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.

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What Great Leaders Do First (Part 2)

In response to this, many would argue that they were not born to be leaders anyway. This, I believe, is a copout. Leaders are not born, but made, through the dedicated development of character and skill. While some people may have a genetic predisposition towards the demonstration of certain leadership traits, this by itself does not mean that they will make the choice to utilise these gifts and become leaders.

Essentially, leadership is a decision, and I have met, observed and studied many people who did not fit the mould of the prototypical leader, but nevertheless personified its best qualities. Mother Teresa was a diminutive woman with a limited education. Franklin D. Roosevelt was crippled by polio during his term as President of the United States. Richard Branson was diagnosed as having dyslexia which negatively affected his ability to learn and communicate.

Despite facing these types of challenges, these courageous, determined and service oriented men and women took control of themselves and their circumstances, and produced incredible results that history will remember fondly. Inspired to initiate action that fulfilled their duty to humanity, they did not have to ask others for permission to lead. Staying true to themselves and allowing their spiritual authority to define and direct their leadership, they gave themselves permission to do what others believed to be impossible.

Such an important part of giving ourselves permission to lead is believing in ourselves and our cause. Having this self-belief, we are able to inspire confidence in, and action from, followers that aligns with our vision. Believing in it ourselves, and demonstrating a willingness to put ourselves on the line for its realisation, others who share the vision will buy into it and do what they can to achieve the goals that the leader has set.

In The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation, Jay Elliot provides many insights into the success of Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs. One of the reasons he gives for the company being a top performer in its field, is the passion and purpose with which its people work. Dedicated to Steve Jobs and the vision that he had for the company and its products, they give much more of themselves than the average employee in that industry. Pushing back personal and technological boundaries in the process, they grow along with the innovations that their efforts make possible.

Heavily engaged in their work, they are willing to sacrifice more of themselves because they are made to feel that they are making a ‘dent in the universe’. Being the result of a corresponding belief, it is what they adopted from their passionate, enthusiastic and committed leader. As Elliot says so succinctly, “nobody had a greater belief in Apple and its products than Steve Jobs”. If it was any other way, Apple would be just like any other company.

What separates Apple from its competitors is the ‘can do’ attitude that Steve Jobs unwaveringly held. Told by many experts, inside and outside of the company, that a one button phone was an impossibility, he wasn’t put off by their opinions, and he continued to push his engineers and designers to develop the technology that would allow his vision to become a reality. Believing that it could be done, he wouldn’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. Grating on many of the project team with his stanch position, some of them decided to leave because they felt that he was asking too much. Pushed to their limits, they gave up on the dream. As history would have it, that was their loss.

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What Great Leaders Do First (Part 1)

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The demands placed upon today’s leaders are onerous and multifaceted. Coming with high expectations from a range of people, much work is required before meaningful outcomes can be achieved by the organisations, teams and individuals who they exercise control over. While some leaders come apart under the weight of the pressure, others thrive in the role, and successfully bring about results that positively impact the world at large. A modern day example of this was the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, whose creative brilliance and intense drive brought revolutionary products, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, to the world.

Exciting and engaging innovations that have changed the way we communicate, access information and entertain ourselves, these products have played a central role in building a passionate and loyal following for the company. Now one of the most recognisable and valuable brands in the world, Apple has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in 1976, when Jobs and its other co-founder Steve Wozniak built their first machines in his parents garage.

Having an audacious vision of what the future of personal computing would look like, the two Steves put their passion, imagination and knowledge to work. Not having any guarantees of what would result from their efforts, they proceeded anyway and disciplined themselves to follow through. Their first act of leadership, it did not involve an army of employees who were eager to do their bidding, only themselves, and the personal power that lies at the heart of true leadership.

The primary task of a leader is not to lead others, but to lead themselves. Leading ourselves involves doing what we know we have to, and holding ourselves to a higher standard in the process. Requiring the courage to be our own person, clarity of purpose, an integrated character that is consistently displayed, and a genuine desire to serve followers and the world at large, these qualities of an actualising spirit form the foundation of charisma, which powerfully draws people to us and makes us someone who is worth following.

Followers do not want to be led by a weak or insincere person. Neither do they want to be led by someone who relies on a title for their authority. In my experience, people can’t respect that. While in some instances they may go along to get along (in the workplace for example), when you remove the incentives that are their very reasons for being there, they will make the decision to leave the organisation because their leader is not delivering value that is above their basic function. As the saying goes, people don’t leave organisations, they leave leaders. When one considers the culture that a leader is responsible for creating, this makes perfect sense.

Weakness begets weakness, just as strength begets strength. Intuitively we know this, which is why we gravitate to people who demonstrate qualities of character that we lack. Drawing on their strengths, we cultivate our own. Being one avenue to developing our potential, another lies in doing the difficult inner work ourselves. For me, this is what leadership of self is all about.

Why I think that this is the most challenging path is because we have nowhere to hide from our lack of progress. 24/7 we must live with ourselves, and endeavouring to make positive changes in our life, there is only so much bullshit we can tell ourselves before we have to admit that we are failing at the task. On many occasions I have had to face this reality and it does not sit well, especially at times when I have tried to deny it.

In general, we tend to hold others to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. We do this because from an ego perspective we feel that we can. Possessing an entitlement mentality, we want others to do for us, what we should be doing for ourselves. In terms of leadership, this is extremely disempowering, and one of the more subtle ways that we sabotage our development.

Copyright in image belongs to news.cnet online.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 8)

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Regardless of how old you are, you still have the opportunity to live your calling. Age is no excuse. Neither is aptitude, or the lack of it, for this is to be developed on the journey. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t want to start something unless they are already good at it. A nonsensical view that is often adopted to mask a deep seated fear of failure, it goes against the established process of mastery which recognises that incompetent doing must always precede masterful being.

