LEADERSHIP IS A LIFELONG PRACTICE (PART II)
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
THE REAL LEADER WITHIN YOU
Real leaders do not need the biggest teams or the fanciest tech to deliver high performance. They know, without question, that their greatest adversary and ally is themselves. And that they are not alone. Real leaders recognize that there is a hidden force. Acting upon them. Guiding them. And leading them.
As they stop that incessant interior monologue, in that stillness, they become more aware of the quiet force within. We feel this energising impulse when we are drawn out of ourselves, wanting to connect more deeply with others, to lose ourselves in our work, to observe in wonder instead of react out of habit.
And everyone has this power. As a leader, you sense this human potential for greatness. We are all meant to shine. It’s not just in some of us. It’s in every one of us. It’s our life force, it makes us unique. But this force does not unleash on its own. The wisest leaders call upon this force, taking the time to learn how to wield it well. They encourage others to discover their own life force, and they do this every day. They share their dramatic tales of creativity and courage, igniting those same feelings that exist within others. They listen to people’s stories, of bold dreams and painful struggles. They celebrate every win people make, especially the little ones. Because it’s the small things we do every single day that create the biggest impact.
The strongest teams are forged in the crucible of conflict and crisis. Under your wise leadership, people bring their best effort to the table and struggle together. Knee-deep in the fight, something new emerges. Something greater than themselves. People feel a sense of shared purpose. People strengthen the bonds of trust & collaboration that help alleviate anxiety. Change is not easy, but easy is not the goal. Greatness is.
SPARKLE LIKE YOU MEAN IT
You may not feel ready to lead.
But this is not an excuse to wait. It is a call to begin. To honour your gift. To show up, for yourself, as your best and elevated self, and for others around you. Even without invitation.
Show up in an extraordinary way. In the way only you can.
To truly be a leader, you need to believe that you are destined for greatness, even if it requires a crazy leap of faith. Obey the quiet force within. Accept the rigours of your destiny without protest. You need to make this decision over your own most strenuous and reasoned objections. The evidence is slim, you say? The jury’s still out?
Well, you’re missing the point. As you must know by now, your greatest adversary is within. “Who are you to be brilliant and fabulous?”, sneers that snarky insecure diva.
Well, who are you not to be? Don’t look for the evidence of your leadership appeal — how many likes and tweets you have. Create it with your towering self-regard. Even if you have to fake it. Treat it like a performance, and dress the part. Take that leap of faith. Because you are meant to illuminate. You are meant to be seen. You are the pathfinder, shining the way forward.
This is the performance of your life, so sparkle like you mean it!
Wait a minute, you’re telling me to fake it. That doesn’t sound very authentic. You’re sceptical. More like another form of manipulation.
We are seeing the movement of authenticity and vulnerability in leadership literature. We reveal as much as we can about ourselves, professional and personal, exposing all of our likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We practise radical candour, dishing out praises and criticisms. Mostly criticisms, because it improves performance and productivity.
All this evidence that we humans are evolving, becoming more honest and truthful. I think differently. If I dug deeper into the motivations behind my own behaviour, I became more obvious and forthright not out of some deep moral calling but out of increasing self-absorption combined with overall cowardice. Everyone’s talking about authenticity and vulnerability: It’s so trendy right now. Jump on the bandwagon. It requires no vulnerability to parrot Steve Jobs. Or Harvard Business Review. That’s chauffeur knowledge. There’s no risk in repeating a billionaire’s opinion. But there’s no shame in copying. Make it yours. Learn the talk, from colloquialisms to oratorical flourishes. It’s a performance — make a hell of an impression. Get off your high horse and start sparkling like you mean it.
Sparkle like you mean it? It’s so whimsical. That’s so beneath me. Sounds wishy-washy.
This is LEADERSHIP we’re talking about. It goes against our training. We’ve been taught from a very young age that life is serious business. We’re taught that we have to accomplish so many things and excel at so many things because winners take all. We develop such high standards for ourselves and others — we must be perfect otherwise we are worms. We develop unreasonable expectations on our work, our house, our partners, keeping up with the Lee’s. Such a competitive, goal-oriented mindset sucks the juice out of life as we rush through each day, each moment, chasing a never-ending dream. Everything becomes serious business. Everything must have an ROI. We become so tight physically, mentally, and emotionally, we become stiff-necked. Literally and figuratively.
