Callings can take many forms, and one of the most interesting among them is the calling to leadership. Unlike a calling that finds life in a particular context, for example a lawyer or a nurse, the calling to leadership is broader in its scope, potentially finding life in multiple contexts that involve other people. Whilst I believe that leaders are not born but developed, I do think that some men and women possess the natural gifts, such as a driving personality, that equip them well for leadership. Does this mean that members of this group are called to leadership? I am not quite sure because the findings of my PhD research suggest that merely having a natural aptitude for something does not equate to having a calling to that thing. Although there is a strong correlation between our calling and what we are good at, I think that there are other factors which are more determinative of whether one has a specific calling to leadership. Chief among these factors are a love for the work, a willingness to grow in the role, a genuine care for people, and the selflessness to serve in the role of steward, where the priority is what is best for the collective entity moving forward.
If we feel called to leadership but these factors are absent from our being, then there is a strong chance that we are not being called by our higher spiritual self, but rather are being influenced by our false ego self. The perks of leadership are highly attractive to the ego. In these positions which the world values so highly, the ego finds power in the ability to control people and outcomes, status, and the material means to strengthen itself. With these temptations comes the need to discern our motives for wanting to lead. With the ego self almost operating by default in our lives, it takes our conscious and introspective awareness to determine whether our spirit is moving us to lead. This is a process of truth telling which may require us to engage in meditation, journaling, mindfulness or other contemplative practices.
A potent example of what can happen if we allow the ego to co-opt us into leadership is Adolf Hitler. I am sure that if someone had asked Hitler whether he felt he was called to lead the Nazi Party, he would have haughtily affirmed that he was destined to occupy the role. The problem with this answer is that the spirit would never have motivated him to do what he did. So severe was his forsaking of his spirit that he came to embody the ego in its cruellest and most destructive form. A slave to the false self that blinded him to the devastating consequences of his actions, he would have proved completely incapable of discerning a genuine call to leadership.
While very few people would go to the lengths that Hitler did, his example teaches us much about the need to assess what we are doing in relation to our calling, and to promptly correct our course if we are living out of alignment. Possessing both self and spiritual awareness is crucial to this process. As important as self-awareness is to leadership and our ability to evolve as people, it has its limits if we neglect the spiritual basis of our being.
To discern a genuine calling, to leadership or anything else, there must be an acknowledgement of the one who calls. What we label this life force (spirit, God, universal energy etc.) does not really matter. What matters is our intimate knowledge of its nature. Just as in the physical world, where leadership is a relational process between a figurehead and the ones who are led, so is it in spiritual terms. The manifestation of the highest form of leadership as a calling requires a strong relationship with our spirit. Grounded at this deep level of being, we are capable of giving to the leadership role in a way that others who are functioning from their ego cannot. Knowing others not to be a means to an end, but the very end themselves, and seeing them in this light, we treat them with a reverence and care that makes it very easy for them to take the journey with us. Endowed with a vision that extends beyond ourselves and our selfish wants, to inspire and engage others in a virtuous purpose, we are capable of achieving something that is truly extraordinary.
A wonderful example of somebody who is clearly called to leadership is Aung San Suu Kyi. The tenacious leader of Burma’s struggle for democracy, who in the process has encountered significant opposition and personal hardship, has a clear and purposeful motivation that is untainted by the influence of ego. Tirelessly working for a free and open Burma, with a government that respects the human rights of its citizens, Suu Kyi’s leadership journey is best described as organic, in the sense that she didn’t aspire to leadership for leadership’s sake. Rather it was thrust upon her as a natural outcome of her following her calling.
This journey of arriving, and not to striving for leadership, is how it should be for each of us. The central tenet of my research is that as we live in alignment with our calling, we will naturally manifest leadership. Aung San Suu Kyi is a testament to the validity of this finding, as are other prominent world leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. If we can be like them, and we can be like them, we will be in great company.