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Neither Rocks Nor Islands

Yesterday was somewhat of a challenging day for our family as we said goodbye for four weeks to two of our older children. They were being sent off to sleep away camp and would have to somehow survive without their loving parents for that entire time. That period of separation does not, of course, include Visiting Day, which will take place in a few weeks. Nor does it factor the many notes and goodies that they can expect to receive between now and their return to civilization next month. But it’s still separation, which can be difficult for anyone, particularly children.

While this separation is more obvious and definitive, organizational leaders deal with a different type of isolation. Leaders are typically driven individuals. They aim to achieve financial success, organizational excellence, and respect from their colleagues and clients. Sometimes that drive can separate them from coworkers who do not share their drive. Leaders may feel isolated because they bear responsibility that only they can carry. Or, they might sit alone in their offices because they lack someone that they can confide in or a reliable source of information to give them a true sense of employee sentiment and morale.

Of course, such isolation is far from ideal. For leaders to experience lasting success, they must channel their drive in a way that is manageable for their colleagues and coworkers. They also need to find ways to keep communication pathways open and attempt to develop meaningful buy-in from employees.

Leadership is not about forcing one’s agenda, but rather creating a vision for others to follow. It’s also about remaining focused on that vision even as circumstances become more challenging. The key is to collaborate with others, to help them see your vision and feel your passion in a manner that makes it theirs as well. When people see the personal and collective gain that’s in store for them, they will roll up their sleeves and join you in your quest, or at the least stay out of your way.

In a song entitled “I am a Rock, I am an Island,” Simon and Garfunkel sang of someone who has separated himself from the world around him. Perhaps he was burned by previous relationships. Perhaps there were other causes. The “writer” offers all sorts of reasons as to why social interactions are unnecessary and overrated, and what he may otherwise choose to do instead of socializing. But we all know that all of us, even leaders, are social creatures. The song’s final line says it all: “And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.”

Separation can be very painful, for adults as well as children. Sometimes, as with sleep away camp, the distance is desirable, as a way of giving children the experience of greater independence and social development. In other cases, it is the sad outgrowth of soured or underdeveloped relationships. In the case of the organizational leader, separation should be seen as a final recourse, only to be tolerated temporarily as circumstances warrant. Otherwise, they should seek every opportunity to build relationships and an organizational community, so that they are not “kings without a people” or, even worse, kings of a confused and frustrated populace.

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