Debunking the myths that affect the quality of our leadership
By Chris Kopp, PT, DPT
When Impact Magazine inquired if I would be interested in writing an article on leadership I said, “Sure, piece of cake!” However, sometimes tackling a piece of cake can be more complex than we think.
I looked at my bookshelf and saw all the books I have on leadership and business: Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership, Dan Kennedy’s Ruthless Management of People and Profits, Bill Parcells’ Finding A Way to Win, among many others. The idea of “a piece of cake” hit me again, and another book that I have found helpful in my development as a leader, but more important, as a person caught my eye: The Road Less Traveled, by Dr. Scott Peck. Initially copyrighted in 1978, it is a quite interesting read. Section 1 titled “Discipline,” starts with Problems and Pain and the first sentence reads, “Life is difficult.”
And here I was, confronting the idea that anything might be “a piece of cake.”
Peck is right, though. It’s an inherent truth that life is difficult, but the statement can also be applied to business and the challenges of leading an organization. In fact, Peck references many individuals in his book who were leaders of organizations but were having struggles. Very talented, smart, energetic people with compassion—qualities that most leaders are known for.
In the first section regarding Discipline, Peck uses eating a piece of cake as a metaphor to someone who was having discipline issues and procrastination. She only liked the frosting and not the cake itself. The idea was for her to flip her mindset, eat the cake before the frosting. First, she would work through her problems (things she disliked) in order to get to the “frosting.” Then, the frosting would be that more delicious and satisfying. He maintains that pain of problems (suffering) must be experienced constructively to achieve discipline. After that comes the awareness that life or business is difficult, or in this case distasteful, and when we accept that, then they are no longer as difficult or distasteful.
The four tools necessary are:
- Delaying of gratification
- Acceptance of responsibility
- Dedication to truth
Habits that Undermine Leadership
As leaders of organizations, it is easy to fall into various habits that support our likes and dislikes. We either avoid problems or eventually attack them with a distaste for it – usually involving anger and frustration.
Another saying that I find to be a misnomer and interesting is, “just a walk in the park!” It sounds pleasant: A beautiful day with vibrant colors, smells, and sounds; the heightened awareness of our surroundings; being in the moment, so to speak. This experience should be relaxing, maybe even opening us to ideas that solve some problems we are working through. But what happens when we accidentally become lost, and the sun begins to set, and next thing we know, we are in utter darkness?
The sounds and sights are no longer comforting but create fear, anxiety, and regret for even going to the park in the first place. We begin to worry about the “What if?” and “What is that noise?” and “Is there someone lurking in the shadows?” “What if I never find my way out?” “What if I trip and hurt myself, will anyone come to my aid?”
Fear, anxiety, and regret are common emotions that can really affect one’s ability to function as a balanced person and certainly as a leader. I have always been known to be, for the most part, happy, positive, reliable, willing to help others at a moment’s notice, and someone who has a strong sense of belief in myself. However, I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I have had since starting my own business. What if our volume continues to decline? How will I pay the bills? What if I make less money than I think I should? What if I am not good enough to do this? What happens if I fail? Not to mention the worry about managing of and caring for individuals as my practice grew.
It can take a long time to develop the discipline needed to let things play out. Leaders need to learn to be patient in the park, find some peace and comfort, and eventually the sun will come up and we will see the trail and path to get back to feeling safe and well again.
Finding Clarity Through Emotions
Have you ever heard of the saying, “Things aren’t as bad as they seem,” or as my Granny used to say, “This, too, shall pass”? These can be difficult concepts to embrace in business because money is involved, and our entrepreneurial egos get in the way. We may think we shouldn’t be suffering because we are too good and intelligent for it to be this way. Leaders must be able to constructively manage normal but potentially detrimental emotions when it comes to leadership, a skill wrapped up in the concept of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is a relatively new concept and its application to Leadership. The concept was originally introduced by two psychology professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey.1 Mayer defined emotional intelligence as the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. Later, Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman linked emotional intelligence to business leadership.2 Goleman describes five components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation (passion for work beyond money and status), empathy for others, and social skills. Again, as humans, these are not skills that come or develop easily, even though they could be part of our own human nature. It is just plain natural for us to get emotional and the difficulty to find a balance between emotions and proper function. As leaders of organizations that want so badly to succeed, we must come to terms with our own emotions first as well as our strengths and weaknesses and then learn how best to manage them in order to achieve true leadership. We also need to understand, this is not a finite journey but one of ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys that will continue longer than we would probably prefer.
Life, in this case, leadership, is difficult, but remember, it is supposed to be. Just as we work hard to become better clinicians because we care about our success and our desire to truly help people feel better, we too must work and seek assistance to feel better about ourselves and learn the skills to overcome the challenges of life and those as leaders. Peck refers to this as spiritual growth and when this begins to happen, our emotions then change from negative to positive, finding peace and joy and love even during what appears to be the most challenging of situations.
1Salovey P, Mayer JD. Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality. 1990;9(3):185-211. doi:10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG
2Goleman D. Emotional Intelligence. Why It Can Matter More than IQ. New York, NY: Random House; 2005.
Dr. Chris K. Kopp PT, DPT, is the owner of Premier Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation of Jacksonville, Florida. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.