INVITATIONS TO NEW DEEP LEARNINGS
Old-paradigm thinking used to separate between cognitive and emotional personal learning, but neurobiological findings show that this is impossible. Supportive leaders invite, encourage and inspire others to make novel learning experiences. In our daily life we cannot have a single thought without a feeling and even a picture (Huther, 2006). We cannot have a single experience without a feeling. And we cannot make a single movement without having feelings. Something in us is always activated at the level of our emotions. The only thing we can learn during our lifetime is to realize that there always is an emotion, even if we choose to neglect it.
Imagine the following: you come home, take a look at your life, and have no emotion at all. That is something you can learn. But at the bottom of your heart there still is your emotional potential. Therefore it is important to always keep in mind that in a certain learning environment or culture, for instance our typical school setting, the teacher there usually "preaches," for example how mathematics works. The pupils listen and develop certain feelings. And these feelings, such as fear (Huther, 1996) for instance, will activate a synaptic network of related emotions, such as anguish and anxiety, in them. As a result, the self-image "I am unable to learn mathematics" may arise in the pupils' minds.
Then the mathematics teacher can come and tell you that you are too stupid for mathematics that you have failed. And your brain says: "Great, that's just what I expected. I know that I'm a failure," and the negative self-image will be reinforced. Later on, you might never be able to believe that mathematics could be fun or that you might be able to master it.
This situation is difficult but a challenge and the question for a manager that is, now is, "Are you able to help one of your employees who has ended up with this mindset?" This is what we call leadership. And it certainly does not work to tell such a person that she or he is stupid. That is what they "know," think and feel already. You would have to—and this is the concept of supportive leadership—offer a challenge, invite, encourage and inspire this person to make another, a different, a better experience.
In order to invite someone in cooperation, you cannot treat him or her like an object. To invite someone, you have to like him or her, at least a little somehow. You can only unfold the potential of others if you try to become curious about them. As a leader, therefore, you would have to do some searching. You would have to look at this other person and search in yourself what you may like about him or her? (Foerster & Porksen, 1998). And you would have to do this especially with those you do not like at all. Those are the ones who really need to be led. This is something you can reflect on: "How can I like someone I dislike very much?" This is a crucial question. Just a little hint: Try to discover something in that person that you like. There is much more in each person than just the little impression we have of her or him. So, to be successful, you have to broaden your own perspective. You have to get rid of your own constructs to see the other as she or he has so far appeared to you. Then you may find something you may like.
The recursive learning process can be used to deconstruct inner pictures which arise when you are face to face and fully interested in another person: you are invited to reflect on your own construct to move from a narrow to a wider scope of possible actions. This is an important step towards self-learning.
Another prerequisite to become a supportive leader is the ability to encourage others. If you are not courageous yourself, if you are not in the mood, if you do not believe that it is possible to invite the other because you construct your thinking along diagnostic concepts such as "this is notorious, it is inherited by the genetic program," then it does not work. To encourage someone, you need to believe that if you do this, if you get involved in this deep-level learning, you will succeed.
And the third ability a supportive leader should possess is to inspire others. Of course, in order to inspire someone else, you need to be inspired yourself. Therefore it is not so easy to become a facilitator of your colleagues' potentials. Consequently, being a supportive leader is not a technique or a method, it is an art. It is not something you can just simply learn. To become a supportive leader and to have these qualities, you need a lot of experience: many situations in which you have tried to invite someone and it has worked; where you have tried to encourage someone and it has worked, where the other person started to unfold certain potentials that had been invisible before. And the other has grown.