A guest blog by Dr. Domna Lazidou ? part one.
Of all the many things written about Venezuela?s late president Hugo Chavez last week, Gabriel Garcia Marquez?s observation stood out for me.
Marquez is quoted to have said of meeting Chavez? ?I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had just been travelling and chatting pleasantly with two opposing men. One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country. The other, an illusionist who could pass into the history books as just another despot.?? As Martin Kettle in the Guardian points out this is an important insight into the complexities of the man and the divided passions he generated among followers and critics.
It is however interesting that many profiles, reviews and comments failed to acknowledge either the complexity of the man or the conflicting identities of the leader, opting instead for a simple, (some would say simplistic) story ? either Chavez the ?people?s hero? or Chavez the ?dictator/villain?.
This got me thinking about the way we frequently like to see our leaders and the way we are encouraged by their PR machines and the media to see them ? in terms of simple, mono-dimensional stories. But isn?t it precisely their complexity , conflicting identities and complex value system that make a leader, a person,? interesting, real, worth knowing? And isn?t it the honesty, mindfulness, and transparency with which a leader deals with this complexity in front of his or her followers that gets us to trust and respect them, even if we don?t like them,? more so than any amount of well crafted, ?focus grouped?? rhetoric?
Recent research into leadership authenticity has shown precisely that (see video).? One of the examples frequently discussed in this context is Hilary Clinton?s ?breaking down? during the democratic nomination campaign.? When we see Hilary, for the first time in public becoming emotional and personal and showing her vulnerability, many of us who perhaps had not connected with her previously carefully cultivated ?ice maiden? persona, see someone we can finally warm to.
It will be a mistake to think, as perhaps Marquez suggests that what we have here is two different people ?a? divided, confused personality.Rather what we see in the Hilary Clinton case as perhaps with Chavez, ?is a leader who is multifaceted and therefore more real, more interesting and perhaps more persuasive because of this. Not a single story, but a coherent, multiple, compelling narrative. We might not agree with their politics, or even like the person, but we can respect and accept their authenticity as a leader.
Part two of this guest blog will appear in The Conversation next week and will cover: Complex cultural identities and what they mean for cross-cultural skills training
Dr Domna Lazidou is a consultant and academic who specialises in culture and communication in multicultural business contexts. She teaches intercultural skills in the workplace at Warwick University and as director of consultancy? OmilliaHirst works with international business leaders to help improve communication, implement change and strengthen employee engagement across borders.