What Great Leaders Do First (Part 6)

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Here, a distinction must be made between holistic and performance leadership. Holistic leadership focuses on people and the journey to be taken together, in addition to the outcomes to be achieved. Placing a premium on the relationships that make true success possible, it holds a tension that the ego is incapable of balancing through its practice of performance leadership.

Performance leadership is underscored by bottom line thinking. Focused on the end result, it tends to wreak havoc on the people side of the equation to stand out on the performance side. Measuring success superficially, in terms of victories gained and profits earned, the motivations which underpin this form of leadership are not expressive of our spiritual virtues, which is why the effects produced by performance leadership often come at a great personal and organisational cost.

Can a leader really be deemed a success if they have met their performance goals while alienating every member of their team? I think not, but in terms of how the ego defines success, this question can be answered in the affirmative. To the ego, people are just a means to a self-serving end, and it is not just others who get burned by its sinister motives. When we allow the ego to dictate the course of our lives, our mental, physical and spiritual well-being suffers. Used in destructive ways to indulge the ego, and evoke a perceived sense of significance and enrichment, our worldly identity can be battered to the point that we begin to doubt whether it is worth pursuing those things that promise happiness and fulfilment, but deliver something that is much less wholesome.

To protect ourselves and others from this ego exploitation, we must practice a spirit centred holistic leadership. A core component of this is putting to work that which we have learned on our growth journey. We cannot effectively lead ourselves or others if we do not have the will and discipline to implement those lessons that are pregnant with wisdom, promising positive change in our life and the lives of others.

Knowing what we should do, but failing to put it into practice, we undermine the influence that is rooted in our integrity. Saying one thing, but doing another, kills all leadership credibility, especially when our actions run contra to the human response that could be expected in a particular situation. George W. Bush found this out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Preaching of the US government’s commitment to swiftly help the victims of this natural disaster, Bush’s actions did not match his words by a long way. Reacting slowly to the urgent needs of the New Orleans people, he came across as insensitive and indifferent to their plight, particularly by his decision to fly over the affected area in Air Force One, without landing to show his support and provide much needed encouragement.

Credited by many to be the event that signalled the beginning of the end of his presidency, it laid to rest the trust that had gotten Bush elected in the first place. Whether the actions that we take are in public or in private, we must be careful not to make the same mistake. In leadership as in relationships, trust makes all the difference to its quality. Just as a relationship without trust can be difficult to maintain, so can leadership without trust be fraught with resistance and tension.

To avoid this perilous state of affairs, honestly assess the basis of your leadership identity. This will make it infinitely easier to be honest with others who you lead. We cannot be honest with others in the same moment that we are lying to ourselves. Thinking that, we feed the ego’s illusion of separateness that poisons leadership and robs it of its transcendent and unifying potential.

Keep others in the same spiritual space that you dwell, and don’t allow the ego to affect this separation in your mind. Where you walk is hallowed ground. The realm where followers become leaders, it is the spirit that effects this transformation in the world. Lead yourself so that others may do the same, and remember that your mission is not to create better followers, but liberating others to leadership, being the peak of the development journey that you can play a pivotal role in.

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What Great Leaders Do First (Part 5)

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Having the need to exercise power over others in the world, will throw any attempt of leadership radically off balance. Motivated by a spiritual deficiency and a selfish desire to control, it cannot compensate for the powerlessness that an individual may feel inside. No leadership title or accompanying status can fill our psychological and spiritual gaps. Having to address them through conscious awareness and development, we must lead ourselves through that process without relying on the people who follow us.

In terms of servant leadership, our inner work is not their responsibility. Why so many of the traditional leadership structures are fragile is because followers are made to do the real work of their leaders. Eroding the foundation of trust, respect and goodwill that supports any organisational endeavour, this over-reliance on its core group leads to resentment and disengagement that is destructive and unwarranted. Compromising the integrity of the organisational entity, this physical dissonance is the result that the ego centred leader has first effected by compromising their inner integrity.

Taking more than they are willing to give, the ego centred leader abuses their power and loses influence at a rapid rate. Leaning on followers rather than lifting them up, they do not practice the principles of authentic servant leadership which has humility, empathy and generosity at its heart. John C. Maxwell was right when he said that, “we must listen to the heart of another before we ask for their hand”. Taking this a step further, we must make it a priority to respond to their needs consciously, with due respect for their spiritual upliftment. An investment in the long term good of these relationships, this willingness to vulnerably bear our soul leads to powerful cooperation and a host of other mutually beneficial rewards.

