Home Concepts Concepts of Leadership Harmlessness and the Leadership Spectrum

Harmlessness and the Leadership Spectrum

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Many years ago, the noted psychologist, Erik Erikson and his associates (Erikson, Erikson and Kivnick, 1986) wrote about the primary developmental task of our senior years being the forgiveness of our own parents—and then perhaps the forgiveness of ourselves. As Palmer suggests, it is in the acknowledgement of our own failings and our union with all flawed human beings that we find a deeper insight about our self and the life we have lived. This might be a form of secular, psychological Grace that we can bestow on ourselves (and the other significant people in our lives – past and present).

Strengths, Weaknesses and Harmfulness

In turning to the insights that we might each gain from acknowledging the harm we have done in leading a life of action, we often find that our lofty angels and our fallen angels often look alike. Ironically, in some cases, the harm or at least disappointment that can be assigned to us comes from one or more of our strengths. Each of us has been successful in engaging our strengths—but also have done harm.

For all of us, our greatest strengths can become our biggest liability when overused or under duress. For example, one of us [SP] is a results-focused, direct communicator. This style (and related competencies) can be very powerful for leadership communications. However, in excess this directness can be hurtful to some, and the need for results can interfere with flexibility, spontaneity, and being. The other one of us [WB] can be quite persuasive and inspire trust. His age and physical appearance would suggest that he is a kind and compassionate person – perhaps a modern day “Santa Claus.”

But this is not me [WB] and the person who eventually comes to the surface is more selfish and practical than initially imagined. Psychodynamic theorists write about the “ego ideal” that can easily be created when meeting someone whom we wish to be trustworthy and competent. Certainly, when choosing a graduate school in which to earn a doctorate, it is critical that one believe the president of this school to be honorable and trustworthy. No one can live up to the expectations arising from the impression that some people have of WB (or other academic leaders in a similar role).

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