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.