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.

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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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