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The Three Pillars of Leadership

Authentic leaders are by definition singular individuals. They possess a unique array of qualities and skills that enable them to lead others. Yet, we shouldn’t assume that these attributes are unattainable or too challenging to learn. Leadership skills are uncommon simply because we’ve received little or no education in this subject. If mathematics wasn’t routinely taught in school, mastering math would also be a rare achievement. And so the same is true of leadership.

Culturally, we tend to focus on the external characteristics of leaders, how they present themselves, their intelligence, their style and effect. The path to sustainable and genuine leadership, however is the inner path. This is a pathway that can be learned and cultivated. I envision three pillars that platform authentic leadership. Learning these skills enables genuine leadership ability for corporations, organizations, associations and families. The first is emotional intelligence.

 Emotional Intelligence

Great leaders communicate with consummate effectiveness. This principle pillar of leadership is sourced through emotional intelligence and the ability to deeply connect with others. Our focus on cognitive intelligence, which devalues emotional intelligence, is stunningly incomplete. The thoughts, ideas, and information that we need to share with one another are typically pursued in a transactional manner. We exchange instructions, strategies, and concepts and believe they’ve been received and understood as we intended. This belief is grossly misinformed. We aren’t robots transacting with one another, but complex humans with unique personal narratives, feelings, and beliefs. The same words or phrase may mean differing things to different people. They might inspire some and leave others feeling ambivalent or worse. This leads to failed, ineffective communication.

Emotional intelligence requires both awareness of the other’s feelings and beliefs and a cognizance of your own stirrings. The subterranean realm of our private, personal existence has profound sway over the business of business. In my executive coaching practice, my clients don’t typically speak about factual or substantive issues they’re having with their bosses or colleagues. Instead, they present their troubled feelings, challenges, frustrations and miscommunications.

Authentic leaders connect on emotional levels with those around them. They tune in to their people. This type of attuning seeks to appreciate how the other person perceives matters, addressing what typically goes unspoken. Leaders seek a correspondence with those around them. Emotional connectivity betters the opportunity for coherent communication. This relatedness prospers when the quality of empathy is valued. Empathy, the ability to best appreciate what the other person is feeling and experiencing, allows truly informed communication to prevail.

Radical Emotional Transparency

The concept of radical transparency, a fundamental motif of Bridgewater’s Ray Dallio, proposes that all individuals should openly challenge one other’s positions for the goal of reaching the most credible truth. Although this endeavor has obvious merits, it doesn’t take in to account that we are not only thinking but feeling people. If we pretend that our values, personal history, emotions, relationships, and beliefs don’t spill over into the reasoned and rational discourse, we are sorely misinformed. Radical transparency must take in to account how our subjective beliefs and feelings filter and inform what we ultimately hear and how we respond.

Deeply effective communication seeks shared meaning. This is a collaborative type dialogue that checks in to assure that what we’ve just shared has been received in the way we intended. Leaders realize that what they intended to communicate may not have been received as planned. This checking in process is also respectful and sincere as it enables leaders to get closer to their team. For the musicians in an orchestra to be in musical concert with one another, the conductor must make certain they are all playing from the same score. The same holds true for all leaders.

Authenticity

The next pillar of leadership is authenticity. I use the term authentic leadership to evoke the qualities of truly special leaders. Should you have occasion to meet or witness such individuals you’ll notice that there’s an extra-ordinary quality to them. They shine by virtue of their authenticity, which is a very rarified quality. For example, the Dalai Lama exudes authenticity. You simply know that you’re in the company of an extra-ordinary person.

An authentic individual evokes an image of someone who has not been adulterated because of fear, concerns with self-worth, or worries about what others may think of him or her. Most people are concerned with what others think of them, or more to the point, what they think others think of them. These individuals may disguise, manipulate or hide their thoughts, feelings and beliefs due to their insecurity. This is what I call other-esteem, which is sadly common and absent the authentic self-esteem that unique leaders possess.

