How to Lead a Subordinate to Become a Partner – Part 4 (last)

This is a continuing series on “paired leadership” generally, and the last of 4 on creating a partnership with one who is subordinate to you.  My launching point for this series has been how, for well over a decade, my oldest daughter and I were much more adversarial than mutually supportive.

I wrap up this mini-series with the story of how my now-27-year old daughter Kate and I became (and are committed to ever-becoming) powerful partners, allies, and leaders for each other. And 2 final lessons.

The story springs from a confession:  The title of this series is a lie.  I didn’t lead Kate (the subordinate). Kate led me.  Oh, I had never stopped trying (and I suppose I could write volumes on the transformative leadership power that comes from such commitment).  But I was failing consistently.  Kate got away (another important parenthetical) for college and work, and she came back for stretches.  And as she broke away and returned, she did two enormous things.

First, she made a 10-day retreat in complete silence. She sat with herself. She found some pain and fear.  And she found deep compassion for others, for herself, and even for me. Nobody can make anyone else love them. In work parlance, you can’t make your subordinates understand, accept or respect you; that’s ultimately their choice.  Accept it.  This involves giving up control. It’s so hard to give up control — even if you can’t really control their thoughts, judgment or opinions (about you!).  And your subordinate may not get to the point, ever, of understanding or respecting — or forgiving — you.  Lucky for me, Kate did.  She understood and forgave.  And if I did anything, it was letting her lead me and us.

The leadership lesson for the “superior” is:  Give the subordinate as much respect as you give yourself! You almost surely have experience, greater responsibilities, perhaps intellect or judgment. But if you give radical equality to the “other,” you can be led!  And how great is that?!

Second, Kate read a book called Anatomy of Peace (a relative to Leadership And Self-Deception, which I have recommended here before). And she taught me about it.  She helped me to see that I had stopped seeing her, and I was instead looking for, and therefore seeing a story about her.  My story about her was, as I was sharing last week, that through her actions, tone of voice, questioning, she was “rebelling” or “attacking” . . . me.  I took it all personally.  I wasn’t seeing her (needs, complexity, striving, difficulty, hopes, fears, etc). I was seeing my story of her, which was all about . . . me.  Heck, I think that when she was 18, I was in many respects still seeing a “defiant” 3-year old; every little pushback was groundhog day, a loop I kept replaying.  When we first see someone as “attacking” us, as a “threat” to us — and we may well not see this consciously — we often freeze them in that “box,” in that judgment as attacker or threat. She helped me to see her (especially by revealing to me her hurt, fear, and sadness at how we both had been to each other) and to start to separate the story from the ever-changing reality and to begin to understand her story(ies).

Kate led me.  Kate leads me.  I listen a whole heckuva lot more than I used to.  I listen to her.  And I listen to the old tape that is still ready to blare in my head, “she’s being disrespectful; you need to make her stop!” When we have authority, we have to remember that if anyone should feel diminished or threatened, it is them! We so often have the power, the keys, the money, the promotions.  And we should strive not to take their pushback personally.  And we should listen some more . . . to him, to her, to our partner, to what we can learn from them, to

Lead with our best self.

  • Dan,
    Great stuff Dan: a variant on the Gospels “Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you.” Delighted you & Kaate understand & love each other more fully.

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