What Great Leaders Do First (Part 2)

In response to this, many would argue that they were not born to be leaders anyway. This, I believe, is a copout. Leaders are not born, but made, through the dedicated development of character and skill. While some people may have a genetic predisposition towards the demonstration of certain leadership traits, this by itself does not mean that they will make the choice to utilise these gifts and become leaders.

Essentially, leadership is a decision, and I have met, observed and studied many people who did not fit the mould of the prototypical leader, but nevertheless personified its best qualities. Mother Teresa was a diminutive woman with a limited education. Franklin D. Roosevelt was crippled by polio during his term as President of the United States. Richard Branson was diagnosed as having dyslexia which negatively affected his ability to learn and communicate.

Despite facing these types of challenges, these courageous, determined and service oriented men and women took control of themselves and their circumstances, and produced incredible results that history will remember fondly. Inspired to initiate action that fulfilled their duty to humanity, they did not have to ask others for permission to lead. Staying true to themselves and allowing their spiritual authority to define and direct their leadership, they gave themselves permission to do what others believed to be impossible.

Such an important part of giving ourselves permission to lead is believing in ourselves and our cause. Having this self-belief, we are able to inspire confidence in, and action from, followers that aligns with our vision. Believing in it ourselves, and demonstrating a willingness to put ourselves on the line for its realisation, others who share the vision will buy into it and do what they can to achieve the goals that the leader has set.

In The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation, Jay Elliot provides many insights into the success of Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs. One of the reasons he gives for the company being a top performer in its field, is the passion and purpose with which its people work. Dedicated to Steve Jobs and the vision that he had for the company and its products, they give much more of themselves than the average employee in that industry. Pushing back personal and technological boundaries in the process, they grow along with the innovations that their efforts make possible.

Heavily engaged in their work, they are willing to sacrifice more of themselves because they are made to feel that they are making a ‘dent in the universe’. Being the result of a corresponding belief, it is what they adopted from their passionate, enthusiastic and committed leader. As Elliot says so succinctly, “nobody had a greater belief in Apple and its products than Steve Jobs”. If it was any other way, Apple would be just like any other company.

What separates Apple from its competitors is the ‘can do’ attitude that Steve Jobs unwaveringly held. Told by many experts, inside and outside of the company, that a one button phone was an impossibility, he wasn’t put off by their opinions, and he continued to push his engineers and designers to develop the technology that would allow his vision to become a reality. Believing that it could be done, he wouldn’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. Grating on many of the project team with his stanch position, some of them decided to leave because they felt that he was asking too much. Pushed to their limits, they gave up on the dream. As history would have it, that was their loss.

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What Great Leaders Do First (Part 1)

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The demands placed upon today’s leaders are onerous and multifaceted. Coming with high expectations from a range of people, much work is required before meaningful outcomes can be achieved by the organisations, teams and individuals who they exercise control over. While some leaders come apart under the weight of the pressure, others thrive in the role, and successfully bring about results that positively impact the world at large. A modern day example of this was the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, whose creative brilliance and intense drive brought revolutionary products, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, to the world.

Exciting and engaging innovations that have changed the way we communicate, access information and entertain ourselves, these products have played a central role in building a passionate and loyal following for the company. Now one of the most recognisable and valuable brands in the world, Apple has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in 1976, when Jobs and its other co-founder Steve Wozniak built their first machines in his parents garage.

Having an audacious vision of what the future of personal computing would look like, the two Steves put their passion, imagination and knowledge to work. Not having any guarantees of what would result from their efforts, they proceeded anyway and disciplined themselves to follow through. Their first act of leadership, it did not involve an army of employees who were eager to do their bidding, only themselves, and the personal power that lies at the heart of true leadership.

The primary task of a leader is not to lead others, but to lead themselves. Leading ourselves involves doing what we know we have to, and holding ourselves to a higher standard in the process. Requiring the courage to be our own person, clarity of purpose, an integrated character that is consistently displayed, and a genuine desire to serve followers and the world at large, these qualities of an actualising spirit form the foundation of charisma, which powerfully draws people to us and makes us someone who is worth following.

