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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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 1)

The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul, a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities ~ James Allen.

An acorn is truly an amazing component of nature. The seed that an oak tree starts out as, it carries in it such power and potentiality for realisation. Fitting comfortably in the palm of a human hand, it takes on a life of its own when planted, and in time sprouts to a size that is much greater than the person who once held it. Growing into the world through this process, the form that the oak takes above the surface is beautiful and awe-inspiring.

I mention the acorn here because very recently I was reviewing one of my favourite books, The Soul’s Code by James Hillman, in which he explores the metaphor of the acorn. Mythologically, the acorn represents the seed of our vocation that was planted in us before we entered the physical world. Holding our highest potentiality and the gifts that will facilitate our self-actualisation, it is both our task, and the responsibility of the world, to honour and nurture these seeds (in ourselves and in others). As we do this by participating in the collective dance of evolution, we enable each other to flourish as oaks do, and stand out in the landscape of life to indicate something that is profound and meaningful.

While it often appears that the world is not complicit in our efforts to actualise the best version of ourselves, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to give a voice to our calling. The Latin interpretation of the word ‘vocation’ is vocare, that when translated means ‘voice’. Extensions of the divine creator that many call God, we have within us this same source of being, that is continually prompting us to fulfil our function/s and manifest the qualities of spirit in everything that we do. With these qualities of love, creativity and authenticity (among others) representing our highest potential, they are what we are called to express through our thoughts, words and actions, at home, in the workplace and in the other spheres of our lives.

I think that when most people hear the word ‘vocation’, their mind turns to the formalities of religion, where priests and nuns are held up to be favoured by God because of the devoted service that they are rendering to the church. A mistakenly narrow perception, it doesn’t accord with the spiritual wisdom which teaches that we all have a purpose/s in our hearts that we have been given life to relate with and fulfil. Even Martin Luther and John Calvin, in challenging the edicts of the church, came to the conclusion that a vocation is so expansive in its substance that it cannot be reserved for members of the church, or any other religious instrumentality.

Finding its foundation within us, a vocation is something that is inescapable. What this means is that we cannot not have one, even if in our unconsciousness we may think that we have been created without it. Many people believe that they don’t have a vocation, simply because they haven’t found it yet. What they don’t understand however is that just because they can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not there. In these cases that I have encountered personally and through my research work, I have identified a variety of fears and other barriers that in one way or another prevents these individuals from looking deeply into themselves and discovering what their vocation is.

Thinking that this revelation should present itself at their whim, they are naive in their expectations because that which delivers the richest rewards, must be given to and worked hard for. When I say worked hard for, I am not referring to frenetic activity in the outside world, but rather the process of engaging in spiritual exploration, and the price that it asks us to pay for internal freedom and clarity.

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Wilber’s World

Ken-Wilber

The other day, I learned a very interesting lesson about the process of evolution. Watching an educational video, the presenters got to discussing Ken Wilber, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of modern time. Being the man behind integral philosophy which blends body, mind, soul, culture, nature, and the spirit with self, he believes that if we are to evolve, we must take a holistic approach that does not deny any aspect of life. The author of such titles as The Spectrum of Consciousness and A Theory of Everything, Wilber’s work has changed the lives of many around the world, teaching us much about where we have been, who we are now, and where we are going on our collective journey.

A strong proponent of individual and collective evolution, Wilber posits that to grow into someone new, we must disconnect from our previous selves that we have identified with in the past. Being different people at different stages of our life, we hold ourselves back when we cling to who we were in the past, in the present moment. Like wearing a pair of shoes that we have outgrown, we inflict upon ourselves discomfort at best and suffering at worst, when we move against the natural tide of life by keeping alive remnants of the past that once served us, but now only hinders our progress towards wholeness.

Like the cocoon that allows the caterpillar to elegantly transform into a butterfly, so must we cultivate a space within ourselves that is at peace with the death of the old and the birth of the new. Giving ourselves this psychological, emotional and spiritual freedom, we can evolve more consciously and rapidly than those who are willing to remain comfortable constituents of the herd. So often we are reluctant to let die the parts of ourselves that keep us bonded to the past because they are the familiar pillars on which we have built our identity. Wanting to feel like we are in control of our world, we make the mistake of staying the same persons today that we were yesterday. While on the surface this appears to present a solid foundation, it is in reality the most fragile of footings because it does not cater to the fact that the world in which we live is in a constant state of change, never staying the same from one moment to the next.

Honouring the call of nature to growth, it is a potent lesson that we can learn from the world when we choose to move as it does. Creating different identities for himself as he has evolved with his work, it is Wilber who understands better than anyone that we die as we stand still in unconsciousness. Ignorant to the evolutionary pull towards the realisation of potential, we are asphyxiated in an environment that is unmotivated by progress and cursed by apathy.

To find greater meaning and success in every area of life, we must become more fully integrated people. With authentic power flowing from the conscious integration of our being, it is the development of our inner life that holds the potential for flourishing in our external world. By sharpening our own saw, we can cut through the limitations that held us back yesterday, and create a world today which puts into practice the wisdom that has emerged from our growth journey. With the individual being a part of the collective whole of humanity, it is the realisation of our own promise that fulfils the vision that the world has for itself. Being for fear and lack to be overcome by love and abundance, it is what we work towards in each moment that we allow ourselves to express new life.

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