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The essence of leadership


· Leadership,Coaching,Calm,Wisdom,Clarity

I am passionate about leadership. I have been fascinated by the subject since I had my first leadership role 30 years ago. So, it’s a real pleasure to get the opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on leadership in our current times.

Before I share let’s explore for a bit about leadership past present and future.

Leadership has evolved over the years. 30 years ago, the main topic was all about the difference between Leadership and Management.
Then, in the 80’s corporate America had come out of the management paradigm
into the leadership one. It was not about what we knew, it was about how we got the best out of our teams. Following this in the 90’s there was the evolution of Transformational Leadership, or values-based leadership, which asked leaders to grow personal understanding of their leadership style. Self-awareness, emotional intelligence and experiential leadership programmes became very
popular. More recently the leadership models have started to embrace Neuroscience and inner work. What we show to the outside is a reflection of what is going on inside. The journey has therefore moved inwards to seek answers in our minds and psychology.

All of these evolutions responded to environments which are getting ever more complex, globalized and disrupted. We all know the speed of change has increased what feels like exponentially over the last decade.

As each generation of leaders has passed down to the next, a deeper understanding has
emerged. It feels like we have all been on a journey of getting to the essence of leadership.

The Leadership Challenge 

But before we get to what the essence of leadership is, let’s reflect on leadership challenges we have to deal with.

I have a question for you as a leader: What keeps you awake at night? 

What has been your experience, has it become tougher more complicated, ambiguous and uncertain?

Do we have some doubts about our leadership in dealing with these challenges?

As many of you will know, several years agothe US Defence Force looked at the leadership development of officers, and realized it was not focused on the things that would help them deal with the environment they were actually working in. They came up with the four-letter
acronym define the this new, challenging, environment: VUCA

Volatile,Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous 

How could they help their leaders make wise and insightful decisions in this environment? Making seemingly impossible decisions, choosing between the bad and the really bad, or the good and the even better, as opposed to a simplistic dichotomy of good vs bad.

This is the environment that many of us find ourselves today. As we go up the leadership responsibility scale, we start to feel this more acutely. Leadership is a choice, as you know, but we need to be prepared and understand what leadership will demand of us and how organisations
will equip you for those demands.

In my own experience, leadership training had focused on my skills and knowledge to equip me to deal with these challenges. The assumption was that the more experience and skills I have, the
better a leader I will be. But I have learned this is only part of my story of leadership. Of course all the skills I learned have been important and the experiences have taught me a lot.

Leadershipfrom the Inside Out 

But the complication is that I find I am dealing constantly with a lot of unknowns.

Situations that I cannot rely on my past experiences or even my intelligence, knowledge and skills.

I find I am relying more on my inner capacity for insight, creativity, clarity and wisdom, rather than my existing knowledge.

I like to see this as the difference between Outward-Bound leadership managing what is happening “out there” and Inward-Bound leadership, being curious about my inner state and how that might
be a better resource for my leadership. My Being vs. my Doing.

So, it’s time to go inward bound!

To see our leadership essence, we need to wake up to what our state of mind is from moment to moment. This, our own state of mind, has a powerful impact on how we influence others. If we know more about how our own mind works, we will know more about how to lead
others. Our reality is created by the thoughts that we place significance on. Beneath our busy minds, caught up in thought, is a place for insight, clarity, wisdom, and wellbeing that is available to all of us. It does not need to be learned. It is always there, just waiting to be remembered.

From this inside out perspective we can discern moment to moment if we are in mental clarity or mental clutter; if we are too busy figuring things out we are in fact closed to fresh, insightful, creative possibilities.

I’ve created the model below to illustrate this. The natural actions of leadership: Seeing, Committing, Engaging and Executing are coming from our natural space of insight, creativity, clarity and wisdom.

I like to put the word wisdom in the center of my leadership. What word would you put in the center of yours?