The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Leaders learn on their own

Many of us have been told that going to school is necessary to be prepared for life. But then, an apprenticeship or university appears and leads to the idea that it will prepare us to be good at the job of our choosing.

As life unfolds, and one looks back, the perspective often changes. It becomes clear that the content we’ve been taught rarely is the most important learning we’ve been confronted with. Looking back other things may appear. For those engaging in sports, it might be the ability to be competitive while entertaining pleasant relationships with competitors. Those engaging in a variety of hobbies connected with the arts may find themselves with a clear sense of beauty. Those becoming volunteers in youth organizations may be amazed by their understanding of how to contribute or create a stable network. It’s rarely something they’ve set out to learn or acquire. It happens one day after the other. It’s the result of practice and action.

All of this is useful. Engaging with content develops specific competencies. Engaging in an activity develops other competencies as well as how we relate to others.

But to find one’s place in a group there is more to learn.

It’s one’s position. That is where one stands in relationship to the groups one belongs to.

Every group has rules and norms that one is subject to. Growing up, many of us are taught that we must follow rules and adhere to the norms.

Take the rules of respect, called differently they are the rituals and habits of politeness that are used in a group. It’s for example how one greets others, how one behaves in front of authority, how one dresses or eats. Take the perceptions of success or happiness. They are how others compare themselves to us and how we seek to be seen.

But as people move through life, they find themselves regularly asking themselves why they are not respected as they expected and if they showed other people the respect they look for. It’s a source of insecurity. The same happens with success and happiness. There is a continuous comparison going on with others.

It leads to constant questioning if what one does or has is enough.

Leaders cannot stay with these questions. They need to become answerable to such questions.

Leaders shape a culture and help followers know what they want their group to be like. They become able to describe rules and norms that are crucial to the group and what it wants to achieve. Leaders must have decided for themselves what values they adhere to and how they become visible. And to help their group experience satisfaction with what the group is doing, leaders need to be able to describe what success for the group looks like. Much of it happens by helping individuals find their place in the group, that is, helping them see how they experience individual success. Leaders cannot decide for others what leads to their satisfaction. However leaders can highlight what they notice as the individual’s essential contribution to the group.

Leaders understand that determining one’s position is nothing others can teach us.

Others may help us see it, but it is so intimately tied to who one is, that everyone has to discover it on his own.


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