From the authentic self, we invest in and articulate that which we think and believe, free from the constraint of worries. The vast majority of people deflect or mitigate their communications and actions because they worry about how they will be seen. Being authentic allows you to be receptive to the feedback and opinions of others, you simply don’t betray your genuine self from fear. When our thoughts conspire in a tangled web of why we shouldn’t say or do something, we lose our authenticity.

Authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner self. Very often, our actions in a given moment are intended to avoid certain consequences. And so, we alter or suppress our communications and play it safe. These tendencies diminish our authenticity as they constrain our growth and self-esteem. Great leaders don’t fall prey to these concerns.

Authentic leaders learn from those around them as the separation between self and others falls away. The core sense of authentic self is always in an emergent process, never static. Freed from the constraint of worry about how you’re being perceived, you’re now free to tune into yourself, those around you and your ever -changing environment.

Embracing Uncertainty

The third pillar of authentic leadership requires a counterintuitive embracing of uncertainty. Our orientation toward predicting future events—a remnant of Newtonian determinism—has addicted us to seeking certainty and predictability and therefore avoiding uncertainty. From this paradigm we see ourselves as separate and detached from future events, which nullifies genuine leadership as we become spectators rather than leaders. This state of analytical bondage is contrary to leading. We can’t lead others by simply sitting back and calculating as if we were playing a chess match. Leaders must be informed by pertinent information but not suffocated by an avalanche of data.

Leadership requires embracing uncertainty to actualize new possibilities. The stewards of leadership participate in the reality-making process that welcomes rather than resist uncertainty. From this vantage, the fear of making mistakes retreats. What we call a mistake is but a snapshot frozen in time. But time doesn’t stand still. Authentic leaders don’t fret the consequences of their actions as much as they consider the consequences of their inactions.

Participatory Leadership

We need to take a deeper look at the concept of change and change process. The word change suggests that there are times when things are static and inert and times when they are not, hence the concept of change. Quantum physics suggests otherwise. It appears that reality is never static or unchanging. This is why I refer to it as the reality-making process. The old adage, “the only constant is change, needs to be revised to “everything perpetually flows.” Great leaders must relish the flow, dive in and truly lead. This requires seeing uncertainty as your ally, the realm from which new possibilities are created. This is participatory leadership as we participate in the unfolding of what we call the future. These three pillars of leadership create a formidable platform from which to lead others.

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Breaking Free From the Groove of Old Thought

Those of us old enough to remember vinyl records-notwithstanding their recent comeback-might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle sometimes got stuck in the groove. The same music or lyric would keep repeating as the tone arm couldn’t navigate into the next groove.
Our thoughts have a similar habit as they keep repeating the same stories ad nauseam.  As they do so, they summon old memories and feelings and so we struggle to change.
Thought is automatic in that it presents itself without our noticing it. We become trapped in a rut of old thoughts. The first step in freeing yourself from this mental groove is in learning to see your thoughts. If we don’t notice our thoughts, we become indentured to them. We become the prisoner of what our thoughts tell us. Developing an awareness of your thoughts-what I call thinking-allows a deeper and more profound sense of wisdom to prevail. 
Seeing your thoughts is a matter of timing. With practice we can become more alert and see an individual thought operating. This process of becoming alert to our thoughts is like watching a slow-motion replay from a sports event: you can see the play unfolding slowly and clearly.
When we can learn to see our thought, we don’t have to become the thought. If I can’t see the thought, I won’t be having the thought, the thought will be having me.
Throughout your day, try to notice your thoughts. Imagine sitting in front of a large TV monitor and watching your thoughts transcribed on the screen. Don’t judge them, just see them. Just sit back and watch in a detached way and observe what you’re seeing.
 

As you develop the acuity to see your thoughts, you’ll be creating an important tool toward your mastery of thinking. You’re developing a powerful muscle memory-the ability to witness your thoughts.

