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 Saturday 5 December, 2015

Understanding realities

by  Jenny Lanyon on Saturday 5 December, 2015

‘Reality simply consists of different points of view.’
Margaret Atwood

In coaching, managing and leading we seek to build a common understanding of what is real – real for us and also real for our team. As a leader, the first impulse can be to share my reality, to persuade my team of its intrinsic worth, demonstrate to them that it is best for all of us and persuade them to adopt it. Although it is a struggle but I may be convinced this is the best way. This is what leadership is often deemed to be about … taking those difficult decisions and galvanising others to fall in behind them.

What is strange is that somehow, often the team does not seem to see the things in the way I do, even though they it’s obvious to me. It is almost as it we are in a different universe.

‘Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.’
Douglas Adams

We are all different. Different in terms of personality type, skills, experience and influences. Understanding and making use of this difference is at the heart of effective leadership and smooth organisational functioning. This is why it can be a challenge to develop as a leader by reading leadership autobiographies. We are not Jack Welch, Andy Grove or Bob Horowitz. Those great leaders found their own way, but it is unlikely to be right for us because we are not them.

Knowing ourselves as leaders is the first step to leading others. There is no ideal personality type for leadership. Susan Cain has demonstrated that introverted people can lead at least as well as extroverts (Cain, 2012). We do need to know where our particular strengths and weaknesses lie, and to work with them as best we can. In leading others, Steven Covey’s principle is particularly relevant here: ‘Seek first to understand and then be understood’ (Covey, 1989). Leaders need to build understanding through listening first. Only by being open to other people’s realities do we create a chance that they will understand ours.

Adams, D. (1992). Mostly Harmless. London: Heinemann.
Attwood, M. Interview by Marilyn Snell. Motherjones. July-August 1997.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking London:Penguin.
Covey, S. (1989). The Seven Principles of Highly Effective People. London: Simon & Schuster.