Most people who work in any kind of organisation will hear a lot of talk about leadership but much of that will be, frankly, vague or meaningless. What is leadership? What does it even mean?
“Jenny has real leadership potential.”
“We need leaders, not managers.”
And that’s without even looking at political leadership.
With the frighteningly high levels of seeming incompetence and corruption that seem to be present in so much of the world’s politics right now, who are we meant to look to as examples of good leadership?
You may have seen the phrase ‘leadership crisis’ bandied about in the media but what does that mean if most people can’t even tell you what leadership, practically, is?!
Don’t worry, I’m here to help :-)
You are a leader already, and you can be an even better one.
Once you have read this guide you will understand what leadership is and how to be more effective at it, in your job, with your family, in society and in your life.
I want to start by just inviting you to consider how you might be leading already in your life, then I’m going to get super-practical about it and give you a definition that
*actually means something*
[Audience gasp with delight!]
I know, I know. I’m spoiling you. Now read on to start making straight-forward sense of this big subject.
How Does Leadership Show Up in Everyday Life? And Why It Matters…
Leadership is at the heart of my day-to-day work and I consider it to be a fundamental human capacity. And yet many people seem not to consider themselves leaders, maybe not even capable of leadership. Do you have those doubts?
Here’s a quote from Joseph Jaworski, a wonderful writer on leadership. It’s a little poetic, so bear with me if that is not your style, but I think it says something important about leadership:
"Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable of participating in the unfolding of the world. Ultimately leadership is about creating new realities." - Joseph Jaworski
I’m going to define leadership really practically in the next section, but seeing Jaworski's description in the quote above, take a moment to think about where you are being a leader in your life already. My suspicion is that at least some of the ways may be going unacknowledged.
Take a moment to pause and reflect on the many places that you 'participate in the unfolding of the world' on a daily basis and see your own leadership. The way Jaworski phrases it makes it sound kind of magical, but you are actually doing this all the time.
Every time you have a conversation with someone, ask a question, send someone a message, buy something, hell, even when you pause for thought and take a breath, you subtly participate in the unfolding of the world.
What magic are you working all the time?!
Hopefully that has got you thinking a little differently, now let’s get practical so you can see where you can lead more powerfully, and how.
Leadership Definition: How Do You Describe Leadership in a Meaningful Way?
A lot has been written about leadership.
Even more has been said about leadership and the daily volcano of opinion and declaration in every kind of media provides a never-ending torrent to the existing canon.
Part of the problem with this veritable idea-fest is that very very rarely does anyone bother to qualify what they are really talking about.
'Leadership' has become such an abstract concept it borders on the mystical.
In some ways that is understandable as great leaders seem to achieve incredible things, but if we cannot talk about the field meaningfully, with a shared understanding of what it is we are talking about, then we might as well be having those conversations through the medium of modern dance.
The definition of leadership I use is:
“A leader is anyone who influences others to take effective action.”
It has its roots in a 1960's copy of the cadet handbook of West Point Military Academy that a teacher of mine has. Now whether you like what the military does or not, they have been formally studying leadership for a very long time and certainly a lot longer than business, so worth paying attention to.
There is a nice example my teacher Lance Giroux used, to show how deep leadership goes:
When a baby cries and its parent picks it up, who is the leader?
Baby or parent?
It's the baby!
We are literally leaders from the cradle. How much that fundamental leadership capacity is developed varies greatly, but you can learn and grow in that domain today, right away.
The key question with this is: How do you define effective action?
Influencing People With Integrity (or How Not To Be a Manipulative Douche-Bag!)
How you define effective action will depend on lots of factors, but to make it practical and accessible, I'd ask you:
What do you believe to be right and good?
Now live it, breathe it, and share it with others. Not to force or manipulate but to influence with integrity. This influencing with integrity is the heart of the matter.
I think one of the reasons many people don’t recognise or claim their capacity for leadership in the modern world is at least partially because the word ‘leadership’ has been tarnished.
It has been damaged as a concept by its association with political and corporate use of power, both of which have been exposed as having many flaws and shadows.
None of us are perfect, and while I would encourage us all to hold our leaders to high standards, and hold them accountable for their actions, we also have to acknowledge they are human beings too, who won’t be perfect and will at times make mistakes.
If we are going to embrace our capacity for leadership too, then how do we do so in a responsible way? How do we know what good leadership looks like?
Nobody is going to be perfect all the time (including you, sorry), but how do we find good role models and how do we distinguish positive leadership from someone who perhaps gets results but leaves bodies in their wake?
One idea I have found very valuable, comes from a writer and leadership educator from New Zealand, Andre Van Heerden. He replaces very subjective thinking about ‘good and bad’ leadership with a clearer distinction: leaders and misleaders. It is not intended as a black and white measure, but a continuum with shades of grey which we all have to reflect on daily to ensure we keep steering ourselves towards integrity.
