On every commercial flight the cabin crew will tell you what to do in an emergency. When the yellow cup goes over the steward’s face, they usually ask you to put yours on before you help anyone else. For any selfless person this is a bit counter intuitive. The message is clear though. You can’t help anyone else for long unless you are functioning fully first. I think this is a great metaphor for life.
A good friend of mine died recently and I started thinking about how he lived. He was a leader, he was utterly dependable and he had a fierce sense of duty. He loved people and they loved him. He was always there for others and rarely had a moment for himself. I saw him a few weeks before he left us and realised that he was weary to the depths of his soul. He was one of the most selfless people I have ever known, and I couldn’t help wondering if he had simply got to the point where he just couldn’t give any more.
I have long realised that to be effective I need to be balanced and healthy. What I hadn’t considered, until relatively recently, was that being physically healthy was not enough. In 2005 I was introduced to the work of Carl Rogers. He had a very different take on what it means to be a fully functioning person.
Carl Rogers agreed with Maslow, and added that for a person to grow (and move towards self-actualisation), they need an environment characterised by genuineness, acceptance and understanding. As people move towards self-actualisation (although they never quite get there) they become:
- Open to all their experiences and able to interpret these accurately
- Less defensive – having no need to distort or deny
- More trusting of their own feelings and instincts
- Able to accept themselves and others as they are and without judgement
For Rogers, fully functioning people are well adjusted, well balanced and interesting to know, often becoming high achievers. It struck me that these sound very like the qualities we need in our leaders these days.
Wouldn’t things be different if our leaders were confident enough to tell us what was really going on without feeling they have to distort the truth (for our benefit!!). Wouldn’t it be great if they were sufficiently aware to know what we really felt about things and were big enough to not condemn us when we disagree with them? What if their presence encouraged us to grow rather than forcing us to be equally defensive in self-protection?
Leaders who like the idea of being a fully functioning person (and anyone else for that matter) have some serious work to do. It is easy to read about consciousness or authenticity but at some point you have to put your beliefs into practice. Self-development at this level is not easy, but it is really worth the effort.
My friend believed passionately in the work of Carl Rogers and certainly put the effort in. He functioned fully as both a person and a leader. He continued to grow until the end and I suspect he was getting close to heeding the voice that said it was Ok to take time for himself. I will never know.
I do know though, that to become a fully functioning leader you have to become a fully functioning person first. I also know that we need lots more fully functioning leaders and invite those of you who are curious to explore more.