Years ago, I took part in a crisis management program aiming to enable us understand the un-understandable (i.e. why anyone in this world would ever kill deliberately)

The aim of the program was not to make us respect nor accept these things, but to enable us to understand why some individuals would perform extreme actions

Reasoning was that if you – at least – understand, it would make it more bearable when encountering unbearable incidents

This learning, I’ve found, is very useful in modern leadership too (not saying that leadership is unbearable ;)

The art of leadership is very much psychological – not in the sense that you must play mind tricks to have your colleagues move in your direction but psychological in the sense that you should understand your colleagues to lead them

After all, if you don’t know who they are or what they want, how can you offer them anything that makes sense to them – and ultimately make them want to follow you?

Yes, you can use the brute force of your position in the hierarchy but that’ll only get you so far – and for sure not unleash the real potential of your team

To truly lead a team, you must be very careful in understanding each member’s needs, wishes and wants, and then use this knowledge to build a sense of purpose for each

A purpose that makes sense to the individual and creates a motivation to move forward in the direction that you set for the team – or, even better, a united direction set by the team

Kierkegaard wrote this very elegantly:

If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a Person to a Specific Place, One Must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He is and Begin There.

Back to the crisis management training – a part of this was to imagine that you were on one island and the person that you wanted to understand on another island

For you to understand the other person, you’d have to imagine going to the island where the other is and look at the world from their perspective, try to understand their wants, needs and beliefs, and use this knowledge to understand the actions and reasoning behind their behavior

The same holds true when you truly wish to lead an individual or a team – you must go the island of each and honestly – without prejudice – try to see the world with their eyes, their beliefs and their understanding of the world

Only then you will be able to lead people, because only then you will be able to understand them and offer them something that they would be willing to follow you for