Don’t Try to Change Them — Unleash Them

This is where many leaders spend the bulk of their time, and it is without question a crucial element of the leader’s job description. In most instances, to lead is to help others become better versions of themselves. It was Andy Janning that first got me thinking about this, but this concept can be seen in organizations, families, society, and even film. Andy pointed out that many heroic leaders in movies – think William Wallace in Braveheart, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, or Morpheus in The Matrix, for example – do just this within the context of their stories. They encounter others, inspire them, lead them, and help them become – and this is important to note – not different people, but rather, better versions of the people they already are.

That is to say, leaders do not change what is inside individuals; they do not change their makeup. Instead, they help individuals see and realize their potential. Rather than dehumanizing them by dictating, they free them to become more appropriately human. They free them to become better versions of who they already are. They free them to be who they were meant to be.

This can take many forms within groups and organizations, and it may be helpful to view this concept with an eye toward the human frame (for more on this you can read Carey’s work on organizational frames) in that the organization can play a very helpful role in meeting the needs of the individuals it employs. Viewing its employees as the great thing, as Parker Palmer says, will further bring this idea into focus for organizations and allow them to place the necessary emphasis on appropriate and empowering interactions between employees.

For example, a bank branch manager might notice a teller is struggling repeatedly with balancing at the end of his shifts, and instead of simply writing that teller off, she actively engages that teller, coaching and encouraging him toward operational competence. Or perhaps a pastor becomes aware that one of his parishioners is struggling with some sort of addiction, be it to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or the like. Rather than throwing his hands in the air, shaking his head in disgust, and allowing that person to self-destruct, he instead gently comes alongside that individual and helps him see how that addiction is an obstacle to becoming the man he is meant to be.

However it is manifested, this idea – leaders helping others become better versions of themselves – is an essential element of the leadership repertoire.

3 comments

  1. Teri says:

    I like the theme and title of this post, but the examples at the end seem disjointed. Those are examples of leaders who are coaching others instead of giving up on them. What’s missing are examples of “unleashing” coaching instead of traditional conformity coaching.

    • Matt Monge says:

      Hey Teri! Thanks for stopping by. What sorts of things have you seen in your experience in regards to transformational leadership, etc?

  2. Amanda says:

    As you know, I am a fellow advocate of coaching vs. dictating. However, I would love to hear your thoughts about the tipping point for employees who refuse to evolve, grow and/or get better. Have you ever come across an employee like this? Were you able to get to the root of the issue and affect positive change? What has worked in your experience?

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