Humility is such a key virtue to embody here, for without it we cannot grow to become masters in the domain of our calling. Wherever we are on the path of life, we must remember that we are students who have more to learn each day. Learning about that which we love is immensely enjoyable. An investment of our time, energy and very being, the rewards that we receive from this engaged exploration are so much greater than just the learning alone.

Involving the heart in the process, the love that we have for what we do, teaches us about the love that we are. Opening us up to the unexplored parts of ourselves, wisdom is allowed to flourish as one with knowledge. Harmonized in this growth process, the mind and spirit add strength to each other with the effect that our learning is integrated into our life. While we may think that this happens automatically, evidence proves that our learning is nowhere near as strong when we have no passion for the subject matter of that learning.

If I were to ask you here what you remember about trigonometry at school, you would probably go blank, unless of course you have a passion for mathematics. Having love for the subject matter of our calling increases its stickiness, to use marketing language. Resonating with who we are at the deep spiritual level, we take more in with an enhanced capacity, just as a hungry person is likely to do when presented with a bowl of food that they love. While having an insatiable appetite for food may get us into trouble with our health goals, having an insatiable appetite for learning about that which we love, will pave the way for continuous improvement, while exponentially increasing our level of fulfilment.

Digressing from this point, it has always amazed me how when we get on the vocational path, and allow inspiration to speak to us, forces beyond our conscious control come to assist us in our mission. Frequently, when I engage in the process of writing, what emerges in form is so much greater than my mind’s ability to hold. Knowing what I want to say and a bit about how to express it, I feel a force more powerful than my limited conception of self, assisting with the process. Being the spirit within that has given me the ability to write, it continually nudges me forward in my destined unfolding, while supplementing my knowledge with its innate wisdom.

Trying to explain this synchronicity, it mightn’t make much sense to you, unless you have experienced it yourself. Doubting initially my own perspective on this experience of flow, I have since had it validated by many other people who have reported similar experiences when engaged in tasks or activities that they profoundly loved to do. The basketball great Larry Bird once said that often when he had the ball in a game, he intuitively knew the best play to make in the circumstances. But how did he know? Because in those moments of play, he was fully present in what he loved to do and had an incredible talent for. Allowing his inner spiritual guide to speak to him in these moments about the rhythm of the game, Bird was able to perform at a higher level than his contemporaries, who were more focused on imposing their own personal will on the game.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 4)

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Having the love for what we do, we will have to trust that one thing will lead to another. Being faithful to that which we know to be aligned with the intention of our heart, we will find the courage to follow the path, even if we do not know exactly where it will lead. What holds a lot of people back from following their passion is the need to know the port of destination before they commence the voyage. Fearing the unknown or wanting a promised return on the investment of their time and energy, these individuals resist the spiritual essence of the journey that thrives on faith, and the majesty that flows from the mystery of how the path will unfold. Like a great movie, the most enthralling journey has its unforeseen twists and turns that add richness and depth to the scenes of our experience. With this I ask you, ‘how extraordinary can a journey really be, if we know beforehand how it will unfold?’

The journey of connecting with our vocation, is one with the journey of discovering the spiritual self. The more clarity that we get on who we are at the core level of being, the greater is our power to serve authentically in the world. What has progressed the world forward is the conscious application of our unique gifts and abilities that was not motivated by the ego’s desire for gain and recognition. For me, this is a key component which separates a career from a calling. We pursue a career to make something of and for ourselves. We live a calling in order to reconcile the fullness of who we are with the longings of the world.

With a career, we might strive to arrive at a place of fulfilment, only to find ourselves empty and burdened by the weight of inner tension. Strained by the wedge that we have allowed to be driven between our purpose and the means of its accomplishment, our spirit is numbed to the point where we come to believe that this type of mediocre existence is the best to be hoped for. Many of us have had the experience of working in establishments where the work to be performed did not evoke the gifts of our heart, along with the talents of our mind. Meaning very little to us, there was no joy or authentic expression to be found in that work, but only a meagre pay-check that in its accumulation and expenditure failed to deliver anything of lasting substance.

While many people would have been willing to settle for this life once upon a time, a shift is presently being effected in society that is seeing a growing number of individuals leave their career to live their calling. Craving purpose and meaning to their existence, these courageous travellers are forgoing higher compensation and an assortment of other perks in some instances, for the experience of doing on a daily basis what they love and value most in life.

Not too long ago, I was watching the grand finale of Masterchef Australia. This show, which pits a number of amateur chefs against each other for the opportunity to realise their culinary dream, has played its part in bringing many people in touch with the love that they have for cooking. For those who appeared on the show, they were inspired and driven to do what they were previously afraid to attempt. Such is the power of having a purpose that allows us to express our fullness in being.

What was interesting to me as I watched the show was observing how many of the contestants described the life that they led before deciding to follow their passion. Stuck in jobs that stifled their spiritual freedom and precluded their joy from arising, the absence of meaning and engagement could be felt through the television screen. Coming alive when they were asked what cooking means to them, they almost become different people with their tone, body language and facial expressions aligning to convey the sense of integrity that they had found on that journey.

Who we are at the spiritual level must match what we do at the physical level of being. Without finding this fit, we cannot truly know what it means to be joy-filled. The greater the disparity between who we are and what we do, the harder we must search for happiness and fulfilment. When we are doing what we love in the moment that is now, we can be said to have arrived. Not having any other place to go to express the fullness of who we are, this love naturally arises to infuse our work, like a sweet fragrance imbues the skin with a fresh and rejuvenating essence.

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