Reactive and Creative: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations

At the core of leadership are two interdependent ideas. The first is to be responsible for one’s world. This spurs me to constantly ask “What does this situation require?” It is about getting clear on what is needed to ensure that I or my team / group are on purpose.

The second idea is to be response-able. This requires me to ask “What does the situation require of me?” This in turns means that I need to be open to what is needed and at choice, i.e. in a position to choose my behaviour. And that is where things get trickier.

Regina wrote last week of her challenge of choosing to blog and put her ideas out into the world instead of succumbing to her fear of being judged and made wrong. My leadership journey was different.

The first step was a deep realisation that I needed to take fuller responsibility for my life, my behaviour, and my impact on those around me. The second, and bigger, step was to become more response-able, and less reactive.

My reactive tendency is to do things that will create harmony. “Why?”, well, in part because I want to be liked. My tendency is to prioritise conflict avoidance rather than address issues that could lead to discomfort. For example, at one time, I would be less forthright in challenging a workshop participant who was claiming to be powerless to effect change. Why? I made up that they might be uncomfortable if challenged, and nice people don’t make people feel uncomfortable, so if I make them feel uncomfortable, then people wouldn’t think that I am nice.

And this is what makes my behaviour reactive: the fear of what others think. I was defining myself against external criteria and “reacting” to my environment.

I needed to become more courageous and fully commit to my purpose: to grow leaders to take responsibility for their world. I worked, and still work, to be able to look myself in the mirror and not look away when it comes to living my purpose in the world. This was a gift from the CTI Leadership programme. And it remains a challenging gift, one kept alive, in part, through my Leadership Tribe, the tightly meshed network of co-leaders that emerged from the programme.

And yet, in my private life, I still wrestle with “keeping the peace” and creating “harmony”. Conflict avoidance and “biting my tongue” are still reactive places I can be drawn to.

The reality is that it’s in service of false harmony:

Sweeping things under the carpet, rather than talking something out and then creating alignment and real harmony.

Ironically the gift of my reactive tendency, “to be liked”, allows me to create strong and deep relationships, which in turn allow me to have challenging conversations. I just need to be honest with myself and the other. And I need to catch myself when I am stepping over something in order to create artificial harmony.

Like two sides of a coin, our biggest strengths are our potential biggest weaknesses.

How do I turn my reactive tendency into a creative strength? I need to have the courage to speak truth as I know it. It requires full permission and taking responsibility for my impact. It also means I need to find and commit to something bigger than my fear of looking bad. My purpose – the reason that I believe I am in this world.

Research conducted by The Leadership Circle found that approximately

70% of managers tend to be more reactive than creative,

defining their success against external criteria and not against the purpose for which they have responsibility.

To be response-able – in other words, “at choice” is the leader’s lifetime work. I need to find and decommission the triggers which take me from being creative and make me reactive.

When we work with clients using The Leadership Circle Profile, we help managers understand what their reactive tendencies are, to appreciate the gifts that these hold, and to support them to connect with and embrace their creative competencies and strengths. Bob Anderson ad Bill Adams explore this in their provoking White Paper “From Reactive to Creative”. (Click here to open the link.)

This is the central work of a leadership coach:

To support leaders to grow their inner leader so that they can bring their leadership into the world around them.

And this is work that can only be done with love and compassion and an understanding of our shared humanity.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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