Leadership can be brutal. Can we agree on that? When you work with leaders you often get to see the effects, and sometimes the damage, being in charge. It is hard to see people, who were chosen to lead, and who, having been through the fires of leadership, come crawling out of the inferno exhausted, dispirited, battered and covered with the "emotional creosote" and smoke of battle encrusted on their mental psyche.
I personally have a visceral memory of one such day . . . . The story involves my Dad, an Academic Dean/Vice President of a small college, and a man with the temperament to suite such a role--which will become important in a moment. I can say "with the temperament to suite such a role" because his personality, as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, came back with a profile (ESTJ) suited to administration. Perhaps prompted by these talents he had received his Ph.D. in Secondary Education while simultaneously working at the college and was promoted into the role of running the operations of the college. It was a role he filled for most of his 51 year career at that school.
I subject you to this personal history to say this, my Dad's personality was not prone to being dramatic or overly sensitive. He was, in a word, stoic. That is not to imply "unfeeling" which he certainly was not. In fact his choice to come to a start up college rather than to accept a job offered by Auburn University may have belied a bit of romantic idealism in his early days. Still, I knew, even as a young boy, that my Dad was tough. He could take whatever life threw at him.
Seeing my Dad through this viewpoint, I hardly knew what to make of the day I came home and found him emotionally overwhelmed and in conference with my mother. I think I remember tears. If so, it was the only time I ever saw him cry about anything less the death of family member. What could possibly be the cause? Surely the "sky must be falling!" My parents simply dismissed it with a "some things are happening at the college." (Although in later years they would include me in their confidences about such matters I can truly say they never used them as opportunities to "bad mouth" others--a trait I came to admire.)
It was only years later that an employee of the college told me what happened. It seems that the President, for whatever reason, tried to get rid of him. The attempt went so far that my Dad had to appeal (as it was told to me) to a "vote of confidence or no confidence" by the faculty members themselves. They voted, he survived, and the President left. Later, I heard that this ex-President would come back to our town and while his family would visit the college he never again came on the campus.
My point is not to "trash" my Dad's ex-boss. I wasn't involved. I don't really know what happened. I simply observe or surmise that what happened caused scars for both leaders. It must be rare indeed to lead for any significant period of time and to retire the field without the emotional bruises and breaks of competition.
If you have been a leader you know all about the scars. As I work with today's leaders, it is not a matter of "are they whole or are they broken?" No, it's a matter of "in what ways and to what degree have they been broken?" Some of the most damaged are leaders who cannot even admit to themselves that they have been damaged. Others are aware of the damage and struggling to regain a stance to continue the climb.
To often, business consultants, recognize the damage that has been done but simply don't know what to do about it. Their training in business, legal, financial, human resources or other professions have not prepared them to deal with the emotional and behavioral issues that can stymie a leader's confidence and ability to lead. These leaders often become reactive and begin to manage from fear.
Helping leaders to continue to lead, despite the hurts, and helping others to engage and collaborate, without multiplying the severity and number of injuries to all parties is what Human Systems Consulting is all about. It is a good one.