Leadership and Others

David Ivers is from Sydney, Australia. He is a qualified Primary and Secondary School Teacher. In total, he has served on school leadership teams for 16 years in senior leadership roles.

He use to say that the only thing worth doing is what we do for others.”

Alice in ‘Alice: Through the Looking Glass’ (Disney 2016)

It is an interesting quote from ‘Alice: Through the Looking Glass’. How will your legacy be decided? What will be in your obituary? What will people say about you and how will they think about you, when you are no longer around? These are wonderful questions for any leader to consider. However, this quote from Alice occurs at the end of her journey ‘Through the Looking Glass’ into Wonderland. It is in effect one of the key learnings that Alice takes away from her journey through crisis leadership in Wonderland. In many ways, this is easily a metaphor, even a question for the contemporary leader. In your journey through the ‘Wonderland of leadership’, what have you learned and importantly, what did you do whilst you were there?

More often than not, journeys are undertaken in the company of others. This underscores an important aspect of leadership, that just as relationships are important on the journey, so too it is essential in good leadership. So, what did you do whilst you were there? The answer simply should be “I fostered positive relationships with my team, building their capacity, accompanying them along the journey, coaching when needed, encouraging them, to build quality relationships with the people they encounter, especially colleagues and regular customers/clients. This of course implies that for leadership to be effective, there must be a strong connection between individual team members and the leader. How does one begin this relationship, this journey? It could actually be as simple as a smile, as Tom Peters noted in 2013.

Practice smiling before a mirror, whatever. Start the week with a visible display of energy, connection, curiosity.”

Tom Peters @tom_peters 2/12/2013

It’s a simple equation. Smiling is one way in which humans engage positively with each other. Ultimately, we are social beings. Professor Paul Zak in his wonderful book “Trust Factor”, reminds us that something as simple as a smile or a hello, can release Oxytocin, a hormone that is required for positive social bonds to be created.

“I have tested oxytocin release in the bedroom, board room, and bivouac. It occurs everywhere…All it takes is a positive social interaction without too much stress or testosterone. Oxytocin just might be the molecule that makes us human. At least it is the molecule that creates our humanity. By understanding a little about the neuroscience of oxytocin, you can harness humanity at work. Believe me, the people at work want this.”

Zak, Paul, J. (2017). Trust Factor (EBook). New York: AMACOM. P.26.

For an Anthropologist, the connection between the micro aspect of the organization, to the more formal macro side of the organization is one place to start. In every organization, there is the formal organization and the informal organization. If you were ever unsure as to whether or not the informal side of the organization is real, consider this. Consider the number of corridor conversations that occur. Sure they might simply be people who know each other well enough to stop and have a friendly chat. Moreover, though, the corridor is often the place where views and positions on issues are formed and shaped. The corridor is often the place where a problem coming up on one person’s radar, can be informally resolved by another.  The meeting before the meeting can yield points of clarification prior to the formal agenda being undertaken and the meeting after the meeting might give rise to a negotiated plan of implementation. Often discerning why there is a blockage will lead you straight to the strategy that will improve communication and help to build that relationship, which is crucial to team and mission success. Australian Social Researcher and Psychologist, Hugh Mackay, made this observation in his excellent work “Why Don’t People Listen?”

“People don’t listen to us because they know we don’t listen to them, or perhaps they sense that we don’t even listen to ourselves. They don’t listen to us because what we are saying doesn’t appear to have any relevance to their own situation; or because we used a ‘trigger word’ which set off a chain reaction of private thoughts. They don’t listen to us because what we are saying feels like an attack on their cage; or because they were expecting us to say something quite different, so that’s what they thought we said. They don’t listen to us because we talked about us, not them; or because they couldn’t see what they could do about what we were saying. They don’t listen to us because we just said what we thought and left it at that; or because what we said was overwhelmed by the message in how we said it. They don’t listen to us because they haven’t learned to trust us; or because they feel intimidated or insecure when they are with us.”

Mackay, Hugh. (2013). Why Don’t People Listen? (EBook). Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

So, the bedrock of any good relationship is listening properly to the other person. It is when we put ourselves ahead of the conversation when we don’t have any empathy with the other, when we don’t see ourselves in the shoes of the other, we fail to communicate effectively. The failure to communicate means that the personal agenda has moved forward at the expense of building the relationship. Some ‘take-aways’ (not an exhaustive list) that might help the situation, involve seeing the situation as a journey with the other.