     
 
Once you’ve developed your ability to notice your thoughts, you can begin to imagine an old thought as a visitor knocking at the door of your attention. You can hear the knock, but you can decide not to open the door. Our old thoughts come at us with tenacity. If you find a particular thought that just keeps coming at you, try the following technique:
 
When you notice the old thought clamoring for your attention, place you forefinger vertically in front of your lips and say, “shhhh” to the thought! Remember that you can choose not to open the door to it. The thought will continue to try to draw your attention, so be persistent. 
 
As you progress in your ability to witness your thoughts, you can look at the recurring themes and stories that they present to you. These are the core beliefs that you carry with you that write the script of your life. These recurring themes tend to limiting and often serve as self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s essential to notice how they attract your attention like a magnet. To break free of their pull you must first become aware of the tug of these old thoughts. Try tracking them back to their source, which are your fundamental beliefs about yourself.
Once you’ve progressed in your new ability to see your old thoughts operating, you’ll notice a space between the thoughts. This is the space where your possibilities lie, the space where you can manifest change in your life. In the instant before you become your next thought, everything is possible. This is the defining moment we seek.
This article is the first in a series and excerpted from The Possibility Principle.
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Freeing Yourself from the Grip of Low Self-Esteem

self-esteem-wordleTo further our exploration of developing authentic self-esteem, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Self-Esteem Workshop, a live, interactive videoconference, beginning Tuesday, August 13th.

In my previous articles in this series on self-esteem, we’ve considered how low self-worth surfaces as an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the debilitating grip of self-denigrating beliefs and thoughts that script those lives tragically limited by low self-esteem.

I often assist my therapy clients in surfacing and articulating their core beliefs about themselves. Subtle or overt messages or treatment, typically in childhood, set up and mold our sense of self. Those who struggle with their self-worth have invariably secured negative imprints of themselves. These themes may play out in one’s head as “I’m not lovable,” or  “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or simply ”I’m a loser.” Once we internalize these messages, we integrate these beliefs deeply in our psyche. The beliefs become self-fulfilling. Our potential as human beings collapses and narrows as our limiting beliefs of self become our truth. And we act out our lives correspondingly. Read more

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I’ll Be Happy When…

What is the source of happiness? We tend to assume that happiness will come from a future event. It typically depends upon something else happening. The script often reads like this:

I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.

I’ll be happy when… I get married.

I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.

I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.

Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.

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What Informs Your Belief?

While I was in the midst of delivering a somewhat provocative talk on the subject of change, a gentleman in the audience indicated that he had a question. As he began to speak, it was evident from both his tone and his question that he was challenging the material that I was sharing. Simply stated, his core belief was that people don’t change, and he suggested that I was being an idealist. Little could he have imagined that I welcome the charge of idealism, for this is what inspires us to higher levels – and so I caught him by surprise when I thanked him for the compliment.

Nevertheless, his tone remained quite charged as he continued to assert his position. My presentation was evidently offending his beliefs. I noticed my reaction arising and felt a surging desire to prove him wrong and reveal the flaw in his thinking. Thankfully, I didn’t attach to my reaction. I witnessed the emotion and came into a space that permitted a more authentic response. In the space of a few nanoseconds I quieted myself and felt a question arising from within. It emerged from a deeper place and it took form in the words, “May I ask what informs your belief?”

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The Paradox of Expectations

Beginning a new year often brings forth a review of our expectations and I thought it might be a good idea to briefly examine this topic.  As with many concepts in our culture, we tend to fall well short of fully appreciating what these terms truly suggest and at times, the apparent contradictions that they may evoke. This is certainly the case with the word expectations. Are they to be valued and embraced or do they impede us and distort our life experiences? The answer depends on a host of things. One size doesn’t typically fit all and we need to look at how we employ the word expectations. From the perspective of some spiritual traditions we should be disinclined to attach to expectations as they may block our direct experience of life and impose a bondage of belief upon us. Traditional western values that inculcate and reward achievement honor high expectations, for they drive our culture and our economy.

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