Are you doing leadership To, For or With?

Choice, sovereignty, and autonomy are fundamental human needs and having them removed triggers a powerful threat response in our brain.

Low autonomy was one of the factors cited as undermining well-being in a survey of more than 13,000 respondents across six countries. People want more flexibility at work, but a recent study of hybrid work with more than 5,000 knowledge workers around the world, found that they want it in a way that ‘best fits them’. In other words, it’s conditional upon autonomy.

The reality is we don’t like having things done to us.

The other side of the ‘doing to’ coin is ‘doing for’. It has just as big an impact on autonomy, but with an added sprinkle of “I don’t have faith in you”.

Like a muscle that’s not used or a plant that’s not nourished, our growth, development, confidence and capacity all whither over time when things are done for us. Research on reaching levels of mastery and the positive impact of stress (eustress) speak to this.

The reality is that while we may like having things done for us, it doesn’t serve us in the long term.

So what’s the alternative?

In any situation where there is relational energy being exchanged, there is also a power dynamic in play. Whether that’s formally in a workplace or it’s informally in a family or a friendship group, or even between intimate life partners, there is always a power dynamic at play.

There can’t not be.

Because within a group or between two people, there is a dominating power and a lesser power. And that can come from many sources.

We’ve often heard that leadership is the ability to influence others. We’ve heard different sources of power and influence that people in formal and informal leadership roles can hold – things positional power through their formal role, expertise power through knowledge and experience and social power through their network and influencing skills. These create a power differential that in a traditional leadership dynamic is vertical – like a figure of 8 – where there is a dominator power and a lesser power.

From up and down to side by side

Partnering takes that vertical power dynamic that is inherent in traditional leadership models and puts it on its side  – turning the figure of eight       into an infinity sign         . And so rather than doing leadership ‘to’ or for’ people, we partner with them.

Make no mistake, this is no small task: we are moving from leading from a basis of power to inviting others to partner with us from a place of mutual respect, responsibility and connection.

But if we choose to make this shift, if we choose to create a different power dynamic in our relationships through our leadering, it triggers changes in our brain and body. These powerful shifts move us out of the threat response that ‘doing to’ triggers or the disempowerment that ‘doing for’ creates, and moves us towards confidence, capacity and growth.

 As we begin to feel seen, known and respected, our feelings of psychological safety and connection increase. We move from operating ‘below the line’ where separation and domination create a competitive dynamic of ‘you’ versus ‘me’, to operating ‘above the line’, where we see the common experiences that connect us all, we respect the contribution that each of us can make, and we extend a clear and clean invitation to partner.

Leadership is broken. What worked before isn’t working anymore.

You can see it everywhere… businesses, governments, schools, families…

We need a new way of leading – ourselves, the people we care for and the people we lead.

A way that rediscovers honour and amplifies accountability.

A way that orientates us to truth – even when it’s hard to hear.

A way that leads with love and build relationships based in trust and respect.

A way of leading through Partnering rather than Power.

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