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Painting The Picture of Leadership

Painting The Picture of Leadership

April 08, 20246 min read

"Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow." - Seth Godin

woman easel blank paper

When I first set out to design my leadership training program, it was very academic. As I reviewed the outline, I realized this was NOT what leaders needed from me, nor was it the ‘secret to my success’, so I threw it away and started over.  I had to dig deep and ask myself: What is unique about me that I can offer, and what do leaders need? What did I need when I was starting out? I realized I needed to create tools for any scenario, especially as a new leader, through finding the best approach for each challenge that may present itself. 

I didn’t want to create one specific tool for a specific challenge.  I want to give leaders tools they could apply to a variety of challenges, because let’s be honest, that’s the job.  You walk in the door and right off the bat there’s a challenge or concern brought to your attention by an employee, then shortly after you have to shift gears to address something else entirely with a contractor, and then it’s off to a meeting…and so on.  Each requires a different approach.  How do we fluidly shift to address each of the situations we find ourselves in every day?

This is what led me to think of my offering in a broader sense. I had to look at the personal development and emotional intelligence tools that I have studied and practiced over my 20 years of leadership experience. What made me personally successful? What lessons did I learn along the way - many of them the hard way - that I can lean on to impart some wisdom for others? What were the qualities of a successful team, of a broken team, of a shut down team and how did all of this relate to how I was showing up and leading in those spaces?

That's when I developed the four styles of leadership. It was breaking down how I shift along the continuum of direction and reception or push and draw. There’s a period of discernment brought about by curiosity that moves to decision through clarity, and so on. All of this can happen within one conversation!  As I move along that continuum there are aspects that must come forward and other aspects that fall back.  Like painting a picture.  What colors? What pallet? What brush strokes? Lightly holding the desired outcome while actively engaging in the wayfinding process.  When I reflected on this, the 4 styles of leadership jumped out at me which I rely upon the most, with the 5th overarching influence of our inner narrator.  That part of us that holds our experiences, our perspectives, our inner critic, our judgments and biases, and so much more.  That part of us that filters and decides what to say or do next. 

paint colors, holding paint brush

One of the examples I give a lot is a common one. The employee who can't come to work on time.  We have a story we tell ourselves about this employee and their motivations.  We have created key points in our mind that we will discuss with this employee when we ask to speak with them.  We are confident we are right, just, and fair. This employee is ‘obviously’ lazy, selfish, and disrespectful. – This narrative is dangerous! We have to hold back on that, stay open and curious.  Withhold judgment. We must open the discussion with the assumption of positive intentions and level-set awareness - do they even know the impact their actions have on the team?  Do they even know they’re coming in late?! (Yes, this has happened.  There was a mis-understanding of work shifts).

So the conversation begins: “I would like to speak with you today about your shift hours, in particular your arrival times.  I have noticed you are arriving at 8:30 am more often.  I see your shift starts at 8am. Can you tell me about that?” or similar language.   What comes next is important.  What they respond with may shift us from setting expectations and boundaries (protector/motivator) to showing compassion and empathy (nurturer).  When you learn they have had a very difficult situation at home they are struggling to manage while getting to work on time, this is an opportunity to be empathetic AND maintain expectations.   You may express empathy for their situation while also reminding them of the impact to the team (work harder, coming in earlier, staying later, customers waiting longer, etc.).  You may offer an alternative schedule for a short duration that can work within the team framework…there are a few ways this can go, but the point is - you have to be able to shift.  From protecting the team and motivating the employee (they CAN do this!), to supporting their emotional needs by hearing them out. It is all wrapped up with reminding them of the shared vision and goal of the team (navigator), which is the ‘why’ behind the importance of their effort to arrive on time. 

woman painting flowers on easel oil on canvas

This scenario I briefly describe above typically opens a can of worms for discussion in our workshops which I LOVE.  The goal of me sharing it here is to give a small glimpse into the design of my program - we must learn each aspect and our own personal range within these aspects, and then we must learn how to paint with them.  More of this, less of this.  Broader strokes here, more detail there.  The end result is a shared vision within the entire team.  This isn’t abstract art we are going for, this is Michaelangelo level shit. 

Once we begin to see how this unfolds, we take it to the horses.  They are masters at teamwork and leadership.  The horses will tell us if we are showing up in these aspects in a congruent and genuine fashion.  They will let us know if we are making an impact, or if we need to adjust our approach. This is a safe space to practice these new tools with a sentient being who is masterful at shared leadership and the dynamics within team roles and rituals. Part of this interaction includes standing in the middle as the narrator, and observing how the horse responds to each individual who has stepped into a particular role such as navigator or motivator.  The narrator in the middle must use curiosity and discernment to respond to how the horse is receiving their intention, and make small adjustments (more protector, less nurturer, etc) until they are moving together as one congruent, centered, focused and calm unit. 

Once they see it in motion it begins to click into place about how they can move in this same way with their teams, using the feedback provided by the team to make small adjustments to how they show up in the space and create alignment within the team. 

I would love to hear how this resonates with you! What examples do you have such as I mentioned above with the late employee - please share your thoughts on social media (@spirit2spiritefhc) or via email: Sonia@spirit2spirit.org

woman standing with horse at sunset

In good health,


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