss", which sucks the victim's soul from them. This leaves them alive but as an empty shell.

You could ask, "what has this all got to do with our work?". One of the accusations levelled at business today relates to the lack of value some organisations place on human beings. Very much like Dementors, they are accused of sucking people dry and leaving them as an empty shell on the scrap heap when they are finished. Whereas we do not subscribe to this view quite as dramatically as that, we certainly observe a business world that predominantly takes from people thereby wearing them out. In this article, we want to explore how this could be done from a different perspective - that of giving.

The concept of "soul" at work is not very often explored, although these days more people are beginning to explore spirit and soul in the workplace. A while ago we came across a book by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, called "Leading with Soul". In it they postulated on leadership and how people can reconnect work with spirit. One of the key ideas they presented in this book was what they termed, "the four gifts of leadership". They postulated that rather than leaders taking from those who followed, the very successful ones gave gifts to their followers.

The first gift was "authorship" - giving people the authority to design the way they work. To get things wrong, yet have the ability to learn from these situations and redesign what they do.

The second gift was that of "love" - a genuine care and concern for people and their well being. It seems that love is a very powerful emotion that tends to breed reciprocal love. In other words, if a leader genuinely cares for the people they wish to follow them and shows that care, then it is most likely this will be returned by those who follow. Such bonds breed loyalty and strength.

The third gift was "power" - what is commonly termed empowerment. This gift, when genuinely given, expands the power of the giver. To understand this, we must first understand power. Our interpretation is that power is the capacity to generate effective action to take care of one's concerns. One of the most effective ways to expand our power is by engaging others to do things for us by making requests of them. Hence, we can see the bigger the network that we can call on for help, the more powerful we are. For example, many people would see the President of the USA as the most powerful person on Earth. This stems from the resources at his or her control and their command of others. In a work place, we can expand other's power by giving them the right to make decisions and be accountable for what they do.

The final gift was that of "significance" - allowing people to feel that they have contributed in a worthwhile way. Being recognised for what they have achieved and building a community to support success.

The idea that leadership is about giving provides us with a new perspective from which to engage people we wish to lead. Leaders do not take from others, they inspire and they do so through these four gifts. We invite you to reflect on the great leaders that you have known. Were they givers or takers? I would be willing to bet that in some way, they gave the gifts of authorship, love, power and significance.

Ideas for this article were taken from the book "Leading With Soul" by Lee G. Brown and Terrence E. Deal.

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© 2003 Chris Chittenden