What Great Leaders Do First (Part 4)

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What others happen to think of us is largely insignificant. What really matters is the view that we take of ourselves, and the clarity of purpose that this contributes to. This, the leader keeps in mind, as they go about the task of initiating service oriented action. Desiring to deliver something of real substance and quality, they know that this requires vulnerability and a willingness to risk. Courage, in this respect, is putting ourselves at the heart of what we do, and accepting unconditionally that we may fail, be ridiculed or tuned out by some people.

Each of these things are possibilities, but they do not have to infect our mindset around that which we do. Failure is not a death sentence. Neither is the feedback that others offer us. Coming with the territory of bringing our calling to market, these challenging influences are the fertile soil on which we can grow our fellowship. Opportunities for refinement of our character and contribution, they are not to be squandered by the leader who has yet to realise their vision.

A chief imperative, despite these happenings, is not to compromise the integrity of our offering. One of the things that distinguishes followers from leaders is the former’s overriding desire to appease the populous. Wanting to be seen in a favourable light by as many people as possible, they compromise themselves by catering to the various, and frequently competing, needs and expectations of the tribe. Diminishing the power of their gifts, their utility is limited when compared to the novel contribution that is offered by the true leader.

Here, I am not imploring you to be close-minded or inflexible. A genuine leader is always willing to listen to followers and receive their input. Rather, I am emphasising the importance of adding value by being real. I could try to be the next Anthony Robbins or Paulo Coelho, but that would only diminish the quality of my offering. Taking energy away from my unique talents and experiences, they would not be given the space to influence others hearts and minds, if I was trying to hide from my audience by being someone that I am not. In the wise words of Andre Gide, “It is better to be hated for who you are, than loved for who you are not”.

Leadership in its finest form should be disruptive, not just to effect change, but to stoke the fire of reality. All too often, we grow comfortable in knowing what to expect from our leaders, and this coupled with their lack of authenticity, robs them of the power to inspire their constituents, and bring through new leaders by their example. Not affecting any dissonance between where we are and where we want to be, an opportunity is wasted to forge a connection with the spirit within that yearns to evolve and be moved by a vision that it can trust.

Missing this element of connection, leadership will fail to serve its true function. The quality of someone’s leadership will always be determined by the quality of their relationship with spirit, and those people who have chosen to follow them. Endowed with free will, we are not forced into fellowship. The emphasis then falls on the leader to form constructive and rewarding relationships with followers. This takes time, effort and selfless humility. The most effective leader is the other oriented leader. A style of leadership that turns the tables on traditional leadership thinking, it sees the leader as a facilitator of their followers flourishing.

Requiring the leader to put the needs of their followers above their own, it is not a style of leadership that the ego can accept or find a voice in. Demanding an arrangement that sees followers exhaust themselves for its aggrandisement, the emphasis of the ego here is not on serving, but on being served. Practicing this self-centred form of leadership, we demonstrate to the world that we are not on good terms with ourselves.


What Great Leaders Do First (Part 3)

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Those who remained were rewarded handsomely for their steadfast belief in Steve Jobs and his vision. Developers of the iconic iPhone, they would change the game for every player in the telecommunications industry. Forced to develop their own android versions of the iPhone, these other players have only recently challenged for a substantial share of the market, after years of Apple dominating sales in the category. While some of these other brand versions may catch the iPhone one day, I have doubts whether they will be remembered in the same way. After all, a copy can never be better than the original.

Here, we can learn a valuable lesson from the iPhone, and aspire to lead ourselves in an authentic way. To lead ourselves, we must be true to ourselves. Integrated in our understanding of who we are, our leadership ability, and the impact which flows from that, is radically intensified. Who would remember Steve Jobs if he had decided to coach a basketball team? Absolutely nobody, because basketball was not a part of who he was.

Why Steve Jobs was so successful was because he honoured his DNA. What I mean by this is that he stayed true to his love of technology. Abundantly gifted in this area, it was where he excelled and stood out from the crowd. Allowing himself to be guided by that love, this was his rite of passage to leadership. While some might argue that the title of ‘CEO of Apple’ constituted the basis of his authority, I saw a deeper level to his leadership that was not rooted in worldly power, but in spiritual congruity.

There is something magnetic about people who are doing what they love, and sharing of their inspired creations. Bringing to themselves people who buy in to their purpose, and want to assist them in some way, these originals are thrust into a position of greater responsibility. Presenting them with new challenges that develop their leadership skills, they find themselves taking that path by default when they give a voice to the natural inclinations of their spirit.

In what domain does your service oriented spirit call you to lead? What gifts do you possess that present you with a platform for making a difference in the world? How can you step out into the bright light that shines within you? Find the answer to these questions, and you are well on your way to practicing spiritual leadership that begins with your heart, and ends with a legacy that is characterised by love, generosity and meaningful change in the world.

