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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The Perils of Imposition (Part 2)

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In so much of fundamentalism we see this compromise being made. An ideology of the ego that is driven by fear, desperation and a perceived lack of control, what else can explain the gross levels of violence, aggression and manipulation that so much of it involves? Only those who feel impoverished and vulnerable would resort to such means of making themselves heard. Disempowered in spirit, they are incapable of using non-violent means to resolve conflict, for they do not understand its real power.

With the spirit comes strength, and with strength comes the courage and willingness to entertain a position that is different to ours. When we feel strong within ourselves, we intrinsically understand that no one can have their way with us without our permission. Holding the power that is authentically ours, we can approach and engage others without drawing any weapons. Coming not to battle, but to understand their position, we empower them to make themselves heard by a more constructive means than violence.

All violence is an extreme response to conflict. Having the ability to communicate and connect with each other at the spiritual level, we can evolve through our disagreements if we listen with the heart, rather than attacking from the mind. The spiritual warrior is one who knows where the true battle is being waged. Being in their own mind with their fabricated conceptions of self, they look not outside of themselves for others to overcome. Knowing where the real work of manifesting true self is to be done, this is where they focus their precious energy. Committed to victory, their preparation is gruelling, and their perseverance ever constant. Taking place in each moment, this evolutionary dance is unceasing, even as death comes to the body. A primary human obligation that prompts us to conscious thought and action, the reward of mastery of the self is the goal that is sought for, as fleeting as that prospect may be.

Far from a master on this path, I have found myself developing this ability to relate to others with a mind that has descended to the heart. A teacher of this spiritual wisdom that I have encountered through my exploration and experiences of life, I am continually reminding myself to afford others the same dignity in awakening to their spiritual self. Being what others had afforded me in my journeying, it is what I must reciprocate, for I know that there is no meaningful education when a student is resistant to learning.

On many occasions, with family and friends especially, I have had to fight the temptation to impose my learnings on others. Wanting to impart these lessons for their benefit, I have needed to temper my expression in circumstances where an open and honest assessment of their situation would not only have been unwelcomed, but greeted with open hostility. The reality is that people will not change in response to something we put forward, if they are not open to evolving themselves.

No matter who we are or where we find ourselves, we are better served by practicing humility rather than righteousness. So often righteousness wears the mask of piety, so we have to make sure that the place we are coming from is adding strength to others, and not only to ourselves at their expense. When we are humble, we are less threatening to those who are finding their way to a more authentic life. Requiring someone to open up to, they will gravitate to someone in whose company they don’t feel judged. Judgment always precedes an attack in one form or another. If we are not to harm those who we wish to help, we should not judge them. Instead, we should empathise with what they are going through, and by so doing relate to them. Their story is our story, if we care to listen.

The art of empowerment is walking alongside others, and cultivating the space for them to find themselves and their course. The best leaders instinctively know this, and they don’t resort to asserting authority to resolve issues. With the conscious understanding that others are an extension of the life force that we are, comes greater relational acuity and acceptance. Give others the time and space to learn their lessons without the pressure of having to do so on our terms. Our task is to love, not impose ourselves upon, those who walk with us in spirit.

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The Perils of Imposition (Part 1)

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We live in a world where many people have trouble with hearing the word ‘no’. Wanting the validation that comes with being listened to, they often go about finding this validation in the wrong ways. Not believing that other people will listen to them willingly, those who are desperate to have their voices heard, will try to impose themselves on others, whether by emotional, verbal or physical means. Set on having their views accepted, they resort to intimidation and force, which can only ever lead to a win-lose or mutually detrimental outcome.

No matter how hard anybody might try, they cannot bully another into accepting their position. Either a person will accept a position willingly, or not at all. Resentment is a mighty barrier to acceptance. Stirring it up in those whom we try to control, their resistance will be all the more intense. Fostering hostility with our unwelcome imposition, we receive it back in equal or greater amounts from those whose boundaries we have violated by our righteous and indulgent actions.

As human beings, we value our free-will. Exercising it, we feel in control of our lives, and that makes us feel competent and secure. Having this treasure chest of possibilities threatened by an intruder, it is only normal that we will rebel in response to their attack. With this gift of free-will being such a crucial component of our very existence, it is not something that we can just surrender, especially in the face of someone who is attempting to rob us of it.

