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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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 2)

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We cannot truly prosper if we are lying to ourselves about who we essentially are. Wearing this false facade, our divine purpose will be prevented from rising to the surface of our being. With this purpose being trapped in the realm of the heart, we will experience great tension and uncertainty, until we find the courage to reconcile the fractured aspects of our being with that source of wholeness that is otherwise known as spirit.

This I know from personal experience. It wasn’t until I gave up my career practicing law that my love and talent for writing and teaching was able to shine through. Holding onto my inauthentic identity, I deprived myself of the opportunity to reveal to the world the essence of who I am. With the tension of my incongruity becoming too much to bear, I effected the shift from a career to a calling within myself. Travelling down the unique path that is mine to walk, I now enjoy a quality of life that far surpasses the drudgery that my previous life represented.

Doing what I love and loving what I do, I sometimes can’t believe the journey that I have been on, and the transitions that with the benefit of hindsight, were not made soon enough. This, I don’t regret however, for I have come to learn that every shift is made in perfect time. Not having previously been ready to bring forth my greatest gifts, I was really no different than the many people who let fear get in the way of the love that they have for what they really want to do.

Everyone has something that they genuinely love to do. Whether it is dancing, cooking, mentoring, caring for animals or raising children, your vocation is the cherished endeavour that you could easily spend your time doing, even if you weren’t getting paid for it. Capturing your attention and awakening your passion, your calling is what brings meaning to your efforts and fulfilment to your heart. Making you feel alive, it is what provokes the state of flow which allows you to perform to the best of your present moment ability. Stimulating wildly your curiosity and imagination, this call to actualise the best version of yourself, powerfully motivates you to evolve and pursue a vision that makes a positive impact on the course of human history.

When I contemplate this aspect of a vocation, my mind turns to the remarkable legacies left by Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Václav Havel. Prophetic figures who wholeheartedly gave themselves to a vision and brought it about, they fulfilled in life their highest potential, and died without experiencing the regrets of the half-lived life. Doing what they knew they were put on earth to do, the impact that they had was vast, and the commitment that they had for their cause still resonates powerfully in the world today.

With this I ask you, how intense is the love that you have for that which you spend the majority of your time doing? If you have no love for, or derive no meaning from, what you do for work, then I can guarantee you that you are not living in alignment with your calling. If you wake up every day dreading what is ahead, then I would recommend doing something different that allows you to express the light that you have within. If this can’t be done now for legitimate reasons, then I would suggest taking small steps towards your calling, so that the stage can be set for more intimately engaging with it in the future. It is not always realistic or wise to dramatically change course, especially when others are dependent on us to provide for them, but we should not let this of itself, deter us from doing what we know in our heart is the right thing to do.

What is right for us at the spiritual level, will always be right for those whom we love. In this, we must not harbour the fear that living our vocation will negatively impact our loved ones. Harmoniously pursued and balanced with other responsibilities, their reasonable concerns should be allayed, and their support won by our willingness to include them on the journey. So much of the resistance that is encountered in this respect, stems from our ego based tendency to single-mindedly pursue one thing to the exclusion of all else.

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Wilber’s World

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The other day, I learned a very interesting lesson about the process of evolution. Watching an educational video, the presenters got to discussing Ken Wilber, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of modern time. Being the man behind integral philosophy which blends body, mind, soul, culture, nature, and the spirit with self, he believes that if we are to evolve, we must take a holistic approach that does not deny any aspect of life. The author of such titles as The Spectrum of Consciousness and A Theory of Everything, Wilber’s work has changed the lives of many around the world, teaching us much about where we have been, who we are now, and where we are going on our collective journey.

A strong proponent of individual and collective evolution, Wilber posits that to grow into someone new, we must disconnect from our previous selves that we have identified with in the past. Being different people at different stages of our life, we hold ourselves back when we cling to who we were in the past, in the present moment. Like wearing a pair of shoes that we have outgrown, we inflict upon ourselves discomfort at best and suffering at worst, when we move against the natural tide of life by keeping alive remnants of the past that once served us, but now only hinders our progress towards wholeness.

