We human beings are actualising creatures, in that our fundamental nature is to grow more fully into what we are capable of becoming. From the data collected during my PhD study, I concluded that this quality of actualising is born of our spirit. The closer in touch we are with our true spiritual self, the greater our propensity will be to evolve and grow into our fullness. If you think of what children are like in the early years of life, they grow at such a rapid rate because their relationship with the world is not inhibited by the false self, that I call ego. It is only when they begin to identify with this false self that their engagement with the world wanes, and other spiritual qualities such as courage and creativity become stifled.
In the leadership context, the most effective leaders are these actualisers who continually strive to be better as people, for their own spiritual growth, and as leaders, to enhance their capacity to develop and nurture their people. When I talked to leaders for my study, many of them advocated for and practiced continuous learning and improvement, and were inspired to create or build things that made the world a better place. If you notice, each of these behaviours and motivations are actualising by nature.
When I asked these leaders about the core drivers in their life, nearly all of them talked about being and doing their best. Here, an important distinction regarding this motivation needs to be made. Being your best is very different to being the best. As I have stated, when we live in alignment with our spirit, we will naturally take steps in the direction of being our best. When we talk about being the best, this is a motivation of the ego to climb to the top of the tree by overcoming others through the means of competition. To the ego, competition is about winning at the expense of others losing, and asserting dominance through that process.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against competition, and I understand that it has a place in the world, but I think that the true meaning of competition has been so distorted in our ego dominated culture. To use a sporting analogy, the spirit of competition that the Olympic Games seek to promote, involves participants pushing each other to their highest levels of performance (being their best) through the process of competition. While this spirit of competition may not always come through in Olympic or other sporting events, it is what we find so uplifting and inspiring when we see two or more athletes pushing each other to their absolute limits, and then enthusiastically embracing each other at the end of the event.
A wonderful example of this was the 2012 Australian Open Men’s Tennis Final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The longest Grand Slam final match in history, lasting just under six hours, both men didn’t even have the energy to stand through the trophy presentation, and when stewards brought out water and seats for them to rest, it was the victor Djokovic who handed the first bottle of water to Nadal. Despite being a small gesture towards his vanquished opponent, it conveyed a powerful message of honour and respect for Nadal’s efforts in bringing the best out of him, on a day when it was needed to win the ultimate prize.
Some of you might be asking, well, how does this apply to business? I can appreciate this query, considering the modern business world’s preoccupation with competing on the ego’s terms. In looking to the future of business, and the potential that organisations have to move from good to great, as Jim Collins would say, I think that a key part of this for leaders is to stop looking so much at what their competitors are doing, and focus instead on what they can do within their organisation to make it the best it can be, in terms of products and processes, and enabling their people to work to their potential. I leave you with this thought, is it possible to be the best at something, without first being at your best in doing that thing? When anything meaningful is at stake, the answer to this question is ‘no’. Just as our spiritual core underpins the physical existence that the ego seeks to impose itself upon, so does the spiritually oriented value of actualising our best, present us with the greatest opportunity to be the best at anything that our heart knows is worth competing for.