Followers do not want to be led by a weak or insincere person. Neither do they want to be led by someone who relies on a title for their authority. In my experience, people can’t respect that. While in some instances they may go along to get along (in the workplace for example), when you remove the incentives that are their very reasons for being there, they will make the decision to leave the organisation because their leader is not delivering value that is above their basic function. As the saying goes, people don’t leave organisations, they leave leaders. When one considers the culture that a leader is responsible for creating, this makes perfect sense.

Weakness begets weakness, just as strength begets strength. Intuitively we know this, which is why we gravitate to people who demonstrate qualities of character that we lack. Drawing on their strengths, we cultivate our own. Being one avenue to developing our potential, another lies in doing the difficult inner work ourselves. For me, this is what leadership of self is all about.

Why I think that this is the most challenging path is because we have nowhere to hide from our lack of progress. 24/7 we must live with ourselves, and endeavouring to make positive changes in our life, there is only so much bullshit we can tell ourselves before we have to admit that we are failing at the task. On many occasions I have had to face this reality and it does not sit well, especially at times when I have tried to deny it.

In general, we tend to hold others to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. We do this because from an ego perspective we feel that we can. Possessing an entitlement mentality, we want others to do for us, what we should be doing for ourselves. In terms of leadership, this is extremely disempowering, and one of the more subtle ways that we sabotage our development.

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Tolerance is not Enough

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It has been said that the number one need that people have is for acceptance. This, I am not sure about. I tend to think that love is, and will always be, the primary need of every human being. But even as I write this, I do realise that the two are so closely intertwined that it is problematic to try and place one above the other.

The very nature of love is to accept another unconditionally. It is to know another as yourself, and to be willing to look beyond the perception that the ego has constructed to fragment the spiritual identity that we share with each other. With the heart being a vessel for the spirit, it is the meaning of acceptance that the mind cannot grasp alone. This is because acceptance is a function of being, and not something that can be merely understood with logic and conveyed with words.

Love is as love does. It may use words to express itself, but it is acutely aware of their shortcomings. Love is openness, truth and fearlessness in action. Therefore, we must move towards those whom we seek to embrace, if we would have them trust that our intentions are pure. Short of that, we will be viewed with suspicion by the same conditioned mind that doesn’t recognise its equal in us.

So often, we come across people who claim to be accepting of others, but when we really look at their behaviour, it becomes obvious that they are merely tolerating others rather than accepting them unconditionally. Tolerance is as flexible as the ego mind would have us be, but in its company we are still in bondage. To merely tolerate another is not to accept them wholeheartedly. It is being reluctantly willing to reach out to another on the ego’s terms, but this is no virtuous act. Genuine reaching out can only be done in the company of love, but the ego knows nothing about love.

Being the conduit of all that love is not, it is the ego which stands in the way of what love desires to accomplish. Extending its apprehensive arms, it does not intend to bring others closer, but to keep them at a safe distance from which they can be judged. Driven by the desire for superiority and righteousness, this is how the ego serves those ends. With this, do not doubt that the tolerant are fearful of having their conceptions of self and the world challenged by the light.

Separation only strengthens our ego identity, and holding onto the constructs of this identity becomes an impediment when they feed a reality which says that what I see in the world is not a part of me. I know myself only when I walk in union with spirit, and taking this path I have seen what I can no longer accept. Our world tells us to tolerate others. It says that walking under a different banner, they are entitled to the same rights as we are. But we do not need the world to tell us this.

I have allowed myself to be taught by the light, and I know that we are not different in any meaningful way. The banners that we hold up as representative of reality are but illusions that prevent the image of spirit from shining through the cracks of consciousness. White, Black, Muslim, Christian, Straight, Gay, are but some classifications that form this wall, to keep the ego in and the spirit out. Once an indomitable structure, it is now vulnerable to collapse in the minds of those who would have the heart rule their actions. What leads to division, isolation and conflict is bearable no longer. Having its day, it is not what love cares to tolerate. Calling us to heal in the light of truth, it is what the spirit would have us accept unconditionally as the next stage of our collective evolution.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 9)

Try as we might, we cannot create these experiences of flow by imposing our will on the present moment. The spirit, as the source of our freedom, must be allowed to take hold through the process of surrendering what we might desire, for that which the infinite intelligence wants for us.

