Overcome your fear of “other” and you will be a more insightful and effective leader.
Our ability to deal effectively with the different situations we face in life depends on the degree to which we are able to appreciate and comprehend the full picture.
It helps us find the most effective response, and we experience life in a richer and more fulfilling way, if we can broaden our insight with a sincere mind and heart. To grow a fuller and richer appreciation and understanding of the problems or challenges we encounter, particularly where people are involved, we have to open our minds, hearts, and most difficult of all, our will.
Look outside in and bottom up As Richard Rohr says, we are much more likely to find the truth at the bottom and the edges of things (of the social/political/economic structure) than at the top or the centre. In terms of the state, government would be at the top and the elite or upper class in the centre. Don’t expect them to give you the ugly truth. Xenophobia, a worldwide phenomena, can be defined as “the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange – it can involve the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup”. The poor, the foreigner, the outgroup, the dropout, the homosexual and the disabled, looking from the outside in, will have a more accurate view of the degree to which the country’s constitution is practised than would the rest of us. Wise leaders should therefore do their utmost and the counterintuitive to stay in touch with the marginalised – including saying, “No,” to the temptations of self-enrichment and abuse of power.
Similarly, wise organisational leaders would deliberately acquaint themselves with the experiences of employees from the bottom up, and the experiences of customers from the outside in. Notwithstanding their busy schedules and having to absorb the latest market indicators, they will consider the frustrations, disillusionment and anger of employees and customers complaining about the lack of freedom and self-expression or poor service from poorly trained and disempowered frontline people. Instead of lying awake thinking of their next strategic move, they should lie awake thinking how to lead more inclusively, empowering more people throughout their organisations.
Overcome your fears Inclusive thinking works both ways. As much as we may want to side with one group of people, the challenge of inclusive thinking is to sincerely want to grow a better understanding of those we find most difficult to associate with. The responsibility rests on each of us to bridge the divide that exists – whether we are in the middle or on the edges, inside or outside.
When we look deeper, and with brutal honesty, into the reason for our “natural” preference to attack or ignore the “other”, we discover that the negative feelings we have about “them” are not independent of our own fears and self-doubts. In fact, we are projecting our fears and doubts on them. We fear interacting with poor people because we are afraid of not being successful. We are frightened by the homeless because we fear being homeless ourselves. And we create a distance between ourselves and those who, by their mere existence, evoke the fears we have within but try to suppress or deny as a potential weakness or imperfection. It is hard to face the truth that all suppressed parts of ourselves will revolt and weaken us at some point, as individuals as well as societies.
We are all, some way or another, prisoners of our own fears. Our challenge is to recognise our fears in the “other” and overcome them in ourselves. By making peace with our own imperfections and shadows and accepting forgiveness and grace for our lives, our thinking and acting will become more inclusive and our lives richer and more fulfilling.
Dr Gerhard van Rensburg is a Leadership Coach, www.newlead.co.za, and author of The Leadership Challenge in Africa and Leadership Thoughts.
This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.