When I publish a blog entry or speak before an audience on the themes which I am truly passionate about, I become a leader that others want to follow. Reflecting the essence of who I am, these authentic acts of vulnerability are what others respond most positively to. Very recently, I had a friend, who I had not seen in a while, communicate to me how much I had inspired him at a presentation he had attended more than five years ago! Being what I had long forgotten, it was the integrity of the message that had stayed with him, and provided direction as he passed into a new chapter of his life.

After receiving his communication, I was reminded of the responsibility that each of us has to deliver on our innate leadership promise. There can be no leadership without follow through. If I had not gotten up in front of that audience and shared my truths with them, I would have allowed fear to make me a follower. Choosing this unnatural yet familiar role, I would have deprived others of my gifting, and missed an opportunity to impact the world by manifesting spirit in form.

When we give in to fear, we hide from the world. Doing what feels safe in the moment, we forfeit the ability to lead there. Leadership by its nature is uncomfortable and challenging. Requiring us to be seen and heard in a broader context, it opens us up to criticism and disapproval. Threatening wounds to the fragile identities of followers, this state of opposition is what they seek to avoid at all costs. Craving praise and validation of their positions, they have not the courage to speak up, nor the credibility to be taken seriously as leaders.


Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 3)

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Fixing our mind on that which we believe will be our crowning glory, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important. So many valuable relationships are discarded or irreparably harmed because ambition is prioritised above love and authenticity. We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrity. We see other people getting attention for what they are doing, and we want the same thing for ourselves. Becoming blind to the substance of our own acorn in this process, we try to climb the oak that the success of these famous people symbolises to us.

Why this poses a risk to our fulfilment is because their competencies may be very different from our own, and even if we have the same or similar talents to these people, we may be called to use them in alternate ways. Just because I have the same gift as Dostoyevsky or Jane Austen, does not mean that I am called to write as they did. Trying to emulate their work would prove futile for me because I can only write about what my lived experience and learning has taught me. Why their work was so profound in their impact was because they were unique and genuine representations of their spirits, and how they interacted with the physical world. Not fighting against the natural pull of their respective acorns, the oaks of these two literary giants were allowed to flourish in beautifully original ways.

So many of us fail to exemplify the best version of ourselves because we expend too much of our energy trying to be like those people who we emulate. Wanting to live in their shadow, we dim our own light that is not afraid of being exposed to the harsh winds of criticism, and the other tests of time. Following in the footsteps of others who appear to be ‘successful’ is not as prosperous a course as our ego would hope, and taking this course is particularly damaging when our motive for doing so is to hide from the essential truth of who we are.

To my heart and mind, the risk of living to conform is much greater than the risk involved in living our highest life. Being on the receiving end of the critical opinions of others and failing or losing face occasionally is not that bad when compared to a life that is lived in a psychic/spiritual straightjacket and a padded cell. While the latter requires us to forfeit our freedom and sanity, enduring the former calls us to demonstrate resilience, courage, patience and perspective. Being virtues that fortify our will and character, they are the building blocks to the richest form of life that our spirit aspires to.

What others have to say about us or our efforts does not have to define us. We can choose to absorb it, or we can choose to ignore it. As it pertains to the actualisation of our innate potential, these external utterings are mostly irrelevant, and we should not hold the voices of the world in a higher regard than the voice of spirit that is alive within us. Directing the way to our highest flourishing is our intuition, which speaks with an authoritative wisdom that has to be trusted. Too often we doubt the legitimacy of this guidance and abandon it in favour of the opinions and judgments of others because that is what our social norms have conditioned us to do.

The people who are closest to us, in particular family and friends, are rarely shy in offering suggestions as to who we should be or what we should do. Feeling liberated to offer their input because of the proximal relationship that they enjoy with us, it is in our response to their advice that we must exercise caution. Allowing it to direct our course for the future, the integrity of our purpose is compromised, and we languish in the pursuit of something that is meaningless to us. Just like we can never be someone else, and do all that they have done, so can we never realise a vision that is foreign to our heart. Try as we might, our vain efforts will be met with resistance from worldly forces and attendant frustration. While our ego may curse this happening, the blessing that the opposition provides is the opportunity to turn inward and recalibrate, so that our movements forward can be informed by intuition and taken firmly in faith.


Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 1)

The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul, a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities ~ James Allen.

An acorn is truly an amazing component of nature. The seed that an oak tree starts out as, it carries in it such power and potentiality for realisation. Fitting comfortably in the palm of a human hand, it takes on a life of its own when planted, and in time sprouts to a size that is much greater than the person who once held it. Growing into the world through this process, the form that the oak takes above the surface is beautiful and awe-inspiring.

I mention the acorn here because very recently I was reviewing one of my favourite books, The Soul’s Code by James Hillman, in which he explores the metaphor of the acorn. Mythologically, the acorn represents the seed of our vocation that was planted in us before we entered the physical world. Holding our highest potentiality and the gifts that will facilitate our self-actualisation, it is both our task, and the responsibility of the world, to honour and nurture these seeds (in ourselves and in others). As we do this by participating in the collective dance of evolution, we enable each other to flourish as oaks do, and stand out in the landscape of life to indicate something that is profound and meaningful.

