by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist, Energetics Institute, Perth, West Australia
I had a good friend come up to me the other day and say, “Do you know that people either love you or hate you!!”. I replied “that’s good, thank you!!”. He looked at me incredulously and said “are you not worried that everyone does not like you?” I replied “No... What others think of me says more about them than it does about me”.
What my good friend was touching on was the concept of strong leadership and whether a person stands for something they feel strong about, and whether being popular or being right is their chosen value set, versus being in truth with one’s own values and convictions even at the expense of popularity. In life we each must decide where we stand in this choice if we are to assume a leadership role in some way in life.
It is common in Australian society to see commentary about leaders focus on their popularity. Regular opinion polls are released about our political leaders, about issues and about those who promote those ideas. Many such leaders react to popularity measures such as polls and we regularly read how nervous back benchers in politics fear a loss of popularity when the government of the day makes a tough decision.
The popularity based politician fears an electoral backlash and may even agitate to not take a tough but correct decision as they are more concerned with their own welfare than those they have taken an oath to lead and serve.
In Australia we have a “Tall Poppy Syndrome” which is basically an anti authoritarian streak in our culture which serves to cut the legs out from anyone who would rise above the masses and lead in a way that appears to be too “big for their boots”. Our convict past no doubt contributes to this cultural DNA in our collective unconscious that affects way public life is conducted in Australia.
We have seen in recent decades a moral abyss open up in our leaders within private corporate life which serves to energise and validate this “Tall Poppy” phenomenon. Some leaders abandon any pretence of values and instead go for self gratification and excessive exercise of their positions of power.
For example statistics show that there has been a narrowing of focus by executives in corporate life towards linking their remuneration to soft Key Performance Indicators(KPI’S) or just to share price movements. Evidence has emerged of the leadership teams of organisations make short term decisions designed to boost the company share price even when those decisions were not in the best interests of long term shareholders, employees or other stakeholders.
These leaders have one eye on their employment bonuses and run their organisations to short term objectives rather than long term strategy. They are normally hated for their self serving pursuits but are indifferent to others opinions.
This mirrors the short term focus of politicians who tend to have one eye on the next election and therefore tend to shun strategic decisions that may have consequences at the next election. For all of the woes of the Australian Labour party and their policies one can say that they have bitten the bullet with key long term policy introduction which may cost them the next election.
Julia Gillard is certainly not popular because of strategic decision making regardless of whether those strategies are correct or not. She reinforces by her actions that to succeed in politics means making popular if not the right decisions. Long term policy decisions that may turn out to be incorrect will certainly not serve anyone either but the intent to make strategic decisions is the correct one as a principle.
Those leaders who either stand for nothing but themselves or whose leadership style is based on popularism are weak or lack leadership qualities. Leaders are risk takers but more importantly are committed to a set of truths or values even when they will not be universally popular. Even all the great spiritual leaders had their critics and their opponents despite standing for caring and ethical values and beliefs.
It is a part of the nature of leadership to have people typically polarise in different camps when it comes to making a stand for what you stand for versus just trying to be popular. What any leader must do is stay true to themself in the face of criticism, scorn and derision.
Another way of saying this is the true leader looks inward and the populist looks outward. By this the true leader looks inside themself to remind themself of their core beliefs, values and vision for themself and for whom they lead. The populist looks outwards at their audience for signs of acceptance or rejection, and is an ever reactive, insecure person who has no true roots in a secure base of self.
If either looks outward one is always sure to find themself a critic. A critic is in many ways a person who opposes another but may not have anything useful to say or stand for themself. A critic may be a person who opposes because they are essentially negative in their world outlook or who have a strong inner critic voice which condemns themself and others continually as a facet of their personality.
Critics may also be dream stealers whose own negativity and trauma may make them unable to make their own contribution so instead they throw stones at others. They will typically present a polarised negative view that cannot concede any good qualities about the person they target.
Another person in the audience may be a principled opponent. They are not a critic. They may be critical and may disagree with the person’s point of view or what they stand for but will generally still respect the other person as someone who stands for something from their values and beliefs.
Opponents often respect each other even if they do not initially like each other. They both operate from value systems and core beliefs but also understand that is also true of their opponent. Over time life has shown that numerous opponents have become friends through the respect they have for each other. In such cases they rise above the content of what keeps them separate and find admiration for their opponent.
