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Authentic Leadership: Create Some Magic, Go Beyond the Rational

Transforming Leadership (3/4)

The development towards more conscious leadership can be a painful and uneasy process. For leaders who have spent a lifetime placing rationality and mathematical calculation at the forefront of their decision-making, perhaps the toughest shift required is to make more space for emotion and intuition. Those who get it right can unlock remarkable results in their organizations.

Consider the example of an international retail CEO running a chain of stores across Central and Eastern Europe. Low-key and humble, he engaged with people at all levels and created emotional commitment through a series of insightful, challenging discussions – in which he did more asking than telling and readily admitted not knowing all the answers. He inspired his teams to transform the organization – resulting in a rejuvenated brand, the launch of a modern e-commerce platform, and a new format for physical stores.

The widely known Czech author Tomas Sedlacek, in his book Economics of Good and Evil, points out that scientific progress is inspired by the brilliance of imagination – and that we need to access the “wild things” within us if we are to imagine and create new advances through our own work2. How do we do that? A stance of humbleness, of admitting that we do not know, can open us to learning new things, changing our perceptions, and moving beyond previously accepted axioms.

I know two co-founders of an Eastern European IT business who exemplify this emotional courage and imagination. Soon after graduating in computer science in the 1990s, they started a software company that soon become very profitable. But then they had the opportunity to build a much more complex and ambitious business, providing mission-critical IT services for hospitals, oil platforms, and other major installations.

This is what inspired and energized them – and with no fear, they abandoned their existing business and plunged themselves into the risky task of building the new one. They might have failed, but that leap of imagination of authenticity has served them and their clients very well. Today they run a highly successful business that contributes to society in a meaningful way.

The experience of these leaders points to an insight that might appear paradoxical. To deal with the unknown and uncertain, we need to work hard on self-development while safeguarding the spontaneity, fresh outlook, curiosity and naivety of a child. We need to be young and old at the same time.

By connecting with our own emotion and intuition, we can invite members of our organizations to do the same. Emotional commitment is more essential today than ever. We can no longer motivate people with a carrot and a stick, or by focusing simply on execution of tasks. We need to create some magic, and go beyond the rational. To achieve that, we will have to do more than just to change our organizations – we will have to transform them.

2*Tomas Sedlacek, Economics of Good and Evil, Oxford University Press, 2011

Transforming Leadership

– 1 Navigating a New World of Uncertainty

– 2 Taking a Step Into the Unknown: Embracing Continuous Learning

– 3 Authentic Leadership: Create Some Magic, Go Beyond the Rational

– 4 Five Dimensions of Successful Organizations