Leadership is a two-way street by julie puentes last week, i had an enlightening conversation with a fellow horse person that caused me to reflect on an important dimension of leadership

Leadership is a Two-Way Street
by Julie Puentes

Last week, I had an enlightening conversation with a fellow horse person that caused me to reflect on an important dimension of leadership. She described her recent challenges with her horse who has always been a friendly, reliable, and sweet guy. But, recently his behavior had changed drastically. He was now aloof, hard to catch, fearful, and sometimes defensive. She was worried and desperately wanting him to return to his former self, so she was using various training techniques in an attempt to modify his behavior. I was struck by how her initial instinct and answer seemed to be to train and manipulate his behavior to suit her needs, rather than search for underlying reasons for his change. I realized that this is a common response when we desire a different response from people (or horses).  We complain, demand, and attempt to control the behavior of others and are often frustrated when they don’t acquiesce to our notion of how they should act. When it doesn’t work, we feel frustrated.  Frustration, after all, is just an emotional message that tells us that whatever action we are taking is not effective.

Many times, this frustration stems from the fact that we don’t realize how our own expectations and beliefs are coloring how we perceive someone else’s behavior. For example, we sometimes fail to recognize our desire for someone to act a certain way in order to make us happy, forgetting that it is not that person’s responsibility to do so. An insistence that others act differently prevents us from being curious about the message behind people’s behavior and stops us from questioning our motivations and stories that might contribute to our dissatisfaction.

So, what can we do when confronted with behavior that frustrates, confuses, angers, or saddens us? Here are three things to remember in these situations.

  1. Accept where the person is and allow them to have their emotions. This does not mean you have to agree with their behavior or reactions, but it does mean that you realize they are acting in the best way they can in the moment. Allowing the behavior of people (or horses) without immediately jumping in to judge or react negatively gives both of you the space to relax and reflect without feeling the added pressure of your judgment or demands for change.
  2. Ask yourself how you could adjust your own behavior or responses to positively influence the situation. As in the story above about the woman and her horse, we often begin by thinking of the ways we can convince or manipulate others to act the way we think they “should.”   A better place to start is by asking yourself what shift you can make in your responses that could shift the relationship and encourage dialogue, trust, or openness. For example, you can ask what negative reactions or preconceived beliefs might be preventing you from being open to what is going on for this person? Or, ask yourself, is there something about the way I am showing up that is helping to fuel the very behavior I don’t like? Am I withdrawing, lashing out, or holding judgments? Sometimes, the answer is no and sometimes it is yes.  However, what is most important is the willingness to explore these questions, which increase your awareness and at the very least, encourage you to try different approaches rather than doing and saying the same things over and over with no significant change or improvement.
  3. Be relentlessly curious. This applies to your own behavior and actions as well as others. In every situation and in every conversation, there is a tremendous amount that we simply don’t know. We can’t just assume we know what is going on from our own assessments because they are only based on the information in front of us and how we interpret it. By trusting that we don’t have all of the information we are more likely to discover information that helps us understand, have compassion, and ultimately arrive at a solution that works for both parties and improves the relationship.

What does this have to do with leadership? Everything.  Leadership is born out of the willingness of others to follow your guidance, direction, and vision.  True leadership does not occur when you attempt to “train” others to fix or change their behavior. Rather it occurs when others believe that you have their best interest at heart, you care, and can be trusted to provide a safe space for them to show up authentically. Under those conditions, others will be willing to follow you. Remember, they may not agree with your choices either, but by using the tools above, you have a better chance of successful interactions and fulfilling relationships.

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