To understand more about how we can not only lead, but lead well, lets explore this idea of leaders and misleaders…
What is Good Leadership? And Why Honesty *Is* the Best Policy…
This excerpt from Van Heerden’s book ‘Leaders and Misleaders’ is eloquent in expanding on this idea which helps to define leadership with integrity in more powerful terms:
“My use of the word ‘misleading’ is deliberate. The dictionary defines ‘misleading’ as “deceptive, ambiguous, confusing, false, disingenuous, and untruthful”; To mislead is therefore to lie or deceive someone. And you cannot define reality for yourself or anyone else if you resort to deception. I wholeheartedly endorse Max De Pree’s injunction that to define reality to oneself and to others is the first responsibility of a leader, and leaders are challenged to do so hundreds of times each day, in meetings, over the phone, via email and in personal reflection. When they seek advantage or refuge through dishonesty, they cease to be leaders and become instead misleaders.
Taking the negative of ‘to lead’ to be ‘to mislead’, the logical conclusion is that leadership stands or falls on personal integrity. This is why I believe we should not even use the popular distinction between good leaders and bad leaders; we should simply acknowledge that people in positions of authority are either leaders or misleaders, with the inevitable shades of grey tinting all of us, because we are all fallible human beings. This more accurate distinction enables us to understand the whole concept of leadership more profoundly.”
This helped me to resolve an issue I had long struggled with and you may experience too: If we are going to say that integrity is an essential aspect of leadership, how do you explain the apparent success of unscrupulous or dangerous people? Haven’t they shown themselves to be good leaders because of the power they wield?
Many people, including great thinkers on leadership and management like Professor of Management Peter Drucker, have held up individuals like Hitler as examples of great leadership because of their huge influence and a kind of external measure of success (they controlled a large group of people).
But that seems all wrong to me.
Many things in this world might be morally ambiguous but leadership, being so much about relationships and trust, and fundamentally connected with our humanity, should not be.
Surely, some kind of moral compass should sit at the very heart of leadership, shouldn’t it?
Van Heerden’s writing helps me to sort that out, placing as it does, integrity at the heart of the matter and offering a category for those who in some ways achieve great influence but do so through deceit, connivance and brute control: Misleaders.
So now we are well on our way to understanding leadership, how does it relate to management? These words so often get used in the same conversation, is there even a meaningful difference?
Leadership vs. Management - Is This a Meaningless Debate?
Another challenge in talking about leadership is the tendency for it to be compared with management as a means of definition. I don't object to this convention entirely (as you'll see when you read on) but the normal way for that comparison to go is:
"Leadership is visionary, humanistic, inspiring and cool, whereas management is mundane, mechanistic, limited and boring. Be a leader not a manager!"
Not only do I think this is a false dichotomy, but it is part of a wider dialogue which is largely responsible for the broken cult of leadership celebrity. Troubled genius's brutalising their workforce for the sake of some grand idealistic vision are held up as the pinnacle of leadership achievement. That is crap.
I have met many people with incredible vision who are shitty leaders. I have met no few people with amazing leadership capacity who are busy leading their organisations off a cliff because they have a huge blind spot where effective management is concerned. Equally I have come across plenty of businesses being run by people with strong management discipline but little of the strategic vision or 'soft' influence involved in true leadership.
What I set out in the next section is:
What leadership is
What management is
And a third vital role that doesn’t even usually get a look in…
With these foundations, you can have a meaningful conversation about leadership and management, without them, you will be wandering in the dark.
Leader, Manager… And the Third Role No-One Wants to Talk About
I remember when I was first exploring the field of leadership that I could not find a decent definition of the thing for love nor money.
I'm sure there were some out there but considering it is such a basic aspect of studying any field - being able to say what it is you are studying - it was incredibly hard to find anything coherent.
The closest I think I came was Stephen Covey’s famous anecdote about how if you have a crew of guys chopping down a forest then the managers are the ones coordinating the crews and teaching people how to safely use a chainsaw, while the leader is the person who goes up a ladder, looks over the tops of the trees and calls down ‘wrong forest!’
Now quite apart from the horrifying picture this paints for anyone concerned with caring for the natural environment, this was not a particularly operational definition of the roles and it was another one which seemed to say ‘managers plodding and practical, leaders visionary and transformational.’
Even in my earliest explorations of the field I felt uncomfortable about this kind of simplistic thinking.
Quite apart from anything else, why do we have Managing Directors as some of our most senior leaders in business but often label the most junior front-line managers Team Leaders?
Fortunately, I met one of my formative teachers, Lance Giroux who happened to share with me the definitions of various organisational roles as laid out in the Cadet’s Handbook from his time at West Point Military Academy.
“Here is something I can actually work with,” I thought to myself.
