James McGregor Burns wrote, “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”
In real life — that is, in the daily relationships between leaders, colleagues and followers, where people are people, playing roles but living them at the same time. And while this quote makes great sense, it’s easier said than done, because unmindful leadership separates us from ourselves and others if we’re seduced by status.
Why is every realworld situation “easier said than done?” That cliche is a signal, an opportunity to wake up, to watch our steps, and take them mindfully. When I was younger, I heard that cliche as “it’s really hard, well nigh impossible.” But now I think it means, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” (just to substitute one cliche for another).
Our stereotypes, like unexamined cliches, hold us back even at the moment of our greatest achievements as leaders, because pawns or princes, it’s all about meeting someone where they are, where we are, in order to get where we might best need to go.
So today, in the moments when you can personally or professionally be a leader, take a breath and do your best to listen, observe, consider, connect. “Treat all persons like persons.”
Maybe the leaders you encounter will do you the same favor!