Succeeding in our vocation requires us to be vulnerable and to trust in the life of the spirit and the journey that it will take us on. Taking these steps in faith, we become leaders in a world that accommodates too many followers. Instead of making the choice to bravely live their calling, too many of us play it safe by routinely adhering to the societal rules that have been unconsciously agreed upon. Conditioned in tribal consciousness, which says that it is dangerous to challenge the status quo and risk what that society perceives as valuable, these people spend their lives colouring between the lines that to their mind represent the safe boundaries of the human experience.

Not searching for and perceiving a life beyond these limited boundaries, they are blind conformists who stifle their own freedom and happiness. Suspicious of the heretic who goes against the grain, they hastily condemn them without realising that the heretic in this context is the suppressed spirit that longs to speak its truth and fulfil an enduring purpose in form. Historically, the heretic was positioned as a villain. Burned at the stake for what they believed in, the price that they paid is seldom a threat in the modern world, yet we remain enslaved by the memory of their fate.

Frozen by the fear of being scorned by the tribe, those who deny their calling do not speak the truth that burns in their breast. Strangers to the spiritual life, they have not learned that the heretic is in reality the hero that they secretly long to be. A hero steps out with courage, and steps up with an intense focus and fierce determination to succeed despite all difficulty. So it is with the heretic who must overcome the same challenges, and stand for something at the end of the arduous journey.

It is ironic that what once would have gotten us excommunicated or killed, now earns us the admiration of the masses. Look at someone like Steve Jobs, who continually pushed the boundaries of innovation in the tech industry, or Andy Warhol, who through his artistry redefined the way that a generation perceived the world. These disrupters, and many others like them, open our eyes to what is possible for humanity, and inspire us as they stand and deliver their vision or message.

It is impossible to hide while we are making a difference in the world, so we need to make peace with that reality. For sure, some people prefer to remain anonymous in their contributions, and while it may appear that they are hiding, they are not really because they succeed in adding something meaningful to the experience of others’ lives. Just like the oak whose beauty is appreciated as it emerges into sight, our true beauty is best on display when we serve from our heart, and have our unique contributions move the world forward in a way that manifests spirit in form.

The world is waiting for your spiritual unfoldment, so what are you waiting for? Dreams can become reality, if you give yourself to that dream wholeheartedly. No one but yourself is holding you back from setting foot on that authentic path. Give yourself the freedom that you know you deserve. Honour love in your efforts, and have those efforts reflect the essence of spirit that you are. The oak tree doesn’t live forever, but it stands tall while it is here, and leaves a legacy that lasts centuries. Be as the oak, and allow your acorn to flourish in the fertile ground of spirit that is your very nature in this eternal moment.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 8)

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Regardless of how old you are, you still have the opportunity to live your calling. Age is no excuse. Neither is aptitude, or the lack of it, for this is to be developed on the journey. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t want to start something unless they are already good at it. A nonsensical view that is often adopted to mask a deep seated fear of failure, it goes against the established process of mastery which recognises that incompetent doing must always precede masterful being.

Humility is such a key virtue to embody here, for without it we cannot grow to become masters in the domain of our calling. Wherever we are on the path of life, we must remember that we are students who have more to learn each day. Learning about that which we love is immensely enjoyable. An investment of our time, energy and very being, the rewards that we receive from this engaged exploration are so much greater than just the learning alone.

Involving the heart in the process, the love that we have for what we do, teaches us about the love that we are. Opening us up to the unexplored parts of ourselves, wisdom is allowed to flourish as one with knowledge. Harmonized in this growth process, the mind and spirit add strength to each other with the effect that our learning is integrated into our life. While we may think that this happens automatically, evidence proves that our learning is nowhere near as strong when we have no passion for the subject matter of that learning.

