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 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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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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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 9)

Try as we might, we cannot create these experiences of flow by imposing our will on the present moment. The spirit, as the source of our freedom, must be allowed to take hold through the process of surrendering what we might desire, for that which the infinite intelligence wants for us.

Succeeding in our vocation requires us to be vulnerable and to trust in the life of the spirit and the journey that it will take us on. Taking these steps in faith, we become leaders in a world that accommodates too many followers. Instead of making the choice to bravely live their calling, too many of us play it safe by routinely adhering to the societal rules that have been unconsciously agreed upon. Conditioned in tribal consciousness, which says that it is dangerous to challenge the status quo and risk what that society perceives as valuable, these people spend their lives colouring between the lines that to their mind represent the safe boundaries of the human experience.

Not searching for and perceiving a life beyond these limited boundaries, they are blind conformists who stifle their own freedom and happiness. Suspicious of the heretic who goes against the grain, they hastily condemn them without realising that the heretic in this context is the suppressed spirit that longs to speak its truth and fulfil an enduring purpose in form. Historically, the heretic was positioned as a villain. Burned at the stake for what they believed in, the price that they paid is seldom a threat in the modern world, yet we remain enslaved by the memory of their fate.

Frozen by the fear of being scorned by the tribe, those who deny their calling do not speak the truth that burns in their breast. Strangers to the spiritual life, they have not learned that the heretic is in reality the hero that they secretly long to be. A hero steps out with courage, and steps up with an intense focus and fierce determination to succeed despite all difficulty. So it is with the heretic who must overcome the same challenges, and stand for something at the end of the arduous journey.

It is ironic that what once would have gotten us excommunicated or killed, now earns us the admiration of the masses. Look at someone like Steve Jobs, who continually pushed the boundaries of innovation in the tech industry, or Andy Warhol, who through his artistry redefined the way that a generation perceived the world. These disrupters, and many others like them, open our eyes to what is possible for humanity, and inspire us as they stand and deliver their vision or message.

It is impossible to hide while we are making a difference in the world, so we need to make peace with that reality. For sure, some people prefer to remain anonymous in their contributions, and while it may appear that they are hiding, they are not really because they succeed in adding something meaningful to the experience of others’ lives. Just like the oak whose beauty is appreciated as it emerges into sight, our true beauty is best on display when we serve from our heart, and have our unique contributions move the world forward in a way that manifests spirit in form.

The world is waiting for your spiritual unfoldment, so what are you waiting for? Dreams can become reality, if you give yourself to that dream wholeheartedly. No one but yourself is holding you back from setting foot on that authentic path. Give yourself the freedom that you know you deserve. Honour love in your efforts, and have those efforts reflect the essence of spirit that you are. The oak tree doesn’t live forever, but it stands tall while it is here, and leaves a legacy that lasts centuries. Be as the oak, and allow your acorn to flourish in the fertile ground of spirit that is your very nature in this eternal moment.

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