The effects of our leadership are not isolated and linear, but rather cumulative: aggregated effects, generated over time, through our actions. I was struck by this in a conversation with my friend Chris, in a little cafe in New York yesterday. As we sat, talking about leadership, about trust, about change, i looked at the recycled timbers behind him, carrying fragments of old paint, and recognised that these are not scars, not incidental detail: they are central to the effect. The patina, the history, defines the current effect.
When we run programmes, offer leadership development, we do not paint people a new shade of blue: we add a thin coat to a complex layered structure. Possibly we have our view of development wrong: perhaps our mindset should be one that cuts across, through the layers, rather than focussed upon the most recent?
I notice this when painting: watercolours mix, you add a new colour and it blends with the older ones. There is no layering or separation, it’s a one dimensional medium. But oils behave differently: you can create layers, a stratigraphy of colours, literally building one upon the other.
Perhaps we should even view leadership in terms of the evolved picture: instead of viewing our leadership as the most recent colour, we could view it in terms of the chipped and scratched layers of paint. ‘This is the leader that i am tgoday, but these are the colours of my leadership as i made my way here’. We are defined as much by our mistakes, our failures, as we are by our current successes. Perhaps this even relates to the humility of leadership: a willingness to share not our polished present, but our battered past?