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 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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