The Danger Zone: When Leaders Lose Sight of their impact

Amanda Fajak

When accusatory, emotive and vitriolic language is used by people in power, red warning lights go on all over the place and sirens blare.

A Huffington Post article recently stated that the ongoing behaviour of Donald #Trump has reset ‘acceptable’ behaviour for leaders globally and as we saw in the UK Parliament this week, deep-seated emotions are driving the leaders of our country further and further apart, and the ramifications for our society are significant.

As humans we set the bar high for our leaders, and so we should, because when we are experiencing change, or going through times of crisis, our leaders are the people we look to for direction as our lighthouse to guide us through. Our politicians set the tone for the population at large around what is an appropriate response to the circumstances that we find ourselves in, and this carries a heavy burden indeed.

Our politicians carry the mood, the emotional energy and the supressed anger of a nation on their shoulders. I often say to leaders in organisations that they have the opportunity to set the frame for how people experience any event – Is it a calamity? Is it an opportunity? Is it the worst of times? Will this be our defining moment?

What a leader chooses to do in those moments of great stress, pressure and division determine their true character and nature as a leader. Also, importantly, there is a choice to contain or spread the emotional contagion of anger.

When someone is a leader, others are motivated to follow and emulate them for a number of reasons:


     1. Acting as a behavioural model:

People engage in vicarious learning so as a leader, the behaviour you demonstrate informs people how they ought to behave and what is and isn’t acceptable.

Consider, what do others learn from you? What behaviours are you demonstrating? Are they the ones you want replicated in your organisation/society?


     2. Representing the possible:

As a leader, people feel if you can demonstrate a behaviour and be successful/ safe/ admired, then I can too. 

Consider, what message you are sending about what it takes to be successful and safe?


     3. Being inspirational:

As a person in authority demonstrating a behaviour can make it more desirable, interesting, appealing to others and therefore it attracts others to try the behaviour. 

Consider, how are you inspiring your people?


It is this, often unconscious power that leaders have, which is why the behaviour we are experiencing in Parliament is becoming a microcosm of our society; a society emulating and modelling what is demonstrated at the top.

In my experience working with leaders, the impact of being a leader is grossly underestimated. Being a leader and the shadow that you cast is not something you can choose to switch off if you have a bad day. As a leader in business, or politics, you are always on show. It is for this reason that in my work with business leaders across the world, developing as a role model of the culture you want to see is the most important driver of culture transformation, and where we at Walking the Talk focus our work with senior leadership teams. 

To reset, behaviour must be re-aligned with purpose. In the case of the UK Parliament, the wider interest and greater purpose has been lost and what we are seeing now is based on a version of survival of the fittest. A behavioural timebomb is ticking. Time is running out and, like many, I believe it is time to reflect, reconnect and refocus on the greater purpose and remind leaders of the responsibility that they have, to not only each other, but to our society.


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