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Peak Performance for the Political Leader

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By Pamela Brill and Karlin Sloan

[The following article was contributed by Karlin Sloan.  Her firm (Karlin Sloan and Company) is a sponsor of the Library of Professional Coaching]

Leadership is a noun. Leading effectively is a modified verb, a proactive process. Effective leaders know how to engage themselves and others to identify and address the challenges at hand, to adopt new points of view regarding the problems, to generate confidence in the leader’s agenda and strategies, and, then, to implement strategies and solutions that may not be aligned with what many believe is correct or best. In response to effective leaders, constituents commit to—rather than comply with—initiatives. Commitment creates long term changes. Compliance creates resistance and situations in which any changes are short-lived at best.

The ability to get focused on priorities, to create confidence, and to generate the momentum to get people moving is what we call engagement—getting “in the zone”—that state that peak-performing athletes access to perform their best under pressure. In addition to engaging self and others, peak-performing leaders, in politics, sports, and every arena of life, know how to reengage when the going gets difficult.

Effective leaders in democratic systems also know how to reengage themselves and others when things do not go as planned, when extraordinary natural and man-made disasters present blindsiding obstacles.In such instances, effective leaders know how to bounce back, to reengage with the challenge at hand with focus, energy, momentum, and a common purpose. This ability to get one’s self and others back into the fray—to recover from errors and correct misperceptions, both of which are difficult with even the best media gurus on your team—is what we call resilience (Brill, 2004).

Resilience is the ability to reengage ourselves and others when obstacles have diminished our commitment and drive. In a democracy, resilience enables political leaders to reengage others when challenges have diminished their commitment to working toward a common vision, toward taking the actions to turn goals into reality.

Surprisingly, leading by engendering commitment versus compliance is more challenging in a democratic governing structure where the sacred value of freedom enables individuals to hold many differing points of view regarding the critical issues and optimal solutions. That makes the challenge of leading more difficult than in nondemocratic systems where leaders can rule by compliance over commitment. Those who lead successfully within democratic systems must engender the commitment of constituents and other political leaders as well as media representatives to make the changes that will implement solutions and strategies supporting their leadership agenda. In the face of such pressure, it is difficult to perform at peak levels, to recover from errors, and to correct misperceptions. Learning how to engage self and others and to reengage with resilience are critical capabilities.

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