Updated: Oct 23
Whether you are conscious of it or not, the way you lead is influenced by "systems" that influence you. Today, we are going to discuss the effects of five of those "systems":
In Chapter 1 of The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness, there is a section on how "Assumptions, Systems and Models Frame Feelings and Actions". Over the past two years, I've found that people have a difficult time determining what systems and models they have been influenced by, and how that influence shows up in their own leadership practices.
Why do people have such a hard time with this?
There are a couple of reasons. First, you aren't always conscious or aware of how experiences earlier in your life affect you in the present. You may not remember childhood experiences clearly or at all, and, as a child, you probably didn't have the capacity, understanding or knowledge to interpret them as being part of an overall "system". Second, the way "things are" is often just accepted as "the way things are". You might not even realize that the way you think or view the world is not the same as the way other people do because they come from different backgrounds, experiences, models and "systems" than you do!
As an adult, and a leader (whether in a formal leadership role or not), it's extremely important that you examine and understand the "systems" that formed you and that you live and lead under, as those "systems" provide the model and influence how you lead now. If the systems that influenced you were unkind, then you might unconsciously lead with unkindness now. Making the models and "systems" that influence your leadership style conscious will allow you to make a more deliberate choice about how you act, react, speak and think when you are wearing your Leader Hat!
Here are five different systems, and how they could influence your leadership practices:
Family - Parents: Were your parents strict? Did they discipline you through fear and punishment? Or were they more permissive and allow you to learn through the logical consequences of your actions? Did you have many siblings or were you an only child? Did you parents model kindness and acceptance when you made a mistake or had an alternative viewpoint from them? Or did they punish you for errors or being "different" in any way? Although parents are often thought of as a child's first "teacher", they are also a child's first leader. How your parents acted, reacted, and spoke to you, influences how you lead others:
If you grew up in a system of unkind parenting, as an adult, you might unconsciously repeat those unkind patterns of behavior and responses; Alternately, you might decide that you want to "break the cycle" and lead in ways that are opposite from the unkind, punishing models your parents used.
Education - Schooling: Did you attend public school? Private school? Or were you home schooled? Did you schooling have a religious focus? Did your teachers model how to ask questions and think creatively...or did they value and enforce conformity and rote memorization? If you played on a sports team, what did you coach value and model? Did focus on "winning is everything and the only thing"... or did they teach you that "how you play the game is the most important thing?" My father was a coach and Professor of Physical Education, and stressed cooperative games and play over competition! When you went to college, did the college you go to have a political or religious affiliation? If it did, how did that affect what was taught in the curriculum...and what wasn't?
Teachers are powerful role models and their actions and words have long-lasting on how you act, react, speak and think. And how you lead others. Think back to your favorite teacher and/or coach. Why were they your favorite? What did they do? How did they make you feel? Think back to your least favorite teacher and/or coach. What was it about their style that you didn't like?
Religion: Did you grow up practicing a particular religion? Was it the majority religion where you grew up or a minority religion? Was it a religion that focused on "belief" or a religion that focused more on "practice"? Was it a religion with a "command and control" structure with direction coming down from above and everyone having to follow...or was it a religion in which there was no central control and people followed different teachers? Were men and women both allowed to lead? And what about people of color and people who are part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community? Do you practice the same religion now, a different one, or none at all?
Religion and the practices of religious leaders are often models that people use for their own leadership practices. It's easy to be unconscious of the effects that the religious system that you were raised under, or that you interacted with, because it was infused into your life and upbringing.
Politics: Turn on the the TV, scroll through social media and you probably won't go 30 seconds without seeing or hearing something about politics or a political system. As children, you may have heard your parents and other relatives discussing politics at the dinner table and at family get togethers. Your family may have had homogeneous political beliefs, or a variety. The schools you attended may also have had a political orientation so that the classes you took influenced your views on and style of leadership.
Political leaders' voices and styles are often amplified and held up as examples of what "leadership" is all about. You may be unconsciously or consciously influenced by leaders who you see as "powerful" and those styles may be copied by leaders in other areas who are seeking power in ways that may not be kind. We are all part of (and influenced by) the political system whether we want to be or not!
Socioeconomic: Were you born in the country you live in now or are you an immigrant? Are you the child of immigrants? Did your parents come from poverty to another country to give you a better life? Did your parents work hard so you could have a better education and socioeconomic standing than they did? Leadership models and styles vary between countries and cultures, and you may be influenced by a variety of different models and systems without being conscious of them.
People who come from different economic backgrounds such as "white collar" or "blue collar". Leadership models and styles on the shop floor or in an IT startup may be very different, so please be conscious of which are influencing you and how that influence is shaping your leadership style.
All of us are influenced by these (and other) models and "systems". Making those influences conscious and reflecting on your experiences with them in the past allows you to be conscious about choosing your own leadership style and practice. To help you make those influences visible, here is an exercise from The Kind Leader:https://bit.ly/3hrAX8g
Once you've completed the exercise, take some time to reflect on how you can make the models and "systems" that influence your leadership practices even more conscious. And if you find you've unconsciously and unintentionally carried over some practices that aren't as kind as you would like, that's okay! Making those old, unkind and outdated models and "systems" conscious and deciding to deliberately change and adopt kinder ones is the first step to becoming a kinder leader!
We'd love to hear what models and "systems" have influenced your leadership practice, and what effect that model or "system" has had on you and your leadership practice. Leave a comment below, and please share this post and exercise with others!