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Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #7: Breaking the Cycle of Violence

thought-leaders“The question for leaders is not whether they will encounter violence but how they will encounter it.” (p. 119)

I was initially caught off-guard that violence would figure so prominently in a leadership book about work, spirituality and “finding your path to success and fulfillment.”

Unlike most penners of management manifestos, Benefiel courageously addresses a reality that takes many forms in every workplace. I myself am still a stranger to the experience of physical violence in the workplace, so I will let Benefiel’s insights stand on their own.

But when it comes to other forms of violence: over-working people, under-paying people, belittling people, making people look bad, casting character aspersions, undermining authority, back-stabbing, doing as little as possible, spreading a bad attitude, etc. I have plenty to say.

Benefiel’s three ways forward raise three challenging conundrums.

In order to see compassionately, a leader has to understand, value and organize in light of the human factor in the workplace. And yet our culture’s myopic focus on the profitable bottom line divorced from all other factors and measures of success leads many to consider compassion a luxury to be indulged when convenient. In fact, though, we learn that compassion is crucial in order to reframe complex situations, issues and dynamics in more healthy and constructive ways.

In order to interrupt the cycle, a leader has to be willing to put him or herself in between the less powerful and those people or forces that might harm them. How often, for example, do high performing salespeople or technically superior engineers get away with treating their support staff with disdain because we feel they are indispensable? It is easier to interrupt the cycle of violence in principle then it is in practice.

In order to forgive, a leader has to be able to see more than the work-related offense. A leader needs to see and value the underlying relationships. Work relationships rely on trust, honest communication, and interdependent collaboration. When these break down the cost is enormous. Forgiveness is sometimes the only way forward if there is going to be a way forward.

But again, we are trained to keep the work-related offense/event/dynamic as the central issue. Where there is a “crime” there must be a “consequence.” Our fallacious segregation of work and profit on the one hand from workers and effectiveness on the other creates a practical challenge for those hoping to implement Benefiel’s three trajectories of action.

Thankfully there are leaders who are creative enough, grounded in their humanity enough, and courageous enough to break the cycle of violence. It’s not going to happen until we are able to envision a bigger, more integrated, more encompassing picture of work, leadership and success.

Where and how are people being harmed in your company? How can you take a step back from the situation and look at it through the eyes of compassion, interrupting, and forgivness? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel. My reflections are my own and are intended to generate conversation, catalyze additional thinking and encourage mutual learning.
If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

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