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How We Can Start Leading Our Leaders

Business and elected leaders are not trusted by most Americans to act in the public interest, our interest.

Pew Research, July 2019

As workers and citizens, we are partially responsible for allowing leaders to ignore their responsibilities to us.  As Americans, we are called to define the scope of our leaders’  responsibility, the criteria they need to meet in order to be allowed to lead us, and the values they must demonstrate to earn our loyalty.

This is especially important to remember this Memorial Day week. We mustn't wait for November.  Many decisions critical to our economy, civil rights, healthcare, and democracy must be made in the coming months.

A budget is a  moral document

We must start evaluating and asking more of the leaders in our own lives, businesses, and in the nation today.

We don’t need anyone’s permission to start this work. Alexander Hamilton didn't wait for permission. In Federalist Paper 85 he wrote,

"Thus have I, fellow citizens, executed the tasks I had assigned myself" as he offered his arguments in favor of the Constitution.

Hamilton also said that our leaders "must be controlled by the reason of the people." (Federalist Paper 50) The reason of the people can reshape leadership by clearly and constructively evaluating our leaders’ efforts and results.

Is your leader:

  • Strong and fair?
  • Caring and empowering of others?
  • Informed, wise, and balanced in their decision-making?

At the Humane Leadership Institute, we’ve created a tool to help you evaluate your leader’s performance and how well your leader embodies your values.  Find the Evaluating Your Leader Wisdom Jig on our website.

First, get curious about your needs and your leaders’ needs:

  • How could your leader better meet your needs?
  • What personal or professional needs is your leader trying to meet for themselves?
  • Do those aligned with your shared values?
  • What might you do to find overlap and build alignment around shared needs and values?
  • What can you ask your leader to do to meet your needs and values?

Once you are clear about your leader's performance and lived values, you can begin designing improvements to your leader's behavior.  This is the tricky part: requesting changes. The goal is to have a discussion about how to better meet the needs of everyone involved. This can happen naturally in the course of conversation, in your own performance review meeting, on internal chat boards or social media, in an intervention, or even as an ultimatum.

If you've designed changes and are waiting for the right moment to share them, you  have already empowered yourself in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton. Self leadership at this level is available to every one of us. As you work through this process, your empowerment and self leadership skills will grow.  Your leader will either grow to better meet your needs or you will find yourself a better leader.

Of course, you needn't do anything at all. But quietly following leaders who do not meet our own standards has brought us to this moment– a moment that has cost us many lives, jobs, hopes, and opportunities.

My hope this Memorial Day is that you and many others around you will take up this work of evaluating our leaders.  By clarifying and speaking our needs and values, we will lead ourselves into a new era of more responsive, responsible leadership.  That would be a fitting tribute to all those who sacrificed to defend our shared ideals of liberty and justice for all.

Featured photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

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