If I were to ask you here what you remember about trigonometry at school, you would probably go blank, unless of course you have a passion for mathematics. Having love for the subject matter of our calling increases its stickiness, to use marketing language. Resonating with who we are at the deep spiritual level, we take more in with an enhanced capacity, just as a hungry person is likely to do when presented with a bowl of food that they love. While having an insatiable appetite for food may get us into trouble with our health goals, having an insatiable appetite for learning about that which we love, will pave the way for continuous improvement, while exponentially increasing our level of fulfilment.

Digressing from this point, it has always amazed me how when we get on the vocational path, and allow inspiration to speak to us, forces beyond our conscious control come to assist us in our mission. Frequently, when I engage in the process of writing, what emerges in form is so much greater than my mind’s ability to hold. Knowing what I want to say and a bit about how to express it, I feel a force more powerful than my limited conception of self, assisting with the process. Being the spirit within that has given me the ability to write, it continually nudges me forward in my destined unfolding, while supplementing my knowledge with its innate wisdom.

Trying to explain this synchronicity, it mightn’t make much sense to you, unless you have experienced it yourself. Doubting initially my own perspective on this experience of flow, I have since had it validated by many other people who have reported similar experiences when engaged in tasks or activities that they profoundly loved to do. The basketball great Larry Bird once said that often when he had the ball in a game, he intuitively knew the best play to make in the circumstances. But how did he know? Because in those moments of play, he was fully present in what he loved to do and had an incredible talent for. Allowing his inner spiritual guide to speak to him in these moments about the rhythm of the game, Bird was able to perform at a higher level than his contemporaries, who were more focused on imposing their own personal will on the game.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 7)

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Many of us are not curious enough, or willing to challenge the status quo, in this respect. Taught by society to accept our lot without complaint, I detect a passive reluctance to question whether the lives that we lead are the ones that we really want. Fearing the honest answer to this question, it is easier to deny the thoughts and feelings that we have about doing what we love. While this may bring us solemn comfort in the moment, our soul will suffer with the passing of time by not being able to freely express itself in service.

To be liberated spiritually and vocationally, we must listen for the clues that are communicated by our emotions. While the mind can and often does lie, our heart is honest in how it moves us emotionally. Free to express the feeling of love, this will naturally arise when we are performing those tasks or activities that are aligned with our spiritual intention to serve and create as only we can. Signalling to the mind that we are at one with our purpose, we do not have to indulge the ego identity and its fear inducing messages.

The ego mind, desiring the absence of purpose and integrity in our life, will often contaminate the thoughts that we have about doing that which we love. Using negative and disempowering words to break the bond that we have with the spirit of love, we will be tempted to believe in the impossibility of living our calling to a ‘successful’ level, or of being fulfilled by taking that journey. Listening to this cynical voice in our head, we allow fear and doubt to permeate the substance of the questions that we ask, and the statements that we make. Take for example the following:

‘What will my family and friends think of me doing this? They will probably think I am crazy and ridicule me.’

‘Moving in that new direction will be too challenging, and I doubt that I will ever succeed. I am better off sticking to what I already know how to do. Who cares if I don’t have any passion for it? I am competent at it and that will get me by.’

‘I need the money right now so I can’t pursue my passion. When I have enough money, then I will think about it.’

I think that most of us have said something similar to these statements at one point or another in our life. Staring at a fork in the road, the ego mind creates obstacles and perceived dangers, while the heart relishes the opportunity to take a new direction and flourish. Feeling our body come alive with excitement and positive expectation at the prospect of living our calling, we allow the ego mind to crash the party by interpreting these inspired responses in a negative way. Conditioned to be suspicious of that which is unfamiliar and untested, we choose not to risk what we have for fear of losing it, and being left without.

