Apr 12

Crushing Caring Leadership

Stephan Polomski
Stephan Polomski is director human resources, coach and trainer

Recently, I experienced in two different settings outside my company a crisis of caring leadership. In one case, I myself was in the lead, in the other I was observing the issue not being directly involved. In both cases, the representatives of caring leadership were failing to hold up to their standard and image, promoting and living up to values like respect, attention, self-management, and honor. And in both cases, moral devastation and emotional hurt were shocking and certainly bigger than with leaders where trust and expectation into personal integrity and joint values were less. And as both issues took place during two professional trainings they were not only affecting those directly involved but the whole group of people.

In the first situation I witnessed as an observer in the role of an assistant trainer and not directly involved person a scene in which my teacher in the role of a chief-trainer was losing control after three days of training and yelling to a participant outrageously. Of course, the issue had a story behind. Nonetheless, I was shocked, and ashamed, and sad. I have no other words for it. My teacher was guiding me for four years. I know from her how to make an equal contact and how to stay in contact with highest respect for the identity and needs of my interlocutor. I owe her my fundamental knowledge and ability how to remain in a good inner state of mind even in stressful situations when self-control is challenged and how to create out of myself a positive resonance with others.

So, there my role model was out of her mind, neglecting everything she was teaching and living up to and neglecting what was considered as joint cultural identity and approach how to stay in the lead and pace other individuals and groups. My reaction was that I questioned her credibility feeling inner rejection, irritation, and finally emptiness.

And only two weeks later, I myself had to bitterly experience a similar challenge in a professional training on conflict management being a participant who had to call up another participant out of a group of 21 people for a sculpture work. Normally, you just name the one you want to work with. In this case, I asked, who in the group the biggest intimidator was and then said his name. This was a devaluation of his person and identity and when he approached I saw the injury in his eyes. I immediately knew that I made a big mistake but did not dare speak up in front of the group to apologize as it was so embarrassing, and especially in this case, as this man had shown to me in the last one and a half years highest respect and trust.

My attempt to apologize later was not successful as well, and the basis of trust was destroyed by my inner attitude and by my behavior. What I felt was regret, embarassment, shame, and finally emptiness.

So, what are the lessons learned in order to keep up caring leadership and not to crush it especially being under stress with people who challenge us?

For myself, it means to watch over me when I am in contact with people who do trigger my value system and may be my personal history. I will stay the double attentive towards my inner attitude and my outer communication. And that means being absolutely humble, especially when my own thoughts and perception filters abase my interlocutor because arrogance catches hold of me. It means to set an inner stop sign and to re-activate thoughts which separate the person and its behavior. By doing so, I get contact with my own inner well-being and thus my capacity to love, to respect and to be truly interested. By assuming goodness behind a person´s behavior it is easy to stay in a positive resonance.

The two experiences also showed me that idealization of anybody in an official role is wrong. It is unrealistic to require 100 % perfection in the social and economical behavior of leaders or teachers – deception has necessarily to follow as the bell rings for everybody once.

“Leaders and teachers, also when they hold a set of humanistic and caring values, remain fallible and make mistakes as every human being. But the fact that they claim and live up to caring leadership and high ethical standards makes their mistakes so emotionally disastrous.”

Leaders and teachers, even and especially when they hold a set of humanistic and caring values, remain fallible and make mistakes as every human being. But the fact that they claim and live up to caring leadership and high ethical standards makes their mistakes so emotionally disastrous.

May be we are expecting too much from our leaders in general, and thus dehumanizing them. They are making mistakes, because they are humans. Mistakes, they might not even accept themselves. They are human representatives, not the ideal cause itself.

What I also learned anew in these weeks that is to respect other people´s mistakes and to open up for the chance of healing social systems through forgiveness.

It might sound banal, but if you experience it on your own, you know how deep and essential it is.

And it is the only chance to avoid crushing yourself as a caring leader in case you failed.

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 12th, 2010 at 10:08 and is filed under Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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