Loving the Leader

I want to write a little more about the presentation by my friend Ronald Heifetz, leadership professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Ronnie offered a wide-ranging look at how followers expect their authorized leaders to meet their needs. He offered historical examples like Roosevelt in the great depression, and also comparisons from the world of silver-back gorillas, i.e., he went WAY back and deep into our wiring.

Ronnie differentiates authorized leaders, to emphasize that such people have authority but they also always have limits and expectations that go with the authority and power. Their charter always goes back to meeting those expectations. If they fail to meet expectations, they will be gone. And, he argues, in groups as complex as a company or a city — let alone a state or country — the expectations are complicated and overlapping and sometimes flat-out contradictory.

Professor Heifetz says that the leader is “conducting”. And with that verb “conducting,” he alternately completes the thought with metaphors from music or electricity. Thus he’ll say a leader is like a symphony conductor with a (sometimes madcap) group of musicians. Or more often, Heifetz suggests that a George Bush or a Rick Wagoner CEO of GM or Jennifer Granholm will be like some massive central electrical circuit, conducting thousands of megawatts of hopes, fears, concerns, wishes, griefs, etc. I imagine them like Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker locked in with their wand or light sabre – not to a single adversary, but to a thousand households of deep feelings, concerns, hopes, and fears.

Heifetz asked the group of us, all spouses to governors: If your spouse is conducting or holding all these hopes and expectations and fears, who will hold him or her? He didn’t have to explain the question. We all got it. Every spouse of every coach whose team is “on the bubble” for the NCAA tournament gets it. Every chief of staff of every mayor in America gets it. Every executive assistant to a New York Stock Exchange CEO gets it. Every spouse of every high school principal gets it. Every lieutenant, sargeant, major, general’s spouse gets it.

I learned again from Ronnie the tremendous importance of loving my leader-governor-wife. And I learned, too, the tremendous value of the support Jennifer gives me as I conduct the electricity of our children, especially our high schoolers, who are conducting their own electricity and whose expectations of us are complicated and conflicted. I am thankful that she holds me as I hold them. I am grateful to be a partner — to love a leader — and to have a partner who loves me as I lead.

So, if they’re conducting all this energy, how DO you love a leader? A good question for further exploration . . . or for your thoughts.