The flaw with this reasoning is based in the belief that what we now have is better than what we could have if we lived a life that gave a voice to our vocation. The ego mind is enamoured with those things that bring it comfort and security, despite those things not being conducive to our flourishing. Clinging to that which is trifling in its substance prevents anything that is more meaningful from coming into our lives. This is why we must take a step back to contemplate whether the ‘treasure’ that we have is really treasure at all. Dressed up that way by the ego, it more likely to resemble fool’s gold, when subjected to the pure light of spirit.

What we have already accumulated on our travels along a false path, has a shorter lifespan than those things that we can purchase with spiritual currency. With the spirit as the source of life, its abundance is latent in all that which is born of love. Taking the path that allows us to express our vocational gifts, what we give and receive in union with spirit is infinitely more valuable than what the ego would have us cling to for the purpose of preserving our worldly identity. While the physical world and the people in it may be fooled by our act, the universe is not. Knowing and embracing who we essentially are, its intention is that the world come to know and embrace us in this totality. This is why it is imperative that we stop hiding from ourselves and start living authentically.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 6)

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How does it make you feel when something you have done positively impacts the life of another? Attuned to their being as they offered sincere words of gratitude, the emotions that arose within you would have allowed you to understand the relationship that exists between joy and being of service to others. When we serve ourselves in a self-indulgent way, genuine joy is not present in that experience. While we may feel pleasure or some level of satisfaction as a result of those actions, these fleeting feelings are not spiritually affirming responses to the question of ‘what makes for a meaningful life?’

For me, meaning is everything, and I seek not to waste my time doing things that take me away from my calling. Being quite definitive in this respect, I find it difficult to justify applying my energy to those things that do not matter to me on a deep level. While taking this position has sometimes got me into trouble with certain people, it has more frequently allowed me to achieve more meaningful success that I otherwise would not have enjoyed.

Over the journey, I have been presented with different opportunities that would have advanced me materially, but I refused to travel down those roads because what they represented did not speak to my heart. I have seen enough people who have frittered away their lives by chasing money to know that real happiness is not to be found at the end of that rainbow. If you spend your life making money doing something that you despise, what is the real value of that money?

Too often, we are willing to devalue our experience of life, to gain in material terms. Making this compromise, we surrender our potential to a lie that is unworthy of being told. Money, like everything else in the physical world, is transient, and we will still have to live with ourselves after it comes and goes from our grasp. Therefore, we must honour what is forever constant within ourselves. This is the spirit which speaks to us of our purpose.

To reconnect with your spiritual voice and attune yourself to its intuition, take some time out in solitude. This will help to clarify what your purpose is in every moment that you experience confusion. Sometimes we may know what our purpose is, but be unsure of what we are meant to be doing at a particular point in time. Getting back to nature, or being at one with our essential self without distractions, allows us to cut through the clutter that clouds our judgment and fuels our apprehension. Free of this meddling influence, the light from within can emerge to reveal the next step of our individual and collective unfolding.

Prayer is also very profound in this respect. In prayer we ask for answers to life’s deeper questions. Aligned spiritually with our asking, we are guided through the answers that we will receive. Humbling ourselves to submit our personal will to the higher good, our function will be clarified in the context of that higher good. Seeing where we fit in the bigger picture of life, our efforts in service will be more effectual in bringing forth a worthwhile legacy.

With a vision comes the power to make it a reality. This is why we must be able to see who we innately are and what our calling is, because without this spiritual insight, we are bound to chase after the wrong things in the world. By failing to preserve our connection to the infinite, we will come to see our role too narrowly and in purely physical terms. Perceiving this world through the distorted lens of the ego identity, our spiritual vision will be indecipherable, and this will give rise to more questions than answers. Confusing our divided mind, the questions that we ask of life will be shallow and insignificant. Producing answers that are inconsequential when acted upon, we will not advance much further than the person who in ignorance refuses to ask any questions at all. Against this backdrop of unconsciousness, we must be open, engaged and wise with the questions that we ask. We don’t want to come to the end of our life regretting that we never did what we were put on this earth to do. Having to occupy such an unenviable position is easily avoided by proactively questioning, introspectively learning and resolutely acting together with spirit to create something of lasting significance in the world.

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