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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Braun, MSc

Scent of a Leader

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Latest at the end of the year, we are embraced by the mood to look back and to reflect. I was thinking about how coaching has been perceived and what main topics came up during coaching sessions characterizing our time.

I observed that coaching is still often perceived as a tool needed for fixing an issue of a problem person rather than a process for continuous development needed by everyone. Why? Several possible reasons could be: a fear to be and to show oneself vulnerable, absorption by the operational short-term activities, a fear to stop a (predictable) hamster wheel, perception that reflection is an abstract and philosophical waste of time, a fear to choose the right path, and a satisfaction with being "just right". And that's not what leaders are made of. "Just right" leaders are not leaders, but "wanna-be's".

The characteristic topics of coaching can be mainly summarized as a deep loneliness and a desperate search for the scent of leadership. Loneliness as a lack of deep and sincere social and private interactions instead of superficial socializing became a curse of our time, and it is especially lonely on the top. Besides, the greater the intelligence, the greater the capacity for loneliness. As Ernest Hemingway said, happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know. And the scent of a leader... There are tons of great and less good articles and research materials on leadership. I think, one of its best and simplest descriptions was provided in the famous speech from the Scent of a Woman.

An excursus from the rhetoric philosophizing to a bit of a scientific research: We all transmit a certain scent. Pheromone is a scent, a chemical messenger substance serving communication between living beings of the same species. A research published in the Psychological Science demonstrated that humans communicate their emotions and state via chemosignals analogous to animals. (Which does not surprise me much, as people are only a part of the nature and sometimes not much further developed one, considering world history...) So people "scent" each other transmitting their and experiencing others' personalities and drives consciously and unconsciously. They communicate not primarily via sight and hearing, as mostly assumed. An article from the Psychology Today suggests that there might be therefore a scent of a great leader, which could be perceived on the pheromones' level. It might be the scent of a Personality.

Personalities are seldom met. Authentic, self-aware, with rough edges, uncomfortable, having their own opinion, taciturn, choosing the right damn path..., rather than grey mice mastering power play. Our time might not be extremely special. Personalities have always been rare diamonds. But our contemporary psychosis of conformity, overregulation, evidence-based everything, and predictability fosters mediocrity and machiavellism. Before taking a step, we desperately search for a proof and thus for a prohibition, killing creativity, courage and spirit on the way to an explicit permission and a hedge. This disease affects all levels of society, educational system, companies, and institutions. Predictability can lead to failure.

On the other hand, chameleon's strategy and opportunism are flourishing on the business as well as governmental level. Nothing personal, it's strictly business. Unfortunately the reality often shows that money rules the world. But these are exactly those admirable exceptions of that evil rule, which made mankind survive. Paradoxically, those exceptions also led to wealth. The scent of those exceptions is the scent of a true leader.

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