Most people associate leadership with position titles, materialism, the number of subordinates and territories one controls, and someone who fits the elderly-grey hair-pot belly with decades-of-experience profile. Today I'm here to dispel this illusory definition.
My new and much improved definition of leadership goes like this: A leader is one who follows only her/his own unique heart and mind, creates her/his own belief system and strategic methodologies, is in a continual state of learning, growth, and change, and guides others to manifest their own destiny. Now you might be thinking, does this mean I shouldn’t go after money and world popularity? Not at all! In fact with this leadership philosophy, money and worldly success are by-products of applying it correctly.
The pointers in this article give you a start to discovering your potential as a leader. I don’t lay out processes for things that leaders are supposed to do like time management, goal setting, and relationship building. These topics have been addressed far too much in the general literature. Instead I address some key foundations, a summary of my own studies in leadership philosophy.
1. Do What Makes You Authentic. Your life’s purpose should be motivated by a need for inner joy and fulfillment, finding your authentic self. You might be one of those who hold the limiting belief that what you truly want to do will not earn you much money or acceptance. Think again because we live in an age of diversified career choices and so many unique business ideas. You do not have to be a doctor or a lawyer just because. Ask yourself this now: what kind of work would give me a sense of feeling needed, enriches the lives of others, make me smile, and get me energized for most of the day? Is your current work doing this for you?
2. Overcome Fear of Failure. Failure is a stepping stone to success. The more you fall off the bicycle, the faster you’ll learn to ride it. So don’t be afraid of falling. Take those risks and get out of your comfort zone, because staying in your comfort zone is more risky in the long-run. All fear comes from one human emotion, that of anxiety. Ask yourself what you are anxious about, and then run into your fears instead of running away. Running toward your fears will help you realize how small they actually are, and with that realization, it’s the fear that’ll run away. Hop in that roller coaster and let go!
3. Pursue Quality in Your Experience. I have a revolutionary opinion on the correlation between experience and leadership. Imagine an elderly grey-haired man and a young woman in her early 20s sitting beside each other. By appearance, the elderly man will be picked for being better at managerial leadership because he looks like he has years of experience. But what if he’s been doing the same thing for 30 odd years and it’s the wrong kind of experience? Oops. The young woman would not have much in terms of years, but maybe she has relevant knowledge and experience that’s right for our time and changing culture. I had the opportunity to work with an international consultant from the U.S. on an assignment here in Dubai. Despite his many years of experience, he did not entertain my sustained objections to some of his recommendations as they were definitely not suited for Middle Eastern culture. In fact he expressed that he’d been doing his work for 40 years and that I should just let him do his job. I think I’ve illustrated my point here about how years and years of doing the same thing in one environment can be mistaken for valuable experience.
4. Develop a Leadership Mind. The heart of a leader actually lies in the mind. What are the characteristics of a leader’s mind? Leaders see themselves as truly free beings capable of creating their own destiny. A leadership mind believes that personal responsibility and accountability come from an individual’s freedom to be. They want paradigm shifts rather than incremental changes that need measurement in order to be detected. Leaders think differently about the world, and see it as abundant, full of hope, and endless possibilities. A leader’s mind is spacious. It embraces paradoxes and contradictions, conflicts, and incompatibilities, accepting the existence of many attitudes at once. A leader is not troubled by contradictory ideas and believes that the opposite of a great idea is just another great idea. Great leadership requires a mindset where ideas compete freely and opposing positions can be friends. Leaders recognize that our world is ambiguous where so many interpretations are applicable and reflect truth. A spacious mind also embodies a drive for ceaseless learning. You’ll never hear a leader say “I do what I’m told” or “this is not my area”. They work conscientiously with the entire system in mind, and proactively anticipate change to adapt to an inflexible world. Most inspiring of all is that when you become a true leader, you’ll achieve what you’re mind can conceive and you’ll believe that out of no way, a way can be found. Got a leadership mind?
