When I look at what needs to happen in the world, a reinvention of what leadership means is essential.
Here are some of my thoughts about leading, gleaned from more than 2 decades studying and living it (as best I can).
Leadership is a choice. The ability to lead is always with us. Leading isn’t about your job title. You can be at high school and be leading. You can be an intern and be leading. You can be a CEO and be leading. Leading is a choice that you make to show up and deal effectively as best as you can, with all of the different challenges, circumstances and opportunities that
come your way.
Leading is available to everyone. It comes with the territory of being human. Thinking you can’t lead is feudal. You are not a serf, fated to be outside the realms of decision making. Nor are you a Lord, entitled to have your instructions followed at all times.
Leadership has consequences. It might seem easier to not pay these, and sit on the side lines. But that has consequences too. In your voice. In your aliveness. In your integrity.
Leader’s dream. They imagine a world, a workplace, a family, a community that is not yet here. They hold that vision in their heart. They nurture it. They take steps toward it. Like a guiding compass, this dream holds them on course through the trickiest of times. Leaders will find the path through to fulfilling their vision.
Leaders put in the work.
Accountability is leadership. Leading requires being a ‘grown up’ – at work, in your life, in your community. Leaders face the situations they are in, and they deal with it. They don’t hide and wait, or hope and wish. Instead, they confront where they’re at with an open gaze. They take responsibility.
A leader is clear about where she wants to go, what’s important to her, and who she is. Getting clear about this is her responsibility. A leader is not always clear, but she gets clear on what she’s not clear about. And then does the work to get clear.
A leader knows that she is not Queen of the universe. Obviously, things will happen that she has no control over. Sh*t happens, yet a leader doesn’t spend time lamenting that fact, or feeling bad about that fact, or using that fact as an excuse. She will include the information, data, the occurrence – and weave it into how she thinks and responds.
A leader is flexible and not rigid. Yet paradoxically, they have an unyielding commitment to the mission they have set themselves to. In fulfilling that mission, a leader does not swerve away from the standards they set for themselves. Even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable, they will do what it takes to keep their word, and be true to who they are.
A leader does not fight with reality. He does not spend his time blaming others or wishing life was some other way. He’s not immobilized by mental loops of ‘why is it like this?’, or ‘it’s not my fault’. He is not constantly referring to the external circumstances, to justify where he’s at and why he is there. He doesn’t waste timing blaming others, or complaining.
He knows that a radical acceptance of what is is his greatest strength.
A leader is compassionate. We are not robots. We are human, deeply human. And so leading requires that we recognise and own our humanity, our flaws, the things that make us, us. That takes leadership. It’s so much easier to look outside ourselves, and make excuses. Reckoning with our own fears, failings and flaws, is so much harder.
A leader first leads oneself. And continues to do so. Leading oneself, authentically and rigorously, is the main work of leadership. This kind of leadership might seem daunting. Yet there is a huge freedom within these constraints. How do you see yourself as a leader?