Like the cocoon that allows the caterpillar to elegantly transform into a butterfly, so must we cultivate a space within ourselves that is at peace with the death of the old and the birth of the new. Giving ourselves this psychological, emotional and spiritual freedom, we can evolve more consciously and rapidly than those who are willing to remain comfortable constituents of the herd. So often we are reluctant to let die the parts of ourselves that keep us bonded to the past because they are the familiar pillars on which we have built our identity. Wanting to feel like we are in control of our world, we make the mistake of staying the same persons today that we were yesterday. While on the surface this appears to present a solid foundation, it is in reality the most fragile of footings because it does not cater to the fact that the world in which we live is in a constant state of change, never staying the same from one moment to the next.

Honouring the call of nature to growth, it is a potent lesson that we can learn from the world when we choose to move as it does. Creating different identities for himself as he has evolved with his work, it is Wilber who understands better than anyone that we die as we stand still in unconsciousness. Ignorant to the evolutionary pull towards the realisation of potential, we are asphyxiated in an environment that is unmotivated by progress and cursed by apathy.

To find greater meaning and success in every area of life, we must become more fully integrated people. With authentic power flowing from the conscious integration of our being, it is the development of our inner life that holds the potential for flourishing in our external world. By sharpening our own saw, we can cut through the limitations that held us back yesterday, and create a world today which puts into practice the wisdom that has emerged from our growth journey. With the individual being a part of the collective whole of humanity, it is the realisation of our own promise that fulfils the vision that the world has for itself. Being for fear and lack to be overcome by love and abundance, it is what we work towards in each moment that we allow ourselves to express new life.

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What Integrity in Leadership Really Means

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Of all the qualities that are crucial for leaders to possess, integrity is near or at the top of the list. But what is integrity, and how is it manifested? In recent times, integrity has almost become a subjectively determined buzzword for business that is thrown around to build trust and credibility with potential customers. In the process of this happening, the real meaning of integrity has become obscured, which is quite a concern given that integrity in leadership has never been more important than it is now. The scandals within the Catholic Church and banking sector, and with high ranking politicians who promise one thing but deliver another, testify to this truth.

One of the more common definitions of integrity that I hear bandied about is when a person’s behaviour reflects a deeply held set of values. I would certainly agree that this is a valid aspect of how integrity in leadership can be manifested, but as an encompassing definition, I think that it is largely inadequate. My research into the role of a lived calling in driving leadership behaviour has presented me with very strong evidence to suggest that integrity in leadership comprises so much more. On the basis of my findings, I would define integrity in the leadership context as, a person’s ability to create and maintain a state of internal and external wholeness.

Having provided this definition, what I want to do now is provide some examples of how integrity in leadership was practiced by members of my sample group. Fundamentally, at the core level of their being, these people lived in alignment with their calling which led them to demonstrate tangible leadership behaviours. As they did this, they maintained a state of wholeness where what they did was reflective of who they were. Contrast this with someone who by their actions is not giving expression to their calling. Effecting a divide between who they are and what they are doing, this person would be incapable of demonstrating integrity in leadership as I have defined it, because they do not exist in a state of wholeness. This leadability is fluid of course, but this person who is living out of alignment with their calling cannot move into this space until they first create a state of wholeness within themselves.

Other ways that members of my sample group created wholeness in their lives was by engaging in practices such as meditation, solitude and contemplative reflection, which allowed their true spiritual selves to come forth and guide their paths in life. Living their lives in a balanced way was also a high priority for these people, which diminished the risk of areas of their lives being neglected, and the potential which that had to tear at the fabric of the integrity that they had cultivated.