When we give to others in the absence of ego, we inspire them and this builds loyalty. When we take from others without giving anything in return, we reduce the quality of their life by diminishing the flow of goodness that the spirit intends to bring their way. Fostering a desire for separation that may manifest itself in overt opposition or covert passive aggressive behaviour, in more extreme instances, reciprocity may be sought through revenge, if action is not initiated by the offending party to restore balance to the relationship.

A powerful illustration of this was the despotic rule of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya which ended brutally for him in 2011. Why his empire crumbled was because he didn’t have the strength as a leader to put the needs of his people first. Clinging to his position of worldly power because of a fragile ego, he caused a revolt in his country that attracted the ire of the entire world. Leaving a wake of death and devastation, the real tragedy in that situation was the needless suffering endured by so many people.

Had Gaddafi woven the presence of spirit into the fabric of his leadership, he would have been able to meet the needs of his people while in power. The likely effect of this would have been a longer life and leadership reign. Even if in this hypothetical narrative, the Libyan people decided that they wanted a change in leadership, Gaddafi would have had the humility and aware understanding to accept their decision and relinquish power. Having the authentic power to discern his spiritual authority as independent of his official leadership role, he would have felt the freedom to move on and serve the Libyan people in another capacity.

Setting aside my earnest attempt at rewriting history, it must be understood that we are not liberated to serve others in the way that they need, when we cling to a leadership position because of our vain and exorbitant needs. When we are focused on closing this superficial deficit, we will deny the spirit its role in bridging the real deficit for others. Repelling them like two of the same magnetic poles coming together, the ego’s intrusion into the spiritual domain will make effective leadership impracticable.

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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.

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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 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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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 5)

This explains why we experience such high levels of enthusiasm and energy when we are engaged in a form of task or activity that we love. In flow with the depth of purpose in our heart, we avoid much of the fatigue that comes to the mind and body when we are consumed with rowing our boat against the tide. Weakened by the choice to entangle ourselves in this struggle, we then encounter the pressure of having to measure up to those forces which constitute the weight of that tide. Suppressing the fullness of our being, we are starved of enthusiasm and the will to engage with what we come to label as ‘work’.

Living our calling shouldn’t be viewed as work in the traditional sense. Better is it understood as purposeful and passionate play. As much as a child enjoys playing with their favourite toy, so should we enjoy doing what we have been called to do to the same extent. Granted, the adult world is more complex than that of a child, and there are going to be challenges encountered in this process of engagement. These are an unavoidable part of the journey. Whilst these occurrences may temporarily disrupt our flow, they need not diminish our joy and harmony. Having a genuine love for that which we do, and how it relates to who we are, we will be inoculated from much of the suffering that stems from a spiritually unbalanced life.

It is often said that to succeed we must persist in the face of opposition. This, I couldn’t agree with more, but what is it that allows us to demonstrate and sustain this quality? The answer to this is the loving essence of spirit, out of which courage, determination and resilience also spring. When we partner with genuine love in the pursuit of a purpose, we find ourselves unattached to the outcomes that lay ahead. Immersed in the life enhancing experience of joy and growth, there is nothing more that we need gain. Achieving results by our efforts in the physical world, these are secondary benefits that mean very little in and of themselves. Flowing from our devotion to the spiritual inclination to love, it is this that means more in absolute terms.

Achievements are fleeting, but joy is impactful. Infusing our present moments with richness, it is the degree to which we experience and perpetuate joy that is the true measure of success. How different would the world be if we came to define ourselves in these terms? When we learn to cultivate joy in what we do, and allow this to guide our service, we diminish the need to define ourselves by such things as money, power and material possessions.

In the unconsciousness of our habitat, the success score is assessed by these dysfunctional metrics, despite our intrinsic knowing that they fail to deliver what we most want in life. Of them, there is never enough, especially for vultures who have become slaves of this world. Continually wanting more of these addictive lures, their hunger remains strong, with their discontent in the present moment. We cannot be joyful in the same moment that we are discontented. Mired in the negativity of fruitless striving, joy will not arise from within, when we need something more than we want to be fulfilled.

Similarly, we cannot truly be living life if our attention is continually being focused on the future and what we can gain from it. The future does not hold any joy that is not first present in our heart. To experience joy in any moment, we must bring it there. Manifested through our connection to life, this joy is not dependent on us gaining at the expense of others, despite what the world with a scarcity orientation would have us believe.

At the spiritual level, a form of life is entwined with all other forms of life, so when we seek to take something away from another person, we are also taking something away from ourselves. Depriving ourselves and others in this way, joy is obstructed and our clarity is contaminated. Perpetuating ego consciousness with these life depleting movements, it is the illusion of duality that we must consciously overcome to understand that we can only ever flourish in the fullness of an integrity that no one single mind can claim on or as its own.

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