Crossing over that border – can country and western teach anything about leadership?

Updated: Mar 2

Have you ever reflected on how certain events, sayings or challenges stick with you as you go through life while 99% of the stuff you encounter just falls away or is locked in the databank of our sub-conscious? Something that stuck with me is this line from a country and western song by Radney Foster: ‘Cause it’s a fine line in between the right and wrong. He’s been crossing over that border way too long.’

At the end of my last blog, ‘How large is your shadow?’ (read it here) I said I would come back to the story of the oak tree. You may recall it was brought in as a metaphor for the strong leader, but a down-side was that the larger the tree, the more nutrients it needed and the greater its canopy, which meant it prevented other, smaller trees around it reaching their potential.

My fine line

The difficulty of stepping back and of knowing when key employees are ready to assume more responsibility is one I can relate to. It’s my fine line. When do I stay out of the discussion at our forums and when should I try to help the team?

An important lesson I have learned in my 15 years of facilitating peer-to-peer forums is that the more I trust the team to solve their challenges, the better the results. The most painful lessons are when I over control. If I’m lucky, some of the stronger participants will pull me up. I say ‘lucky’ because in that case all I have to deal with is my bruised ego. It’s more damaging when the group goes quiet, leaving me to do the work because, like the oak tree in the last blog, I have taken the energy from them.

The sounds of silence

My other lesson is to notice the signals that others are ready. When I am too engaged in facilitating a session, I can rush past the very important contribution of a participant. To foster others’ contributions, I realise I must be more comfortable with silence (a music theme to this week’s blog is emerging I see!). It’s only when I quiet my thoughts can I enjoy my nature walks. Only then do I hear the birds singing and the bees buzzing. Equally, when I allow pauses develop in a forum, I give permission to the quieter members of the team to make what are often profound inputs.

Arnie Mindell, a great teacher of mine, once said about culture change, ‘You don’t have to implement change, you just need to notice the change that wants to emerge.

I do realise there are times when my input can add greatly to the richness of the discussion. The big conundrum is how long to hold back and, like our CEO in my last blog, just leave it to the team to get on with it. I’m happy to say I have experienced great sessions where I have contributed yet allowed the participants enough sunlight, moisture and nutrients to evolve towards their own potential.

My final reflection is that life in all its forms – nature, personal, family, business – continues to evolve, however, I can help that evolution by being more conscious of how I affect the ability of others to grow and become their own big oak trees.

Just coming back to the Radney Foster song, I’m not actually a country and western fan, but around 20 years ago my wife got into line dancing and this was one of her favourites – It’s A Fine Line is the name of the song, released around 1992, in case you want to check it out..

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