By Miguel Guhlin, CIO Advisor
Image Source: Disinterested
"Yes, we need to move one of Miguel's staff positions over to my department."
I felt the blood rush to my head, fill my ears with hot anger, and the story I told myself was simply disastrous—this director was stealing my staff, telling the boss what she wanted, and had the temerity to do it in front of me. My reaction? I exploded, stating, "You're tearing down my department to build yours! Who do you think you are?"
It didn't matter if my charge was true (it was). What mattered was that I had lost my temper, exploding like a volcano, and I'd done so in front of everyone that mattered. I never spoke to that person again. Even though I was right, in spite of proving the point on the breast of my enemy, I'd lost the relationships at stake.
The concept of the disinterested leader appeals to me. Instead of fierce conversations, engaging confrontations, passionate interactions between two or more individuals, the leader manages to maintain emotional aloofness. That's not to say that what's at stake isn't important, that the leader is a Vulcan from Star Trekwho practices logic, but rather, a leader—who in spite of provocation—recognizes the threats, acknowledges his or her "hair-trigger temper," and makes the choice to not indulge fight or flight.
To accomplish this, the disinterested leader affects the pose of someone who is NOT personally involved in what is at stake. The pose comes as a result of deep reflection and choosing to not engage in ways that heighten the drama of a situation. Rather, his/her actions minimize that drama, focusing on, as the Crucial Conversations authors point out, what that leader really wants to achieve.
Eric Foutch makes the following point in his guest post, The End of Drama is the Start of Leadership:
We propose that you can’t fully actualize your leadership potential without first eliminating drama from your life,
your team, and your organization. The challenge is that you come hardwired for drama, but you do not come
hardwired for leadership, although leadership is a choice you can make at any point in time.
Hardwired for drama, although leadership is a choice you make. I wonder if this approach is different, especially in light of Patrick Lencioni's perspective as he explores the importance of drama to transform meetings from bad to good:
Bad meetings are a reflection of bad leaders.... The first step in transforming meetings is to understand why they
are so bad. There are two basic problems. First, meetings lack drama. Which means they are boring.... Leaders of
meetings need to do the same by putting the right issues—often the most controversial ones—on the table at the
beginning of their meetings.
By demanding that their people wrestle with those issues until resolution has been achieved, they can create
genuine, compelling drama, and prevent their audiences from checking out.
I like the notion of engaging drama in movies, but the thought of it driving team meetings gives me chills. What is exciting is making choices to solve problems together, trying to fill the pool of meaning with the information, feelings, and experiences that are valuable to all. When I can facilitate that, then I can be satisfied with the decisions made as a result of that process.
The best engagements are those with minimal drama. Simply, how can a leader move from information gathering to action and minimize the drama? I like to think of the leader in this situation as "disinterested." When you're interested, there is the opportunity for bias. When you are personally engaged and passionate about the outcome, then your interests are at stake. You have to take those interests out of the equation.
Can we do without the emotional baggage, the drama that each of us brings to the table?
It's a tough question. That's why I like Crucial Confrontations, even though I'm a poor practitioner of the art.
What do you think? Does the concept of the disinterested leader hold water, or is it simply another way of labeling ineffective (or effective) leadership?
Miguel Guhlin is director of technology for a 5A school district in Texas and past president of the statewide TCEA Technology Education Coordinators group. This blog is cross posted at Around the Corner.