Sometimes unexpected cross-links lead to remarkable insights.
The phrase “personal leadership” resonates almost daily in my practice as a leadership consultant. It is somewhat fashionable and superficial jargon, but it apparently fills a need in the sometimes-unbearable frenzy of modern organisations. It’s about leadership; that’s always worthy. And it is personal, so there’s something in it for everyone. But as frequently as the word emerges, it isn’t easy to discover precisely what it is when you are looking for direction for yourself. Commonplaces abound. “Living from your core”, “bringing out the best in yourself”, and “using your qualities and talent to the full”. Cringe…
In a very much different setting a short while ago, the views of the recently deceased psychologist David Schnarch surfaced. Schnarch was a prominent American sex therapist whom you might have seen in Psychology Magazine or Cosmopolitan with sex tips. A very different story, would you say, sex tips and personal leadership?
In one of his principal works, Passionate Marriage, he discusses the concept of “differentiation” as an essential element for a good relationship. It expresses the skill of adequately balancing two of the strongest human drives, our drive to live our own lives (autonomy) and our drive to relate to others (connection).
One of the most common relationship problems is that we have too much of one and too little of the other. Some feel trapped or controlled in close relationships or feel they cannot be themselves; they may feel that their self-esteem is starting to disappear and that they no longer know who they are. Others have separation anxiety or yearn for safety and security, constantly urging their partner to surrender and provide unconditional love.
Seen that? Been there?
Schnarch translates differentiation into practical concepts. They are the principles he used to help couples become more grounded, adaptive, creative and mature, in other words, better “differentiated”. But I believe that his description also perfectly describes what personal leadership is:
- The firm and flexible self
- You have some inner core values that you live by.
- Your self-esteem can withstand difficult times.
- You can hold on to your views and feelings even when others pressure you to conform.
- You derive your personal stability, values and direction from yourself; this makes it easier to acknowledge that you are sometimes wrong.
- You do not always have to be correct, and you are not immediately angry when you are wrong.
- You learn from your mistakes.
- A quiet mind and a calm heart
You can control or, if necessary, calm your inner world by:
- Managing your fear, so it doesn’t run off with you.
- Dealing with your feelings and emotions.
- Taking care of your “emotional” bruises yourself.
- Listening to your body
- Responding in a grounded way
- You react reasonably and appropriately to people, events and situations.
- You don’t overreact to tense or anxious situations by, for example, saying hurtful things, shouting at your children, breaking down over minor issues, or having a short fuse.
- And you don’t suppress or avoid unpleasant or conflictual situations that need attention.
- Meaningful endurance
You can endure discomfort or pain to grow. This is crucial for success in marriage, parenthood, family and career. Endurance is not blind persistence, stubbornness or refusal to face the facts. Rather, it involves:
- Persevering until your goals are achieved.
- Doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t feel like it.
- Coping with adversity and disappointment, standing up after defeat.
- Withstanding stress.
Striking, isn’t it?
In the work context, problems often arise from a lack of differentiation as well. Differentiation between the desire for personal autonomy and the commitment to your job or your boss. In the public sector, where many people work with a big heart for the citizen, the patient, the pupil, or the traveller, that differentiation is under severe pressure. I see many work situations that are not sustainable.
So, take advantage of David Schnarch’s vision and develop your ability to differentiate. If you establish that competence for work, it will typically also have an impact at home and in bed. And it works the other way around too. Talk about a win-win.