Helpers are Challenged to Take Leadership Roles Now
Aug 31, 2020 11:00AM
By Karen Carnabucci
In these disturbing and disheartening times, when we are faced with a worldwide pandemic and accompanying political and social unrest, people in the helping and healing roles are challenged to take on a new role—that of a leader.
At first glance, the role of a healer seems antithetical to the role of a leader. The healer typically works in the one-on-one format, responding to the pain and distress of another. The leader is typically one who acts, who brings himself, herself or themselves forward to take action on behalf others. Each role complements the other, and we don’t have to be famous to lead. Or have a big “following”. Or have any extra “specialness”.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring words apply to all good leaders. “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Rev. King makes it clear that this kind of service extends to the larger world. “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Let us look more closely at leaders and what makes a leader who can ably serve on this larger scale. First, good leaders take the opportunity to deeply listen to the people in their sphere, listening with ears and heart. They are able to stay present in the moment, to engage, to be able to understand people’s deep concerns and needs and equally able to respond in kind with voice and heart.
Second, leaders pay attention to their experiences. Although leaders certainly should think clearly and have the means to express their ideas and thoughts, they also consider their experiences as routes to wisdom and clarity. They also pay attention to and respect the experiences of others, understanding that people and communities of people have widely different experiences that are valuable and important.
Third, they are willing to take responsibility for themselves, for others and for the planet. Related to this responsibility taking, leaders can consistently “hold” the leader role in challenging times and good times. In holding this role, they serve as the consistent authority, willing to take action to benefit others, and avoid the role of abandoning authority, the one who disappears when the going gets tough.
Finally, leaders actively support the creation of positive relationships with others and, better yet, have the skills to facilitate such relationships. Research shows that positive relationships with others are the best way to keep emotionally stable, build the immune system, promote empathy and keep physically healthy as well. Studies show that lack of social connection is more detrimental for our health than smoking, high blood pressure or obesity. In 1990, Dr. Dean Ornish’s pioneering heart health treatments demonstrated that people who attended support meetings along with changing their diet were actually able to reverse heart disease.
Now, we might continue to believe that there is something special about these behaviors. It is true that these behaviors that comprise in the leader role demand skills. But there is good news— these skills can be learned. This learning, especially in these times, may be the greatest gift that we can give ourselves, our people and our communities.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is a trainer, author and consultant in private practice and founder of the Lancaster School of Psychodrama and Experiential Psychotherapies. She is interested in creativity, the use of embodiment for deep learning and social change. She is also a certified facilitator in Family and Systemic Constellations. Learn more and subscribe to her e-letter at RealTrueKaren.com.