This next part I find particularly interesting. When I explored the behaviours that these people living their calling demonstrated in their physical environment, the integrative nature of their movements became very clear. In the workplace for example, these people talked about bringing people together to create synergy in their organisations (to promote holistic functioning); practicing collaborative, open and inclusive working styles (to foster an esprit de corps of oneness); establishing links and networks with stakeholders (bringing other elements of their environment together for mutual support and gain); prioritising the growth of their people, and bringing them into alignment with their own sense of calling (assisting others to realise a state of wholeness).

If you look at the opposite of what I am describing above, ‘leaders’ who are not integrated, you can observe in their behaviour, a pervasive theme of creating separation or division, which undermines their ability to achieve wholeness. Donald Trump, who wants to build a wall between America and one of its closest neighbours, and Rodney Adler, who tore apart one of Australia’s largest insurance companies for personal gain, are prominent examples of this truth. I have stated before that ego is the biggest enemy of effective leadership, and not surprisingly, it is just as toxic to our integrity as well. The relationship between integrity and leadership is clear, and it turns out that the person who can create and maintain a state of wholeness, both within themselves and in their environment, is best equipped to consciously lead others.

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Character is King

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It cannot be overstated how pivotal character is to achieving success in life. Character is the fibre of a person; what they are made of. It starts with integrity, which I define as a state of wholeness that a person is able to occupy with their being. Other important qualities of a strong character are honesty, courage, a service orientation, and having the resilience to endure the tough times that life invariably presents to each of us. One of the key qualities that I think distinguishes people who have a high character is that they are thick skinned, and don’t allow others perceptions or judgements to define them. Having a solid sense of self and their place in the world, they are capable of listening to the input of others, and criticism, without feeling the need to go on the defensive or attack others in an attempt to save face. Making decisions with the objective of doing what is right in the circumstances, they know that their decisions will not always be popular with some people, and rather than fighting against this reality, they embrace it and use it as an opportunity for dialogue and bringing people together, so that greater strides in a purposeful direction can be made with the group that surrounds them.

To people who truly have a high character, possessing a strong reputation does not matter as much as it does to individuals who have a weaker character. A reputation is what someone is known for. It is the image that the external world has of who a person is. In most instances it is earned, but in other instances it is not, because despite of the behaviour on which a reputation is based, that reputation is also shaped by how that behaviour is perceived through the eyes of others. A reputation can also be distorted when the observer falsely assumes that the way a person does some things is the way that they do all things.

The lesson that a person of character takes from this is that it would be unwise to allow a reputation to define them. Where they then focus their energy is on the inside out process of developing their character, and allowing the external manifestations of that character to say to the world what it will. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to be mindful of the impact that their behaviour has on their external environment. They do, and in any event, they possess this awareness and put it into practice as they navigate a way forward. The trap that they don’t fall into however is the one that many of us do, in giving our energy to creating an image or reputation that is consistent with how we want to world to see us.

As a population, we care way too much about what other people think of us, and rather than put our true selves forward in a fearless way, we present ourselves to others in an artificial light, primarily in order to gain the recognition or approval of others. The way that social media is often used illustrates this point well. Rather than posting something truly meaningful in our life as an update on Facebook, for example, we choose to post details of the most exciting part of our day, so that our friends might think that we have a life worth envying, or upload a selfie that took us fifteen tries to get us looking good!

None of these things matter in terms of building character, and engaging in this surface dressing of life will do nothing to improve the quality of the human condition when we most need it. What is required to make this world one that we want to live in, is people who have the will to look into the mirror, not to quaff their hair or cover up blemishes, but to examine their character and do the work to iron it out. When I look in the mirror, I see someone with so much to work on, that it could easily be questioned, who am I to be giving this advice? The most important thing though is that I am open and engaged in the process of becoming more integrated and fully human. If you are reading this, the chances are that you are similarly inclined, and I honour the progress that you are making on this front.

One of the best mantras concerning this notion of being detached from your reputation comes from Wayne Dyer when he said, “What other people think of you is none of your business”. There is great wisdom in this. When we make our business the highest development of our character, then our reputation will take care of itself.

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