While it often appears that the world is not complicit in our efforts to actualise the best version of ourselves, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to give a voice to our calling. The Latin interpretation of the word ‘vocation’ is vocare, that when translated means ‘voice’. Extensions of the divine creator that many call God, we have within us this same source of being, that is continually prompting us to fulfil our function/s and manifest the qualities of spirit in everything that we do. With these qualities of love, creativity and authenticity (among others) representing our highest potential, they are what we are called to express through our thoughts, words and actions, at home, in the workplace and in the other spheres of our lives.

I think that when most people hear the word ‘vocation’, their mind turns to the formalities of religion, where priests and nuns are held up to be favoured by God because of the devoted service that they are rendering to the church. A mistakenly narrow perception, it doesn’t accord with the spiritual wisdom which teaches that we all have a purpose/s in our hearts that we have been given life to relate with and fulfil. Even Martin Luther and John Calvin, in challenging the edicts of the church, came to the conclusion that a vocation is so expansive in its substance that it cannot be reserved for members of the church, or any other religious instrumentality.

Finding its foundation within us, a vocation is something that is inescapable. What this means is that we cannot not have one, even if in our unconsciousness we may think that we have been created without it. Many people believe that they don’t have a vocation, simply because they haven’t found it yet. What they don’t understand however is that just because they can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not there. In these cases that I have encountered personally and through my research work, I have identified a variety of fears and other barriers that in one way or another prevents these individuals from looking deeply into themselves and discovering what their vocation is.

Thinking that this revelation should present itself at their whim, they are naive in their expectations because that which delivers the richest rewards, must be given to and worked hard for. When I say worked hard for, I am not referring to frenetic activity in the outside world, but rather the process of engaging in spiritual exploration, and the price that it asks us to pay for internal freedom and clarity.


Icons and Wallflowers


Life is like a sporting event. Being born in the moment, it is a platform, and as actors on a stage we can make it as we want it. Telling a story, it is this that we communicate to the world, with either clarity or static. Being both the narrator and the protagonist in our own drama, there is much to convey, but where are we to be found? In the light or in the dark?

Having both participants and spectators, this divide in the game of life is what separates those in power from those who disavow it. To be powerful is to be in the game dictating play, making a difference, and forging a legacy. Those in the game are examples, and the shining lights for those who tread tenderly on the sidelines waiting for their turn which may or may not come as they hesitate to move.

Wanting to play a meaningful role, but vague in their intent, it is fear, uncertainty and doubt that makes voyeurs of those who were born to be heroes. With the mythological hero being the one who rises up out of adversity to discover their greatness, it is our light that we make obscure when we allow fear, uncertainty and doubt to drive our actions. Making us unconfident and timid, we become weary of so much that in a position of strength, we would not dither to move towards.

Perceiving as threatening the criticism and disapproval which others may throw our way, this is what we allow to become the proverbial dragon that breathes fire in the direction of our dreams. Scorching the seed of our potential, it is our gifting and ambition that remain untapped. Neglecting our spirit in this process, it is the world that is deprived of the opportunity to see what it could be through our presence.

There are two types of people in this world: icons and wallflowers. A wallflower is a spectator who chooses to watch, rather than participate in the game of life. Forming a part of the crowd, they become but a blur in the sea of faces that know not what they stand for. Unsure of whether to cheer or jeer, it is not out of love that they act, but out of self-preservation. Idolising those that affirm who they desire to be, and criticizing those who exhibit their own shortcomings, they are not unbiased or credible observers. Fuelled not by passion and inspiration, but by the anger and bitterness that arise from the frustration of potential, they warn as they teach of the perils of the half-lived life.

An icon, on the other hand, is a player on the field of dreams. Guided by the call of their heart, it is not on the fringes that they sit, for what they realise is that the true gifts of life move to those who are guided by the spirit in all that they do. Clear and confident in what they understand their purpose to be, it is this that they take action to manifest, despite the protestations of the tribe that surrounds them. Cultivating their inner life, these icons don’t become victims of external pressures which claim those who do not know themselves in the light of love. Called to express their true self, this is what they reveal to others, and with the generosity of spirit they give of themselves wholly to serve and benefit others who they recognise as kindred spirits on this journey of life.

Brilliant as a spectacle, life is even more glorious in its experience. To experience is to participate in, and as the most powerful lessons are learned as we make conscious contact with that which is the source of our teaching, so is that richness what eludes us when we stand uncommitted on the edge of the dance floor. With life being the dance itself, it is the role of dancer that we are called to fill. Inspired by our authentic song, we cannot go wrong, even though we may take a misstep on occasion. Each of us can be icons for the world when our seed of greatness is allowed to take root, and blossom in a way that the flower which fear, uncertainty and doubt have painted on the wall of our mind cannot.