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Reactions to Confrontation

The act of inviting a leader to join in a transformation process itself initiates change. Raising an issue with a leader ensures things will never be quite the same, even if the change produced is subtle, and whether or not the change is positive from your perspective. We really do live in the universe described by quantum physics, in which even the act of bearing witness to an event changes that event.

When we invite leaders to join in a transformation process, we are probably going to generate some confusion and discomfort. They may wonder:

What exactly are these people asking of me?

Don’t they think well of me?

What are their motives?

Is there danger in this?

How far am I willing to go with it?

Is this really necessary?

We must be willing to make the leader uncomfortable when we challenge her behavior. She may experience anger at being confronted, or depression because her positive self-image is being called into question. These are often necessary stages before acceptance can occur. We must be willing to deal with the leader’s reaction, and the discomfort that may cause us, if we are to form an effective transformative relationship.

For transformation to occur, relationship rules need to change. We cannot relate at a superficial level. We need to be open and take risks. We can’t ask a leader to transform dysfunctional behavior and hide it at the same time. When we invite a leader into a transformative process, we must be prepared to see what’s under the visible part of the iceberg, to experience that too. We need to do this as compassionate adults who have power and choice in the relationship, who are asking to see the whole person, not as children who only want to see our parents’ nurturing side.

If leaders vehemently disagree with our assessments, it doesn’t mean we have failed. We may have started a process in which the leader asks, “Why am I getting these reactions from people?” Confronting leaders does not mean insisting that they see what we see about them. We may perceive part of the picture, or perceive it with partial accuracy. Others will perceive different parts, as in the parable of the blind men who each describe only the part of the elephant they can feel.

We can’t let a leader off the hook about what we perceive. We may need to press our point hard. But only until the leader starts to get the message that something about her behavior is amiss and needs attention. At that point we must respect the leader’s ability to identify the parts of the problem that her core ordering processes will allow her to begin addressing.

Raising consciousness means getting leaders to see what they can see, to expand their perception so they see more than they do now, so they get a sense of their blind spots. We can tell leaders what we see, but this is just a starting point to get their attention. The task is to get them looking in a direction they would rather not look, to awaken their interest in doing so, to get their own considerable energy involved in the process.