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The Empowering Leader

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Kevin and Jackie Freiberg's (authors of the brilliant book, "Nuts") article, "Leaders Exposed" - Corporate Dossier, Economic Times of 12th March - has some very pertinent passages about Leadership. Here are some excerpts:

"In our business we have been influenced by some of the most admired leaders in the world. In getting to know them, we've noticed they have something in common. They're all incredibly confident people but they show no signs of ego. If anything they are far more self-effacing and interested in others than they are braggadocios and egotistical. We find that impressive and refreshing. . . .

(With such leaders) people feel like they have a voice. To have a voice, to know that your ideas count, to know that someone is listening and cares is empowering and rewarding. . . These are leaders that people love to work for, leaders who have earned the right to have a team of people striving to accomplish the impossible, their own Everest. "

Some of the insights that come through very powerfully during the 2-day "CorporateTheatre" Leadership workshop are these very attributes. The Zen parables of leadership used for enactment describes an empowering leader as the river and not as the fire. For fire is so proud, so powerful, that ultimately it ends up consuming not only everything around it, but also itself. What is left behind is a handful of ashes. In contrast, the river is so silent it can scarcely be heard. So gentle it can scarcely be felt. The river embraces the low ground, nourishes and nurtures everything in its path, yet eternally achieves the objective of merging with the ocean. At the same time, remember, the river will not tolerate any obstacle in its path towards the ocean. It realigns or redeploys obstacles. If there is a mountain in its path, it flows around it. If it cannot flow around it, it carves through the mountain.

In the same way, the empowering leader will not tolerate any obstacle in the team's path towards success. If he finds a person in the team who is not aligned or still worse, not alignable (this is fortunately extremely rare), there are 3 options - the 3 'R's. The first and most preferred 'R' is realign. If this is not possible, the second 'R' is redeploy. Put the person in a position where he or she can find purpose and alignment. If that is not possible, the third 'R' is used - remove. Remove the obstacle. He or she does not belong in the team. This is all the more important when the person who is not aligned is a high profile person. Such a person can destroy the clarity and alignment of many others who would otherwise be valuable contributors to the team's goals and success.

Like the river a confident leader does not feel the need to be seen and heard all the time. She merely defines the destination and aligns everyone towards the same destination. As the journey starts, she is comfortable and secure enough to step back and let others lead, based on who knows that part of the journey best.

Another of the Zen parables, explores how an empowering leader does not feel the need to prove that he is better or more competent than others in the team. Instead, he is the hub who gets the right spokes, puts them in the right places, harmonises their strengths by creating space around them, to make a strong organizational wheel. When the question arises as to how he manages to do this, the master in the Zen parable says, "Just like the sun nurtures the plants by giving away its light and energy, and the plants in gratitude face towards the sun, so also the good leader, having put the right people in the right jobs, gives them full credit for what they do.

By creating this environment for fulfilment and self-actualization for his teams, the empowering leader, in return, gets their undying loyalty and gratitude.

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