Inspirational leadership: A Gestalt Approach
By Dr Trevor Bentley
Inspirational leadership is experienced by people who feel inspired.
This feeling of being ’inspired’ may be as a result of their own actions and the outcomes they achieve, or by the actions of others.
People who inspire others, as well as feeling inspired, have a number of attributes that others experience as inspirational. These include, self-belief, confidence, attentiveness to others, presence, clarity and a willingness to make choices. All of these attributes flow from the degree to which the ‘inspirational’ person is at ease with themselves. This stems, I believe, from the following seven key elements of how they operate in the world.
Self-awareness happens when we are able to focus on what is happening in the moment and notice how it impacts on us and how we react. It flows from three levels of awareness,
what I am thinking or imagining
When I have this multi-level awareness my reactions to events are informed and sometimes it is sufficient to share this information with others so that they can appreciate how I am being impacted by what is happening. This clarity and openness is both disconcerting and inspirational.
In order for my self-awareness to inform my reactions I have to respond authentically to what is happening. This means ‘saying it as it is’ and not being afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ if this is your truth.
Leaders who operate authentically appear self-assured primarily because they are not afraid to react with clarity and share the information from their heightened awareness. This puts others at ease and the lack of bullshit facilitates effective dialogue.
To operate with self-awareness and authenticity is not enough in itself. We also need to be attentive to the impact we’re having on others. This ‘paying attention’ to others requires that we use all our senses to pick up the minute signals that people give off about what’s happening for them. At this point we are likely to make some interpretation of these signals, which is quite natural. The key is not to believe that our interpretations are correct, but to check them with the person or people concerned.
When this level of attentiveness is displayed the people concerned feel noticed, respected, valued and inspired. When leaders are able to operate with awareness, authenticity and attentiveness the people they’re leading experience them as being perceptive and having insight.
Presence is an almost magical quality that we’re aware of, but which we can’t manufacture. You cannot deliberately decide to ‘have presence’. You can behave and dress so as to be noticed, but being noticed is not the same as having presence. Paradoxically, the more you behave in a way designed to be noticed the less presence you have. Presence is both physical and psychological.
Physical presence arises when people meet and are aware of each other. It may be through physical closeness or through sensory connection. I see you and/or I hear you and immediately feel drawn to connecting with you. Some physical or emotional reaction is stirred by your presence.
It’s interesting to notice how when a team leader or facilitator pays attention to themselves and their own needs their presence seems to diminish. It’s as if when their attention and energy is directed outwards toward others their presence increases and when it is directed inwards towards themselves their presence diminishes. Presence is as much about the other as about self.
Inspirational leaders do not simply involve people in the process of leadership they are ‘inclusive’. Being inclusive means taking notice of peoples’ needs and caring about how people are impacted by leadership decisions and actions.
This inclusive approach relies on leaders being able to take an empathic stance and ‘see through the other’s eyes’. By doing this, the leader’s perception of events is expanded and people feel seen and heard and consequently inspired.
Making choices is a fundamental element of leadership. Each moment of choice brings with it risk. Facing and dealing with risk is an inherent quality of leadership and often goes unnoticed by those who surround the leader.
Each choice brings with it the inevitable consequences arising from the actions driven by the choice. Consequences cannot be avoided, only worked with. The ability and confidence to deal with consequences enables leaders to make choices in a way that balances risk with the need for action.
The inspirational leader will know when a choice is needed and when it can wait. Risk is often reduced by information and information can take time to arrive. Informed and considered choice is nearly always effective. Even so, choices create consequences that can never be fully predicted.
When consequences arrive they call for some response. As each moment unfolds something new and different happens. Each response and reaction is conditional on what has gone before. The spontaneity of events as they unfold takes people into new regions of understanding. There is always something emerging, bringing with it new possibilities.
Improvisation is both a process and a reaction. It is a process in that it requires an understanding of the context in which events are occurring and an ability to use information from the current experience to inform the next step. It is a reaction in that it builds on what has just happened with an immediacy that appears to take place without conscious thought.
Responding to what emerges in the moment, without apparently spending time thinking about the appropriate response, creates a freshness and an aliveness that is both surprising and stimulating. This in turn leads on to further responses as each response fills the moment with something new. Spontaneity leads to novelty and to ‘this has never happened before’ experiences that sparkle and vibrate with opportunity.
As each opportunity is taken and each moment passes the newness and brightness of the next moment of spontaneity leads to discoveries and experiences that could not have been imagined before they arrive. Once they do arrive these discoveries and experiences lead on to the next response and so the process flows, rising and falling with each new interest as it arrives. Working with only what we have in the moment provides a glorious freshness that is inspirational.
Inspirational leaders are inspired, or ‘inspirited’. They are both calm and excited; careful and activated; focused on detail and able to see the big picture. They listen and watch and make informed choices. They are spontaneous and imaginative. They are open to hear others and clear about their own beliefs and values and above all they are able to provide vision and direction.
They inspire because they are inspired.
Trevor has a PhD in organisational and business development and is trained in Gestalt therapy. You can contact Trevor via firstname.lastname@example.org
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