Another aspect of the critic is they often have disowned their own leadership qualities. This means that when they encounter a strong leader they are often emotionally triggered in a negative way. This is because the strong leader embodies and carries the critic’s disowned aspect of leadership
In Shamanism we say that other people are like mirrors and reflect back to us the parts of ourself we have lost or disowned. These other people who trigger us are our teachers as they mirror back to us what in our essential natures we have disowned. Our hatred and anger toward that person is our self hatred and self anger at how we have lost an essential part of our soul or self in doing so.
As a consequence we now project onto that person that hatred and we find we now have issues with. This is why we say that what other people think about us says more about them than it does about ourself.
A wise person understands that this other person is a gift to us. This is because we can learn to understand what part of ourself they carry and mirror back to ourself, then work to reclaim it, heal it and integrate it back into ourself.
This is too hard for many people who would prefer to remain victims to other people and in doing so give their power away to that person. When we rage or slander or denounce others behind their back we increase our own self hatred, victimhood, and sense of negativity and powerlessness.
This is why gossip is like acid that eats away at the person who continually indulge in gossip as it is always negative in nature. Gossip tends to attack another’s character and is designed to tear down others to the lowly place of the gossiper.
When we gossip and attack others we are abandoning our own leadership natures and becoming a victim. Negative minds develop as a result of character assassination and gossip and the holding on of old hurts, wounds and grievances. When you look you will find that many people get stuck in the past with their negativity that they refuse to let go of.
Some people recycle hatred and anger from the past as a daily event. What this means is that whatever hurt them once in reality now has re-hurt them many times more as they hold onto the negative feelings instead of releasing them.
I find in coaching and therapy that some of those people who are the angriest and most negative refuse to give it up. They are offered a chance to express and process those old feelings as a way of allowing them to come to closure and completion but refuse. They can admit but not change.
In a sense they are addicted to their negative feelings. For some people there develops a form of solace in being able to hang onto old negative feelings, beliefs and judgements about others. They would find it hard to let go of them as it would be like losing an old friend. They are invested in these states of being and now find themselves over-identified by them.
There is normally a supportive belief behind the refusal to change. Some of these beliefs are formed through personal experience that informed the resulting ideas that are then core to that person and which resist change. Still others are abstracts or concepts from reading. Others may form from listening to third parties who may be biased or negative, or whom are genuine in their views.
A change to a core belief or normality may make some people feel unsafe. Rigid beliefs that resist change reinforces safety for some people and this context is often seen in religions where the “one right way” they adopt fosters fundamentalism and persecution of those who hold different beliefs.
Outsiders often start to identify them in the way in which they behave. Instead of saying that person had some anger or some negativity we now find others describing that person as being an angry person, or a negative person, a bigot, a fundamentalist or a victim. The belief and its feeling can become the identity.
The final aspect that is worth mentioning is that most people change and move on in life. For instance life teaches us and shapes us. The beliefs I had 10 years ago may no longer all be the current beliefs I now hold. We learn and grow and evolve over time. I know I have changed a lot over the last 10 years and hope to continue to do so till I die.
Some of the issues, attitudes, beliefs and truths that may have drawn negative comments or reactions are probably some of those I no longer subscribe to. This is true of all of us in life. Some of our critics may not understand that what we believe now possibly aligns to their beliefs. Because they hold onto past images of what we were when we created discontent they may be stuck in an illusion about who we now are. They may be railing against ghosts and the past.
It is always important in life to see who a person is in the present moment. They may have changed for the better or the worst or not at all in the areas that concern us. We owe it to ourselves to live in the present moment with ourself and in relationship with others. If not we can make grave mistakes in our assumptions about who others are. The reason that “mud sticks” is that some people refuse to let go of old ways of seeing others and so are unable to forgive others.
In conclusion you can only change yourself and you cannot change others. You can only influence them. It is best we seek to only change ourself for the better wherever that may lead us. Do not be attached to your reputation for it is fleeting and you cannot be true to yourself while you look “out there” trying to manage others expectations or constantly please them.
Live true to your values and your truth. Be open to learn new truths, new values, and to grow from learning lessons from your mistakes. Ignore your critics when they have nothing objective to say. As respected financial advisor and commentator Scott Pape “The Barefoot Investor” advises, walk your own path!!