Drop the backpack, lady. Keep it light. When we allow ourselves a touch of levity, something quite wonderful begins to happen. That solidity, that seriousness begins to break down. We begin to relax a bit more, we reconnect with the inner force and experience some of the fluidity we enjoyed as very young children. We begin to dance with our experience. Dance with abandon. Don’t care what the snarky diva thinks. Allow yourself to be brilliant. Allow that inner light to shine through. Be the life of the party. Take your shot. Laugh at your own mistakes. Shake it off. It’s a performance. You don’t have to be serious to be taken seriously.
But I don’t want to play this game, it’s so beneath me. You have no patience for theatrics.
Well, I don’t need to play this game. You’ve played the charm game long enough to get to where you are today.
Why do I have to charm others when it should be the other way around? You are the CEO, after all.
We may refuse to play this game, but in the end, we are the ones who are marginalised. CEOs are rendered ineffective, not through overt acts of defiance from their employees, but through very low-grade negligence. Imperceptible. Over a period of time. Your employees may comply with your wishes, but secretly hope it fails. At best, they willingly comply. No one sticks their neck out.
There is also a very practical reason why we wear masks. We need it for survival. Our success depends on it. In challenging situations, real leaders understand what can make the difference between success and failure: people’s attitudes. Better to engage them, understand their inner motivations, charm them (or isolate them), without them realising what you’re up to. If we behaved in public exactly how we behave in private, if we said out loud whatever occurs in our despotic power-hungry mind, we would offend almost everyone and reveal qualities that are best concealed. Keep it light. Dance with the experience.
But all this is just rhetoric. In public, we all wear masks anyway. Stiff-necked or life of the party, you have one on, whether you’re conscious of it or not. New Googlers learn about it during orientation: imposter syndrome. Working too hard to avoid being found out as a fraud? That’s our fragile ego rearing its glamourous diva head again. Despite the trophies and accolades, the lovely family and beautiful home, we still feel a sense of lack. It’s not good enough. We’re not allowing ourselves to be good enough. Worried you’re an imposter? You’re not alone. Everyone feels like an imposter sometimes, and that’s okay. Keep it light. Dance with the experience.
So, if we’re putting on a mask anyway, why not derive some pleasure out of it? It’s exhausting trying to keep up appearances out of fear of being found out. Wouldn’t it be more fun shaping them for maximum effect? Allow that inner light to shine through. Unleash the magic that makes you… YOU. Act from the place of stillness rather than the eagerness to impress. Own the stage and see yourself transform into the brilliant rockstar on the stage of life. Enjoy your moment in the limelight. Keep it light. Dance with the experience.
CRAZY LEAP OF FAITH
Taking the leap of faith does not mean dismissing negative or difficult situations, telling people that everything is hunky-dory. In a time that is grim, leaders think they need to be positive and roll out the 5-point-emergency-response-strategy. “Within a couple of days, (infections are) going to be down to close to zero”, President Donald Trump said. The US then had 15 cases. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” We have everything under control.
That’s not faith. That’s just denial.
If you’re trying to get a grip on the new reality, know that you’re not alone.
If you’re hunkered down, trust that you’ve got what it takes to get through this.
If you’ve had to make some really hard decisions, take solace that you chose to act.
Because the right decision is usually the hardest. And that requires a leap of faith.
Faith is the belief that things will get better. Things are grim right now, but it won’t stay like this forever. We recognise that we can’t control everything, but there are many things we can. We are passengers on a wild and unpredictable ride, and we can decide how we are going to participate on the ride and how we will narrate our experience. You’ll be amazed how much impact you can have on others through intentional thought and positive emotion.
Faith is not a substitute for facts. When you deny reality, a horror vacui emerges in a dense cloud of water-cooler gossip and Chinese whispers. Bad juju. Nature abhors an empty space. Rumours fill it up marvellously.
Acknowledge the fears & uncertainty. Allow them to come, and let them go. Tell people that it’s alright to feel pain. Not because they’re weak. But because they’re strong. It takes courage to show up every day. And as their leader, you are there for them. You share their pain.
From my own experience, it’s one of the most difficult things to do: taking the leap of faith. It’s a very active, conscious choice to eject into the abyss. Yet those who actually take the leap are often the most moved to take bold and conscientious actions in times of strife and crisis. You’ll find that most obstacles melt away the moment you make up your mind.
This article is part of a book I’m writing titled Dancing At The Edge Of Greatness: In Pursuit of the Joy of Leadership. I would love to hear your comments on what resonated with you and where I can make things better.
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