  • Get to know the people you lead.
  • Initiate conversations, take the lead.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask gentle questions as well as challenging questions.
  • Communication includes the non-verbal. Take yourself on a journey around the building to visit staff, maybe even have a tea or coffee with them.
  • It’s the best way to break down barriers and open up channels of communication.
  • Listen more than you talk. If you have asked a question, let them respond in their way.
  • Stop interrupting or talking over people.
  • Think about what you need to say. Take the opportunity to emphasize the positives as far as possible.
  • Be available, make time to cultivate the relationship with your staff. How you treat them, is a model for how they will treat others, those on the team, and your customers/clients.
  • Remember, in Anthropology, communication (verbal and non-verbal) is highly symbolic. What are you really saying?

In your journey through the ‘Wonderland of leadership’, what have you learned and importantly, what did you do whilst you were there?


Hugh Mackay in his book “Why Don’t People Listen?” has the “10 Laws of Human Communication”. They make for interesting reading.

The Ten Laws of Human Communication 

     1 It’s not what our message does to the listener, but what the listener does with our message, that determines our success as communicators.

     2 Listeners generally interpret messages in ways that make them feel comfortable and secure.

     3 When people’s attitudes are attacked head-on, they are likely to defend those attitudes and, in the process, to reinforce them.

     4 People pay most attention to messages that are relevant to their own circumstances and point of view.

     5 People who feel insecure in a relationship are unlikely to be good listeners.

     6 People are more likely to listen to us if we also listen to them.

     7 People are more likely to change in response to a combination of new experience and communication than in response to communication alone.

     8 People are more likely to support a change that affects them if they are consulted before the change is made.

     9 The message in what is said will be interpreted in light of how, when, where, and by whom it is said.

     10 Lack of self-awareness and an unwillingness to resolve our own internal conflicts make it harder for us to communicate with other people.

Mackay, Hugh. (2013). Why Don’t People Listen? (EBook). Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

Communication is a symbolic endeavor. Symbolic in terms of the non-verbal reinforcing the verbal, symbolic in terms of the exercise of power and authority, symbolic in that the interaction reveals something of each person. It is also worth thinking about symbols and how they might be used. The use of symbols, something that has a meaning beyond itself, is often found in rituals. Think of football matches where the team sings the team song before a match or after a victory or of symbols in a funeral or a wedding service. The use of symbols is everywhere and most likely already present in your own organization. How do you use symbols and rituals to enhance the culture of the team and the organization generally? In communication, which includes your behavior what are you really saying about yourself and the organization? It can be the difference between people wanting to leave the organization and wanting to stay. Mark Crowley in his excellent book “Lead From The Heart” says this very well.

“Consequently, an important question for leaders is this: How do you make other people feel? How you make others feel is what people most remember about you – even if they form this memory unconsciously – and those feelings influence behavior long after the leader is in their presence. How you answer the question, according to Pearsall, describes how much of your own heart’s energy you are giving to the people you lead. The more positive the heart energy, the healthier it is for not just for employees, but, importantly, for you.”

Crowley, Mark. (2011). Lead From The Heart (EBook). Bloomington, Indiana: Balboa Press. p56.

For the leader, every moment is a moment, and it creates the topography of your ‘Wonderland’ of leadership. It is a moment of truth, a moment of vulnerability, a moment of engagement or a moment of reflection. Whatever the moment is and how it presents itself to you as a leader, it is an opportunity not to be wasted. Time, as Alice discovered in ‘Wonderland’ may not be your friend but it is not your enemy either. It is a finite resource, in which positive relationships could and should be built, trust enhanced or encouraged and in which a positive healthy culture can be created or strengthened. How the leader leads in that moment and in the next moment and in the moment after that, dictates what sort of leader you are, how effective you will be and how people will remember you. After all, as Tom Peters often states in his groundbreaking (2018) book, ‘The Excellence Dividend’, “excellence is the next five minutes.”

“Often those experiences become part of a “genealogy of trust.”…Over time, each act of extending trust becomes part of a legacy of trust that increases prosperity, energy, and joy in families, relationships, organizations, communities, and even countries for generations.”

Covey, Stephen. M. R., Link, Greg., Merrill, Rebecca. R. (2012). Smart Trust (EBook). London: Simon & Schuster. p216.

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