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Leading open and closed people

| by Dave Blundell

When it comes to leading difficult people, who do you continue to invest in and who do you stop spending time and energy on? We all work with people who can be difficult to lead. 

In fact, the strength of our leadership relies on leading other strong leaders. Leading followers is fairly straightforward, but leading leaders is altogether more challenging. When we work with people, leaders or not, we will inevitably agonize with the question of who do we continue to pour energy and effort into and who do we not. 

What I am not saying is that we should be surrounded by only followers. That is a recipe for mediocrity at best. But what is worse than mediocrity is the organizational paralysis that ensues when you work with people who are closed. That is, people who are negatively affecting the organization and who see no need to self-examine and change.

How do you know when continuing to work on the issue will help and when it most likely won’t? 

Open people

  • Learn from experience and made adjustments
  • Look for feedback from their peers
  • Are not defensive with criticism, regardless of the motive of the person who critics
  • Control their emotions
  • Welcome opportunities to be trained and grow in their skills
  • Meets the demands of life
  • Look to lead by influence
  • Come across as soft without being weak
  • Don’t have a problem apologizing
  • Are approachable and welcoming
  • Are amiable and flexible
  • Teachable
  • Think the rules and policies serve the people
  • Look for where they went wrong
  • Want to change for the outside world
  • Validate and acknowledges the feelings and experience of others

Closed people

  • Are set in their ways and rarely change
  • Don’t ask for or seek out feedback
  • See no point in professional development and growth opportunities
  • Are defensive and looks for reasons to invalidate the feedback
  • Pushes people away by their lack of control of their emotions
  • Want’s life to  meet their demands
  • Look to lead with a tight control
  • Come across as negative and harsh
  • Find it really difficult to say, “I’m sorry.”
  • Are often feared and intimidating
  • Are black-and-white thinkers
  • Are often telling people what do to
  • Think the people serve the rules and policies
  • Are never wrong. Other people are the problem
  • Minimize the feelings and experiences of others
  • Want the outside world to change for them

When we look at lists like this, it is easy to see people as either one or the other. That is rarely the case. We all do better on some of these characteristics than others. 

We are all somewhere on the continuum—hopefully moving toward being more open—and that is the critical point. If you or someone you work with could be described as closed, do they recognize it? And are they teachable enough to move towards greater openness?

One difficulty about closed people is they are often talented and a short-term benefit to the group. Their giftedness makes them an asset. However, the long-term consequences of closed people on the group will eventually outweigh the immediate contributions they make.

What is more dangerous than a closed person, however, are those who continue to allow them to negatively affect others around them. 

Photo source: istock 


Dave Blundell

Rev. Dave Blundell is the Executive Director of Hungry For Life International. Dave holds an M.A. in Leadership and is the author of Professionally Religious: The Spiritual Poverty of Spiritual Leaders.



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