The Leadership Mystique and Play-doh – Manfred Kets De Vries
I’m sitting in an “Inspire Justice” advocacy conference put on by a partnership between World Vision and our church. The attendance isn’t what we had planned and hoped for, but key leaders are here and for that I’m grateful. But as I listen to the speakers and as we discuss ways of influence and impact on the behalf of the marginalized, my thoughts keep returning to our assigned book.
The Leadership Mystique by De Vries is a compendium of ideas and suggestions around the topic of leadership. I am reminded of the book while our speaker is requesting that we all initial our name on an outline of a human body, near the body part that best expresses our gifts. This is all part of assessing personality and emotional intelligence. The “right-brainers” love this exercise – also, because we have pipe-cleaners and Play-doh on the tables for those less analytical, to offer expression and input to the problems discussed. At the same time, the “left-brainers” are already writing letters to their congressmen suggesting support of a “clean water for children” bill!
De Vries understands that leadership growth will come with an acknowledgement of the importance of emotional intelligence and different styles of leadership. We need to 1) understand ourselves, 2) learn to manage our emotions and 3) learn to recognize and deal with the emotions of others. Our speaker, a Latina pastor from Honduras is artful in identifying the essence of each person’s emotions. She also is excellent in listening when comments are given and shows the appropriate body language toward our group. I think the author would give her a high grade in leadership.
De Vries also speaks to the importance of storytelling, illustrating and metaphors – using the “frog in the pot” example himself. This morning is full of stories, stories of hungry kids, stories of mothers having to walk an hour for water etc. I’ve heard them all before but they still communicate. They still cause me to act. Storytelling is essential.
Six people sit around my table. We are given 10 minutes each hour to discuss some of the advocacy actions that are presented. The author of The Leadership Mystique speaks of dysfunctional leadership, the shadow side of executives and that many times the public life of a leader is different than their private life. We too, are told this morning that politicians are mainly figureheads and that they sometimes vote for the highest bidder publically, although they may agree with you privately. Since they are primarily figureheads – similar to the leaders De Vries speaks of – it might be best to take time to talk, write and influence a congressman’s aids or chiefs of staff. Then they in turn will influence the policy maker.
The book jumps all over and touches on many areas of leadership, but one last observation is coming to me during the afternoon session. Our speaker is again emphasizing the importance of influencing those close to an elected official rather than the official himself, one that can see through his narcissism and self-importance. De Vries speaks of the fact that a good leader understands that he will have some narcissistic thoughts. Therefore, great leaders create a climate where open and frank conversation is allowed and they employee at least one person who can push back and openly confront him or her – without a threat of job loss!
As the conference closes, the last presenter encourages us to visit a World Vision project. Take a trip where poverty can be experienced. Travel more and travel often. This dovetails with De Vries’ idea of Global leadership development. He lists the five T’s: tradition, travel, training, transfers, and team learning. I have to agree. I build a portion of my mission vision for our church on travel – not so much for what we can do for others, but for the exposure and challenges that come to our worldview when we get out of our familiar context.
De Vries concludes by sharing that worldviews can be developed to reflect a shared purpose. I have to agree. This can be good for those of us at the conference and for leaders everywhere – a worldview of leadership that can be develop to incorporate hope, humanity, humility and humor. That’s good leadership!