Friday, February 24, 2006

Leading From the Grey Zone

There is more to situations than what we call ‘black and white’. Leaders who lead from either perspective are usually making decisions based on some of the facts but not all. That might get them into trouble later on. Leading from the grey zone melds all the information together to make a more informed, responsive, not reactive decision. Those who lead from the grey zone are able to think differently from the people who surround them. Thinking from that perspective promotes leadership by allowing individual talents and creativity to emerge. Conventional leaders think it’s valuable to be able to make split second decisions, but leading from the grey zone encourages people to incorporate new ideas and wisdom subtly and without as little ‘upsetting the apple cart’ as possible.

Thinking from the grey zone takes a long time to develop but allows a leader to think between black and white and not form an opinion about something important until they’ve heard all the facts and perspectives. Thinking grey stops leaders from forming opinions before they have to and wait for all relevant information to come to light before jumping in with both feet.

Leading grey also hones listening skills as these leaders listen for what they don’t know, as opposed to from a position of validation of what they already do know. Not only do ‘grey leaders’ listen in an artful and mindful way, they look at global and multiple perspectives to see complete pictures, thereby not having to ‘fix’ things later. They also use their environments wisely, both knowledge based environments and people environments or, in this case the experts in various fields.

Things are rarely black and white. Why lead from either perspective?

Some would call this a form of procrastination. This is subtly and powerfully different. It’s more a form of positive delay; not avoidance but strategic decision-making. ‘Grey leaders’ do everything in their power to make their direct reports succeed. They don’t run the organization, rather they lead individuals who share the same vision and give substance to the organization. They all run the organization as they create a ‘community of excellence’.

I often hear from clients how sneaky I am as I get them to do things they absolutely didn’t want to do and they end up loving it. They try to wrap their heads around this to be able to lead from the same perspective. It’s more than direction. It’s showing people the possibilities, giving them time to see the benefits and letting them fly as they embrace new ways of being, doing, working….. and once they come together with their own individuality and work towards the same goals or purpose, they begin to pull themselves forward. I don’t have to push them in any way shape or form. Why would I want to? Why would anyone in a position of leadership want to push anyone in any direction? That’s taking ownership of what they do and how they do it, how they think, as well as their successes and failures.

‘Grey leaders’ might lead quietly but are very powerful all the same. They have power with people, not over them.

Donna Karlin

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