Unconscious Leadership in Risk

Originally posted on March 15, 2021 @ 4:01 PM

Unconscious Leadership in Risk

We all know the quadrant that sets out: Known Knowns, Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns made famous by Donald Rumsfeld (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rumsfelds-wisdom/) who used this framework to justify a war.


We also see the same construct used in leadership competence of:

  1. Unconscious incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know).
  2. Conscious incompetence (you know what you should be doing, but you realize that you’re not doing it as well as you could).
  3. Conscious competence (you will feel comfortable in the role of facilitator and further deepen your practice).
  4. Unconscious competence (you will be able to facilitate without straining to be competent).

But what is most fascinating in risk and safety, you will find no discussion on the nature of the unknowns or unconsciousness. It is assumed we all know what the unconscious is and what to do about it. Amazingly you find no reference in anything in risk and safety to the work of C.J. Jung, the founder of investigation into the unconscious and, the Collective Unconscious. Similarly, one finds discussion of leadership and the unconscious ‘from below’ in poststructuralist feminist writing. It is often in the feminist critique that one finds the best expose of masculinist models of leadership which of course about the power, control, compliance to systems and the ‘image’ of leadership.

So this gets to the heart of what people mean when they state that leadership should be conscious in tackling risk. Similarly, it’s like saying leadership should be consciously rational. The reality is, the best leadership is unconsciously unconscious. If one has to ‘think’ and process the essentials of leadership then this makes clear that leadership enactment is neither: natural, habituated, heuristically driven or unconscious.

I have worked under many people in my seven different careers and it was the leaders who unconsciously knew how to humanise others, empower others and listen to others who knew all about the following-leading dynamic in risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/following-leading-risk/ ). The rest were just managers.

If one has to consider the mechanics and dynamics of leadership and doesn’t know how to naturally follow, it is unlikely that one is an unconscious leading in risk. Managers are controllers, leaders are envisioners (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ).

When one leads by envisioning, others catch the vision, are attracted to it and enact it without the need for ‘managing’ or controlling. When compliance to systems is the paradigm for tackling risk, it becomes all about ‘controls’, fear of risk and zero vision. One would hope that women in the risk and safety industry would not be seduced by the traditional masculinst discourse of leadership.

Usually those who make the most effort to be leaders are not. The best leaders are NOT those who seek to be known and heard, but rather those who create the enactment of vision through others. Leaders don’t use the language of: heroes, power, ‘fixing’, ‘solutions’ or genius. Leaders know that the key to leadership is listening. If you see anything spruiking leadership in risk that excludes language of: listening, helping, care, ethics, politics and learning, then it’s usually about masculinst management not leadership.

Leadership is not about entrepreneurialism or about ‘harnessing’. Indeed, the leader is unconsciously conscious about the language/linguistics and discourse of leadership. The idea that humans are a ‘resource to harness’ is just the same old language of Safety that seeks compliance to systems. We use a harness to constrain something or a subject, leaders don’t ‘harness’ others. Leaders focus on: curiosity, discovery, innovation, imagination, inspiration, wisdom and creativity, the declared enemies of the masculinist ‘compliance to systems’.

If your language is to ‘harness others as a resource’ then this is nothing different to traditional safety. The unconscious leader naturally releases others from harnessing and allows them to discover their curiosity, innovation, imagination, inspiration, wisdom and creativity in risk. This is when learning occurs (https://safetyrisk.net/schooling-objects-to-safety/ ). Leaders naturally have ‘faith’ in others, anything else is just: controls, hazards, indoctrination and compliance to systems.

If you want to know more about unconscious leadership in risk then the following are helpful:

  • Free download: Following-Leading in Risk, A Humanising Dynamic (curiosity, discovery, innovation, imagination, inspiration, wisdom and creativity)
  • Bargh, J. A., (ed.) (2007) Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Mental Processes. Psychology Press, New York.
  • Carson, B., (2008) Take the Risk, Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk. Zondervan, Michigan.
  • Claxton, G., (1999) Wise Up, The Challenge of Lifelong Learning. Blomsbury, London.
  • Claxton, G., (2005) The Wayward Mind. Abacus Press, London.
  • Depree, M., (1987) Leadership is an Art. Doubleday. New York.
  • Depree, M., (1991) Leadership Jazz. Information Australia. Melbourne.
  • Depree, M., (1997) Leading Without Power. Jossey Bass, San Francisco.
  • Evans, D., (2012) Risk Intelligence, How to Live with Uncertainty. Free Press. New York.
  • Fletcher, J., (2004) The Paradox of post-heroic leadership: An essay on gender, power and transformational change. Leadership Quarterly. 15:647-61.
  • Fairhurst, G., (2011) The Power of Framing, Creating the Language of Leadership. Jossey Bass, San Franscico.
  • Haslam, S., et. Al., ( 2011) The New Psychology of Leadership, Identity Influence and Power. Psychology Press. New York.
  • Hassin, R., Uleman, J., and Bargh, J., (2005) The New Unconscious. Oxford University Press, London.
  • Kellerman, B., (2008) Followership, How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders. Harvard Business Press, Boston.
  • Klein, G., (2003) The Power of Intuition. Doubleday, New York.
  • Neville, B., (1989) Educating Psyche, Emotion, Imagination and the Unconscious in Learning, Collins Dove, Melbourne.
  • Norretranders, T., (1991) The User Illusion, Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. Penguin, New York.
  • Palmer, P., (1983) To Know as we are Known. Harper, SanFrancisco.
  • Ramachandran, V.S., (2004) A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. Pi Press, New York.
  • Riggio, R., Chaleff, I., and Lipman Blumen, J., (eds) (2008) The Art of Followership. Jossey-Bass, SanFrancisco.
  • Robinson, K., (2011) Out of Our Minds, Learning to be Creative. Wiley, London.
  • Schein, E., (2009) Helping, How to Offer, Give and Receive Help. Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco.
  • Sinclair, A., (2007) Leadership for the Disillusioned, Moving Beyond Myths and Heros to Leading that Liberates. Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

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