Dante’s Inferno inspires new book on Leadership
If you’re an entrepreneurial person faced with the difficult task of leading others, you may find this book by Pat McLagan a useful read. What helps set this book apart from others about leadership is that it tells its lessons in the form of a story, an approach inspired by the story of the Inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy. So sit back and enjoy my recent interview with Pat McLagan!
Q. What inspired you to write The Shadow Side of Power?
A. When the financial crash of 2008 hit, I saw it as a crisis of leadership. I have been working with public and private organizations for 4 decades and have seen many good and poor examples of leadership and management. Given the fast pace of change today, the many temptations and challenges that leaders face, the increasing size, complexity, and influence of our institutions, it is easy for people with formal power to fail to wisely use, or to misuse and even abuse the authority of their positions. For me the global crisis was a tipping point calling for us to more critically look at formal power and what it means for those who have and are affected by it.
Q. What is your background and what are you currently doing?
A. I have been doing leadership development and organizational change work with prominent business and government institutions in the US and globally, for 4 decades, including living and working with public and private sectors in a South Africa during the 90’s. I have worked with people at all levels in organizations as they face into decisions and challenges – many of which require them to balance personal and institutional priorities. I have written or coauthored other books that deal with managing the complexities of work-life and leadership today (e.g., The Age of Participation: New Governance for the Workplace and the World; Change Is Everybody’s Business.) Currently I continue to consult on change management and leadership issues and publish a bi-weekly blog designed to help leaders and people at work to make a difference in these changing times.
Q. Who will benefit from your book, The Shadow Side of Power?
A. This book is for people who are thinking about moving into formal leadership roles, are currently in supervisory or management positions, or who would like to help improve the quality of leadership in organizations and the world today. Entrepreneurs who expect to grow a business (thus becoming “the boss”) should also read The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders. When you have authority over others — (that is, you can make decisions that affect peoples roles, how resources are allocated, where the organization will go, how things will work) power dynamics come into play. These dynamics are often subtle, unconscious, and not rational. They can distort how both leaders and those they lead behave.
Q. How is this book different from others?
A. Most books about good leadership present lists of steps to take to be a good leader. If they are concerned about values-based leadership, they often focus on and discuss ethics. These are important contributions, but they primarily treat leadership as a rational process. After reading these books, leaders often go back to work INTENDING to do the right and competent things. However, non-rational forces associated with power and personal psychology come into play. Leaders may begin to think their ideas are better just because they are their own ideas. They may act as though the rules are for others, not themselves. They may begin to treat others who have less power, with disrespect. People around the leaders may not be willing to tell the truth about what is going on, or they may secretly resent being in a subordinate role. I want to help the reader develop an awareness of and respect for this non-rational and subconscious side of power. Only then will both leaders and those they lead be able to steer the use of power towards better ends: power should help align, focus, accelerate, integrate, and optimize all the energy in the system. So, my book is different because it asks leaders and all of us to become more conscious of real power dynamics. In order to make this point, I tell a story, an allegory. The book is patterned after Dante’s Inferno... It makes key points by showing the shadow side of power and then drawing out lessons for becoming and supporting wise leaders who can make a positive difference in today’s crazy world.
Q. What are the key takeaways?
A. I want leaders or prospective leaders to: recognize that positions of formal authority require them to be aware of power dynamics in themselves and others, and to use their power 1) for broad positive impact today, 2) to personally develop and grow (people in authority are often in development-rich situations that challenge their skills, values, confidence, fears, insecurities), and 3) to leave a legacy of people, institutions, and societies that are stronger because of their leadership.
Q. What are the major sections?
A. This is a story, an allegory. At the beginning, the hero is promoted into a senior executive role. He meets a mysterious woman at a party to celebrate his promotion. She suggests that he take some time to think about what it means to be in a more powerful position. He dismisses the question, but later, in a dream or a real experience (it is up to the reader to decide), she becomes his guide and mentor in a journey through 7 circles of the Leadership Inferno. There he deepens his understanding of the dynamics of power, learning how people in authority fail to use, misuse, and abuse their power. He expands his understanding of what his leadership role will require of him… and begins to see that he must KNOW and learn from the shadow side in order to be a centered, confident, and courageous leader. After his journey he must decide whether to take the job. The Shadow is patterned after Dante’s Inferno. However, the reader does not need to know anything about the Divine Comedy. For those who would like a quick peak at or review of the original Inferno, The Shadow Side of Power provides a short summary as an Appendix.
Q. What is the best advice about entrepreneurship you have ever received?
A. “Never bring a client a product or process that you don’t use yourself.” Since my products/services relate to leading and managing, this has meant, “don’t teach or provide materials and processes that you don’t use yourself.” This advice has saved my clients a lot of stress from ideas that sound good but don’ t work in the real world. And it has forced my colleagues and me to know what we teach from the inside out.
Q. What is a fun fact about the book or your research?
A. When decided to write this book, it was in reaction to the recent financial crisis — which I saw as a crisis of leadership and management. The initial title was Management In Crisis. The initial idea was to expose many of the ways that I have seen people with formal authority abuse or misuse their roles. As I began to outline the book, it felt very heavy and negative… not at all motivating toward the really good leadership that I have seen and know is both possible and invigorating. One night I had a dream that kept waking me up. In the dream a big black cat ran around and periodically looked at me with large green eyes. It was not threatening, but it was a huge presence. In the morning I could not get the cat out of my mind as I sat at the computer to work on the book. Then I realized that the cat belonged to one of my sons. It’s name: Dante. Well, instantly I realized that the book needed to be an allegory like Dante’s Divine Comedy— a fiction…that I needed to make my points more indirectly and in a way that would steer the reader toward the positive messages that come from walking with the shadow side. Thus the central role of the Leadership Inferno in the book.
Q. Where can we find the The Shadow Side of Power or yourself?
A. I have a website (www.patmclagan.com) and a blog (www.patmclagan.com/blog). I love hearing from readers and people wanting to explore ideas related to leadership and change. There is also a free Reader’s Guide that is available upon request from the author by sending her an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The book can be purchased in paperback on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other places. It is currently also available on Kindle and, after the first of the year, in e-pub format.
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