Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a student who stayed to talk after class…
He told me how his perception of leadership has changed over the last year. Now, I had this student in a class last year where we discussed an interesting book entitled Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box.
I am not going rehash the contents of the book because I wrote about it in another article, but the basic gist was that you cannot fake leadership.
You will either treat people as people or as objects. When you objectify people, you treat people like things to be used. You distort reality. You begin to justify yourself when things go wrong. You blame others.
The authors refer to this as being “in the box.” Unfortunately, this condition spreads like an airborne disease.
As we approached the end of the semester, students were working on a group project that required some coordination. Thomas [not his real name] could see that his classmate was “in the box,” but more importantly, he could see how easy it would be for him to fall into the same trap himself.
Since he was the group leader, he could not afford to get pulled into the box too. He was at a fork in the road and this road was not easy to navigate. He could react to her and objectify her, or see her as a person and help her out of the box. It would take some fortitude to continue to return kindness for another’s abuse.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18).
Perspective and Consequences
Beyond the gratification that I felt that a student actually remembered what I taught in class, I was doubly impressed that he could articulate how he should think about leadership–particularly how he should think about his people. Thomas understood that leadership is not about him. It is about the people he leads.
To paraphrase Robert Frost, when the roads diverged, Thomas chose to view that person as a person, not as an object, and that made all the difference.
November 28, 2012
Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University