The Disinterested Leader – Leading without Drama

“Yes, what we need to do is move one of Miguel’s staff positions over to my department.” I felt the blood rush to my head, fill my ears with hot anger, and the story I told myself was simply disastrous–this director was stealing my staff, telling the boss what she wanted, and had the temerity to do it in front of me. My reaction? I exploded, stating, “You’re tearing down my department to build your’s! Who do you think you are?”

It didn’t matter if my charge was true (it was). What mattered was that I had lost my temper, exploding like a volcano, and I’d done so in front of everyone that mattered. I never spoke to that person again. Even though I was right, in spite of proving the point on the breast of my enemy, I’d lost the relationships at stake. 


The concept of the disinterested leader appeals to me. Instead of fierce conversations, engaging confrontations, passionate interactions between two or more individuals, the leader manages to maintain emotional aloofness. That’s not to say that what’s at stake isn’t important, that the leader is a Vulcan from Star Trek who practices logic, but rather, a leader, who in spite of provocation recognizes the threats, acknowledges their “hair trigger temper,” and makes the choice to not indulge fight or flight.


To accomplish this, the disinterested leader affects the pose of someone who is NOT personally involved in what is at stake. The pose comes as a result of deep reflection and choosing to not engage in ways that heighten the drama of a situation. Rather, his/her actions minimize that drama, focusing on, as the Crucial Conversations authors point out, what that leader really wants to achieve.


Eric Foutch makes the following point in his guest post, The End of Drama is the Start of Leadership:

We propose that you can’t fully actualize your leadership potential without first eliminating drama from your life, your team, and your organization. The challenge is that you come hardwired for drama, but you do not come hardwired for leadership, although leadership is a choice you can make at any point in time.

Hardwired for drama, although leadership is a choice you make. I wonder if this approach is different, especially in light of  Patrick Lencioni perspective, as he explores the importance of drama to transform meetings from bad to good:

Bad meetings are a reflection of bad leaders…The first step in transforming meetings is to understand why they are so bad. There are two basic problems. First, meetings lack drama. Which means they are boring. . .Leaders of meetings need to do the same by putting the right issues – often the most controversial ones – on the table at the beginning of their meetings. 

By demanding that their people wrestle with those issues until resolution has been achieved, they can create genuine, compelling drama, and prevent their audiences from checking out.

I like the notion of engaging drama in movies, but the thought of it driving team meetings gives me chills. What is exciting is making choices to solve problems together, trying to fill the pool of meaning with the information, feelings, experiences that are valuable to all. When I can facilitate that, then I can be satisfied with the decisions made as a result of that process. 

Drama thrives on the anticipation of action. Consider the following fake scenario:

“Hey,” exclaimed one worker. “Why did you wipe out my files on my flash drive?””You needed to learn to encrypt your data!” replies another. “Come on, you have a backup.””No, I don’t! I never take that flash drive home. What were you doing poking around in my stuff? I’m going to talk to the boss.”

You can see it,right? The drama of one team member’s interaction with another, the desire to commit an act that calls attention to the offending party. Into this scenario, the team leader is brought in to settle a dispute between staff. There is inevitable bias…after all, there are personal relationships, close interactions, friendships, agreement or disagreement with the action. The question is, can the leader assume a state of disinterested leadership that allows him the ability to deal with the issues at hand? 

 The best engagements are those where drama is minimized. Simply, how can a leader move from information gathering to action and minimize the drama? I like to think of the leader in this situation as “disinterested.” When you’re interested, there is the opportunity for bias. When you are personally engaged, passionate about the outcome, then your interests are at stake. You have to take those interests out of the equation


Simply, can we do without the emotional baggage, the drama that each of us brings to the table? 


It’s a tough question. That’s why I like Crucial Confrontations, even though I’m a poor practitioner of the art.  


What do you think? Does the concept of the disinterested leader hold water, or is it simply another way of labeling ineffective (or effective) leadership?


Check out Miguel’s Workshop Materials online at http://mglearns.wikispaces.com


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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One thought on “The Disinterested Leader – Leading without Drama

  1. Anonymous June 17, 2013 at 11:22 am Reply

    I really like the concept of the disinterested leader, and I would have liked to see your description of the fake boss' resolution from the disinterested perspective. Would she start with something like, 'why are you telling me this?' 'What critical information has been lost?'

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