The best leaders have a hinterland

“Hinterland?”  You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Denis Healey, a retired politician from the UK, and his wife Edna, first used the word about Margaret Thatcher. Their view was that she lacked a real connection with people because she had no interests outside of politics.

Denis and Edna firmly believed that people had to have a breadth and depth of knowledge on other matters, be that sport, religion, art, culture or learning – Denis was a keen photographer.

The idea has been around for thousands of years :-Aristotle said “Politicians have no leisure, for they are always aiming at something beyond political life itself.”

UK politicians are now keen to reveal their outside interests. Tony Blair, for example, discovered a passion for soccer; Vince Cable is an enthusiastic ballroom dancer.DSC03328

I was thinking about this whilst standing knee deep in the mud of the stream at the bottom of our garden, shoring up the bank with rocks.

Something far removed from my day job of coaching and training leaders. Well, I’m sure I could extend the metaphor and draw some parallels…

What it really reminded me of was the need for leaders to have space to think; to take time out and assess what’s really important to them.

Too often, we get distracted by what is urgent and we lose sense of the bigger picture. Having a hinterland gives you the chance to step away and see life from a different perspective.

There is another benefit to this. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Goffee, co-author of “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” for our regular monthly book club. We run a telephone conference call, interviewing authors of books about leadership and coaching, (all accredited for ongoing learning and development, by the way).

One of the points Rob makes, is that people need to see their leaders as being human. He uses the phrase “reveal yourself, enough”. The word “enough” is key there!  Over-reveal and you risk being seen as ‘weak’.

So, having a hinterland also gives people a chance to see that you have a life outside of work; and interest beyond the rigour of the day job.

I’m off now to dig out an old rockery. I’d love to hear your thoughts on your hinterland and the value it brings you.

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