Secure Base Leadership: Can IT Leaders Learn from the Example of Parenthood?

Don Tennant

When you hear the phrase “secure base,” the context typically has something to do with the parent-child relationship — the bond or attachment between parents and their children that’s created when parents provide a secure base from which children can explore the world. So my interest was piqued when I came across a book about “secure base leadership.” Might the relationship between IT leaders and their employees be strengthened by studying a concept that’s traditionally associated with parenthood?

The book, "Care to Dare: Unleashing Astonishing Potential through Secure Base Leadership," was written by George Kohlrieser, an organizational and clinical psychologist. There are nine characteristics of secure base leaders, as defined in Kohlrieser’s book, and it strikes me that for the most part, these are certainly characteristics of good parents. So maybe parent-child attachment theory does lend itself to leadership theory. Here are the nine characteristics:

Stays calm. Secure base leaders remain composed and dependable, especially when under pressure. This characteristic is the most important of the nine and needs to be mastered before any of the others.

Accepts the individual. Secure base leaders accept and acknowledge the basic human worth of every person beyond their role as an employee. They see the person before the problem or issue at hand.

Sees the potential. Secure base leaders see employees' potential talent as compared to their current functioning ability. Secure base leaders don't focus on short-term potential; they're often looking at growth over a 10-20 year period.

Uses listening and inquiry. Secure base leaders listen and ask open-ended, constructive questions rather than talk and dictate instructions. Deep dialogue is one of the most powerful tools available to a secure base leader.

Delivers a powerful message. Rather than launch into a long, rambling speech, secure base leaders have the ability to cut to the chase and say the right thing at the right time. They are masters at coming up with pithy sentences that carry tremendous power and impact.

Focuses on the positive. Secure base leaders help others focus on the positive rather than the negative and see their potential or opportunity for learning, even in a crisis or difficult time.

Encourages risk taking. Secure base leaders actively dare people to unleash their potential by providing tangible opportunities for risk taking. This goes beyond acceptance and beyond seeing potential; it dares people to take direct action to reach that potential. Secure base leaders support autonomy for their followers, and their followers don't feel overly controlled.

Inspires through intrinsic motivation. Secure base leaders don't motivate with money or direct compensation; instead, their followers act because they find their work fun or challenging rather than because of external pressures or rewards.

Signals accessibility. Secure base leaders are always accessible and available rather than detached or too busy. But secure base leaders don't have to be available 24/7 to be accessible; being supportive and available has more to do with a sense of the person and of the relationship rather than the actual amount of time spent together.

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