In this context, what is sought to be taken, is better earned. What this means in terms of being listened to, is first listening to what others have to say in the absence of judgment. A primary need that we have as human beings is to be accepted. To be accepted is to feel that we are seen, heard and valued. It is to understand that we matter, are worthy of respect, and that we have something meaningful to offer to the world.

People communicate who they are in many ways, with words being one of the prime instruments of expression. Being open to receiving them, when they are moving from someone who is opening up to us, a connection can be created, which in its willing embrace satisfies the fundamental need that each party has to be accepted. To be open and giving of our attention, requires us to first and foremost listen to what others are attempting to tell us. Practicing this important and selfless skill that gives others the podium, we are presented with the opportunity to see and acknowledge those others for who they truly are.

As John C. Maxwell points out, people do not care how much we know, until they know how much we care. To genuinely demonstrate care for another, we must drop the ego in the moments that they call us to presence. Wanting to establish a connection, and have them receive what we have to give, we must engage graciously and generously from the spirit, not belligerently from the ego. From this, we can see what separates the person who is welcomed into our world, from the one who is denied without hesitation.

In so many of our interactions, the barrier that we encounter is not erected by the other person, but by our own mind. Coming from the realm of the self-centric ego that is always concerned with being right and justifying its own position, we create a divide between ourselves and others when we orient these interactions around gaining acceptance, rather than giving of our acceptance.

Focusing on ourselves and not on other people, we neglect their needs to give priority to our own. A violation of the universal law of reciprocity, it produces disharmony and a reduced willingness in others, to give or share anything of substance. Put on alert as to our attempt to exploit, their ego defences are activated and a battle ensues. Not ending until one of the participants gets their way, these are hollow victories that come at the expense of our shared respect and dignity.

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Picking Our Battles (Part 2)

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There are so many great qualities that others possess, but if we don’t allow ourselves to see the fullness of their gifts, how can we invite them to come and touch our interactions? It is difficult to want to give to others when we are feeling invalidated by them. Faced with this repudiation, we will quite naturally withhold what we have to give, not because we are being punitive, but because we are being offered an experience of pain and unreceptivity as unwelcome rewards for our efforts.

In my experience, people are seldom reluctant to give to others if they are made to feel that their essence is being honoured by those others. When we can perceive the beauty of another’s spirit and honour it without condition, it makes it much easier to overlook those surface level things that we sometimes find irritating or distasteful. Part of the reason why we focus on these things in another is because they are the same things that we most want to change about ourselves. Sure, there might be some variation in behaviour, but it all exists at the same level that grabs the attention of those who are most unwilling to shine the light on themselves.

Evolving ourselves is hard but rewarding, and we will never really appreciate this if our attention is externally directed onto others. Criticising them in the hope that they will change, we are really only distracting ourselves, and in the process becoming more powerless in our capacity to change ourselves. How we orient this power in the direction of progress is giving ourselves permission to be bigger than the ego, and the things that prompt it to express negative emotions.

When we become more of who we were created to be, those things that once agitated us lose their power of control because they do not grab our attention as they once did. Focusing on the spiritual presence in all that which we encounter, we look for good in the world, and not those things that have the potential to take away from our peace. In the realm of relationships, this makes all the difference to their substance and quality.

With greater self-awareness comes a heightened ability to discern what helps our relationships and what hurts them. Observing ourselves in the moment that we are relating, we can bring more to the life of the other person, which only appears to be separate from our own. Connected at the spiritual level of being, we are guided by wisdom when we allow ourselves to learn the lessons that others have come to teach us.

If the gesticulations of others are capable of pulling our strings and leading us to suffer, we are being taught that we have more evolving to do. If we were more evolved, these things would not bother us, for the wise understand that suffering is voluntarily undertaken. Remember this the next time that you are tempted to sweat the small stuff in relationships.

The minor irritations on which we so often base our battles are not worth our energy. Sent here to love, understand and unite, our task is not as inconsequential as the ego would have it be. Being to reconcile the wounds of our unconsciousness, this is what we work towards in each moment that we purposefully relate to others from the heart. Each human being who is formed from the same spiritual fabric that animates our life, deserves our love and mercy, which is quick to excuse others for their misgivings, and never hesitant in its wisdom to forgo battle for freedom.

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