5. Be Your Time. Time management has been the bane of every client I’ve worked with. Here’s my key: truly great leaders perceive the concept of time differently. For most executives today, success and failure in business are simply success and failure in the mastery of time. Ready for another revolutionary idea? The popular notion of time is spatial, linear, and mathematical, called ‘clock time’. The only solution to clock time is to fragment it, set priorities, and exercise extreme self-discipline. This has been an eternal time management strategy for most, not to mention the subject of oh so many training programs. Although necessary, managing clock time can lead to mechanization of the self and a robotic existence. The essential issue is that most people live as though they are outside time. A leader makes a shift to be time. You are time. Once you make time a part of your own essence, you can never feel pressured by it. The revolutionary idea here is that all problems with time are in truth, problems with one’s own authenticity. For most of you, work is external and is imposed to you from the outside, which is why you experience it as a constraint from which time pressures arise. Similarly, the experience of work stress is only the result of guilt you feel for not living up to your definitions. So if you have real problems with time scheduling, in some fundamental way this means that you do not like your work and are not at full maturity. Time problems will ultimately lead to burnout which suggests that a decision about how to lead your life is overdue. I’ve had a lot of friendly disagreements on this point. But observe how many people in our town suffer from work-related stress and time issues and I bet all of them do not live true to themselves.
6. Live Your Time. Make work part of your life, do not separate your work from the person you are and then watch how living authentically takes care of your scheduling problems. As opposed to ‘clock time’, ‘lived time’ is felt, experienced, perceived making it truly real. With this basic philosophical definition, the management of time becomes a whole other ball game. A leader first gets to know what authentic experiences mean to her/him, and then seeks to achieve control over time by living them. Authentic experiences will never create pressure situations because actions that are part of your being will cease to be a burden. A way to judge authentic experiences with time is to notice its speed. If time passes slowly, it probably means boredom, an unpleasant task, pain, anxiety, or guilt. If you notice it’s at moderate speed, then you may be satisfied or may feel indifferent. But if time passes by quickly, you are feeling joy and intense happiness and absorption, a real authentic experience. Give your time only to authentic acts and time will be in your control. It works for me every single time.
7. Read. There is no substitute for reading if you want to keep learning and growing. Shut the TV off and pick up a book. Read anything that excites you, inspires you, gives you knowledge about business and industry, but most of all read to receive ideas. I keep my mind working by reading science fiction, autobiographies, business books, and often refer to my college textbooks in Psychology and Philosophy for work inspiration. Subscribe to professional journals in your field, it is the only way to keep up with business trends in an ever-changing world. There is also a lot of benefit from reading good fiction where strong characters could make an impact on you. My own interest in Philosophy was heavily influenced by reading science fiction literature, and one of my favorite fictional characters I try to emulate in real life is Dagny Taggart, the female protagonist of Ayn Rand’s novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’. Oh, and please stay away from tabloid publications because they prey on inactive, idle minds.
8. Nurture Your Body. Exercising your mind is great, but you’d be much richer if you worked out your body too. Your leadership mind needs to stay sharp, aware, energetic, and always interested in what you do. I do not need to introduce you to the benefits of exercise and physical activity. If a gym isn’t for you, why not join a dance or martial arts class? Find something that would build your confidence, do it with a group of friends, and remember that great feeling right after a hard workout. Also, watch out on your eating habits. Energy levels in the mind and body are significantly related to the quality of foods you consume. Look for preservatives and artificial flavorings on labels or go for an organic option. Plenty of water prevents headaches and can give you an energy boost. Another great way to get energized is a massage. I’ve met exceptional leaders who control their immune system by the consistent practice of yoga and tai chi, and they never fall sick. Get your body aligned with your mind, and feel your leadership in the physical sense.
I hope I’ve managed to plant the seed of thought in your mind. I invite you to start developing yourself as a true leader by exploring the simple ideas presented here. Some of them might seem surreal or non-concrete, but as you start applying them you will understand these principles intrinsically. It’s never too late to become a leader NOW!
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