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People power, our ability to work with people and produce valuable outcomes together, is an essential dimension of leadership, teamwork, and human relationship. Some people seem to have it, and many don’t. How to develop this people power seems a bit mysterious in our cultural common sense.

We are going to dive a bit deeper to look at the “what” and “how” effective leaders get intended action and result from others. What is their people power, and how can we learn or strengthen it? What are we missing in our understanding of the art of people in leadership?

If we look at common interpretations of leadership they tend to focus on a leader’s actions, like “produce a vision and then give people what they need to fulfill it.” This way of articulating leadership focuses on describing the leader’s actions and intended outcomes, but leaves out how they make their interactions with others effectively. For example, how do you inspire people to adopt your vision? How do you motivate them to take ownership of fulfilling it?

Doing leader-like actions doesn’t always mean you get leader results. The issue is not what we do as leaders, but the results we produce in shared actions with others.

Doing leader-like actions doesn’t always mean you get leader results. You need to provoke the right actions and results from followers. The issue is not what we do as leaders, but the results we produce in shared actions with others. We must illuminate blind spots in our mainstream culture to make people power accessible. We need to look at areas we usually ignore, including:

  • Internal to External: understanding how our internal states lead to our effective external actions
  • Concept to Skill: going beyond understanding to how the embodiment of new skill is achieved through practice
  • Connection and Resonance: illuminate how coordination and collaboration are based on the quality of our connection and resonance with others, and
  • Leadership, Management, and Teamwork as Performance Arts.

First of all our culture tends to describe actions in terms of what people do externally that we can see, and the outcome of those actions. You “do this to get that.” But describing what an effective leader doesn’t mean that I can do it. I may need to change my actions. Yet our ability to perform effective external actions arises from appropriate internal states.

These internal states are currently a blind spot in our mainstream articulations of action and skills. By leaving out these internal states, it tends to make activities like leadership mysterious and unclear – “how do I do that?” BEL names the unavoidable dimensions of these states that arise both internally and externally: B- Body, E-Emotions, and L-Language. For effective leadership and human interaction, we must become aware of and skillful in these dimensions. In fact, we are already skillful with them in the areas where we are competent.

Learning music theory doesn’t make us a singer. Learning leadership concepts doesn’t make us a leader. We must embody skills, not just understand concepts and models.

Second, our cultural frame and practice of education consider learning to be synonymous with understanding. However, understanding does not enable us to be skillful in action. Learning music theory doesn’t make us a singer. Learning leadership concepts doesn’t make us a leader. We must embody skills, not just understand concepts and models. We learn skill through practice. Effective learning comes from effective practice. In fact, we cannot avoid practice – we are practicing and embodying behaviors every day just by doing what we are already doing. We want to become aware of and observers of the actions and practices we are already in, their internal states, and what they produce. Then choose where we can learn new practices to produce new outcomes that we care about.

Third, our focus on what to do externally in action tends to leave out how we produce connection and resonance with others. We know when we feel “connected” with someone. We feel a shared sense that we will call “resonance” when we are flowing together in shared action. This is not just a metaphor – neuroscience shows how people’s physiologies tend to harmonize in states of resonance, leading to assessments of safety, trust, and willingness to work together. People are attracted to work with leaders they resonate with, not distant experts or order givers.

leadership, management, teamwork, and even communication and relationship are performance arts learned through practice

Finally, we need to understand that leadership, management, teamwork, and even communication and relationship are performance arts learned through practice. We want to be effective leaders, not just scholars of leadership. Effective leadership arises from our practices, where we practice our internal states in order to enable our external actions. We are already doing this even if we are not aware of it. It is a new place for our attention for most of us. How to practice well and support our learning is why mentors, coaches, leaders, and exemplars are so important.

Connection and resonance enable more effective collaboration. Collaboration is the kind of interaction with others where we are acting with the intent and sense of working together to produce mutually valuable outcomes. Without shared intent our interactions turn into negotiating for advantage, acting for dominance, or withdrawing for safety.

One key leadership skill is “holding the center.” Where “center” describes a physical state of balance and the ability to choose our actions in difficult moments. Being off-center means that our actions come from reaction rather than choice. By “center” I also mean the holding of intent, commitment, and care for a future outcome. Often as leaders, we must hold our center, and connect with others to help them hold a shared center, in the face of resistance, breakdown, and surprise. This ability begins with our internal skills to manage our own fears, doubts, and physical reactions. This skill enables us to assist others with their internal states and produce a sense of resolution to act from commitment rather than reaction in facing the future.

If we are to take our leadership impact to the next level we must illuminate our blind spots.

The discipline of Generative Leadership is a field where these blind spots are explicitly addressed in a body of distinctions and practices to enable us to take our leadership to the next level. It is a discipline of people power. If we are to take our leadership impact to the next level we must illuminate our blind spots. We must pay attention to what is essential in human interaction and coordination. We must practice with our internal states and how they enable our external actions. We must become aware of what we already practice in our habitual behaviors and internal states. We must focus on our next step of learning through new practice. We must focus on our capacity for connection and resonance, sometimes called “presence.” And we must bring all this to bear in our own performance art of leadership, coordination, and collaboration with others, and be living a good life.

People power is a skill and a path of practice. It is the practice of connecting more deeply to our core humanity and care and learning to bring that to our shared vision, commitments, and actions in the world.

To listen to the audio recording of this conference call about People Power of Effective Leaders, CLICK HERE.