Of the scores of books and thousands of quotes I have absorbed as a student of transformational leadership these last thirty years, not one contains a speck more wisdom than this opening quotation from de Chardin. This Father’s Day, as a gift to my children and grandchildren, I would like to share eight simple reflections on the dignity, humility, responsibility and deep sense of honor that go along with the role of “leader”:
1. Embrace Humility and Vulnerability…Solomon’s greatest leadership trait was not the wisdom with which he was gifted by God, but the humility he displayed in asking for it, instead of seeking great wealth and power. The most endearing identifying characteristic of authentic conscious leaders is the propensity to put others first; to bathe in reflected light; and to open themselves up to the possibility of making mistakes by placing faith and trust in others. From childhood we are taught to share. Great leaders confidently share four essential things with their teams: Vision, Information, Ownership and Recognition. The only thing they keep to themselves is the blame if things go awry.
2. Don’t write people off for flaws you perceive in them…If you do you will soon find yourself alone in the middle of a room with no one or nothing to keep you company but your own flaws. The great theologian and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “We are one after all, you and I. Together we suffer; together exist, and forever will recreate one another.” Understand this – an unavoidable consequence of our shared humanity is our flawed nature. Transformation and growth are possible for everyone, even the seemingly incorrigible. The leader’s job is to facilitate the transformation.
3. Get to know yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it feels…Spend time in introspection and reflective practices. Become aware of your strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Understand your hot buttons and make conscious effort to mute them. Step outside yourself and observe your interactions with others, then learn from the things that cause the most awkwardness and difficulty. Own your defects; no one else can own them for you.
4. Practice forgiveness as a habit, rather than an occasional act of condescension…If you learn nothing else in life, learn that carrying anger and vengeance around in your heart is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die. Get over yourself; extend the hand; reconcile and give freely the gift of forgiveness to others. In doing so you will discover you have given the gift to yourself as well.
5. Seek higher consciousness…There is a better version of each of us waiting to be unveiled – physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The battle to subdue ego is the greatest challenge an aspiring leader faces. Robert Greenleaf said, “Ego can’t sleep. It micro-manages. It disempowers. It reduces our capability. It excels in control.” The quest for higher self begins with first steps of intention and purpose and culminates in a deep appreciation for connectedness and collective intelligence. There is a reason you were put on this earth; take time for meditative discernment and allow your better self to take shape in your mind and emerge in your words and deeds.
6. Discover your gifts and share them profusely…We enter this plane of existence imbued by spirit with an abundance of gifts. It is intended that we share these gifts to depletion before we return to spirit. Use reflective and meditative time to discern your gifts and offer them to the world with generosity and joy. The world will respond with gratitude and reciprocation.
7. Welcome change and make it you partner…Einstein famously said, “It is not the strongest or most intelligent that survive, but the most adaptable to change”. Instead of hiding from change and hoping it will go away, visionary leaders learn to surf the waves of change with enthusiasm and agility. Great leaders maintain a clear-eyed focus on the long game and learn to practice “strategic improvisation”, as they leverage changing facts and circumstances to propel them closer to achievement of the vision.
8. Seek first to serve…The New Testament tells us more than once, “If you wish to lead, you must be the servant of the rest”. The modern term, “Servant Leadership”, was coined by the great business philosopher, Robert K. Greenleaf, in The Servant as Leader, an essay first published in 1970. Greenleaf writes, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first… the difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant – first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” To lead with a heart for service requires the Humility referred to in Tip #1, at the very beginning of this article. Putting others first is hard work but necessary work, in the personal transformation to conscious leadership.