I have since adapted those original definitions of three roles: Leader, Manager, Commander. That of the leader, I have adapted very little, but the other two have taken a bit of adjustment to make most sense in a more conventional business or non-military organisation. This is particularly true of the role of ‘Commander’ which I have reframed as ‘Boss’.
I already shared the one for leader:
A leader is anyone who influences others to take effective action.
The other two are:
A manger optimises the use of resources and organises systems and processes.
A boss is given power within the organisation to direct action.
The ‘leader’ role is based on personal power
i.e. you are either good at influencing people or not. You can learn and develop this capacity, but being labelled a leader by the organisation won’t actually enable you to fulfil this role nor is such an assigned position a requirement to take this role
The ‘manager’ and ‘boss’ roles are based on positional power
i.e. unless you are formally assigned that role within the organisation, or recognised in the role by your peers, then it will be very hard to fulfil these functions.
We could put that another way by saying that leadership is a quality of ‘being’ (who you are) whereas management and the boss role are functions of ‘doing’ (what you do).
As well as appreciating leadership in a new way from these definitions, we also start to see the critical differences between leadership and management and how essential they both are in making organisations operate effectively.
You may achieve management outcomes by using leadership skill (change processes by influencing people) but management is by no means the poor cousin of leadership when seen this way.
We also see how someone can be a manager, potentially with minimal need to be effective at influencing people. If someone is a stock manager in a largely automated environment for instance, then they can be truly awesome at designing the processes which optimise how resources are deployed while having little or no contact with human beings, let alone needing to be a charismatic people-person.
While for most of us working in organisations, leadership and management will need to go hand-in-hand, management is a valid discipline all of its own and should command no less respect than the often more heralded field of leadership.
One of the things which many participants in workshops I have run have found useful about these definitions, is that they enable us to be much clearer about where strengths lie and where development is needed. Or where intelligent partnerships can be formed by people who operate in very different but complementary ways - especially in management teams – for example: a more visionary and inspiring leader finding someone who has excellent management discipline to partner with, or vice-versa.
You may want to reflect on where you feel skilled and capable and where you may have more learning to do or need to find a partner to work with or a mentor to help you develop.
So, what about the ‘boss’ role?
The Mysterious Third Role and the Secret to Wielding Power Wisely
I come finally to exploring the ‘boss’ function a little more. I think it is a significant cultural commentary that in the normal ‘leadership vs. management’ conversation, regardless of the other fallacies it might contain, the boss function doesn't even get mentioned.
Often when I raise this people fall back to some kind of story about how, in modern management, if you are doing your job well, then this function is not necessary. It is a relic of a bygone era when hierarchies were more rigid and ‘command and control’ was the norm.
I think that is nonsense.
I think the boss role sits in our collective psychological shadow, gathering dust but nonetheless getting wheeled out on a fairly regular basis because it is still a necessary part of most organisational systems.
The fact is that we need to have standards in our work, that we need to draw some clear boundaries about acceptable behaviour, and that there are times when someone needs to do the hiring and the firing.
At its most basic, the boss is empowered by those with a vested interest in the success of the organisation to say:
“Do what I tell you or there will be a consequence.”
Even in the most liberal of organisations, if the person in charge has told you to do something, or if you are required to do something as an essential part of your job description and you fail to do it, there will be a consequence.
At the very least there will be some kind of significant conversation about why you did not do what you were supposed to, or if what is required of you is left untended for a long time then you will lose your job. And that is fair enough isn’t it?
Even in the most up-to-date self-organising organisations (say that three times fast!), if someone was hired and then spent all their work time noodling about, watching TV, eating cake and generally not getting anything done, someone would have to adopt the boss role for a while and say:
“You are being paid to further the goals of the organisation and you are not doing that, we are not going to pay you.”
There will be times when it is necessary for someone to have the deciding voice and the power to direct action rather than having to cajole, convince and influence their way to a consensus in the group.
Even when you are dealing with highly motivated, intelligent people there will be times when there is no clear path forwards because the circumstances are too ambiguous and someone is going to have to make a call and say:
“We are going this way.”
The boss role is the mechanism by which a deadlock can be broken… as long as they have sufficient trust from their people. And so we see how these roles overlap again as such trust is built over time, by influence - through leadership.
Again, one of the valuable aspects of these definitions is to be able to see where a given individual’s strengths are and where they need to develop greater skill.
Being the boss is a skill too, and one which I see often neglected - either through discomfort with wielding this kind of power or through clumsily wielding it like a blunt object.
We need to take this faculty back out of the collective cupboard under the stairs and find a new appreciation for what it enables as clarifier, coordinator, setter of standards and holder of boundaries.
Not only do we need to break the false dichotomy of leadership vs. management, we need to recognise and cultivate this fuller range of roles, and the skills and capacities that enable graceful navigation of the complex and sometimes turbulent waters of organisational life.
So, beyond these roles, what skills should you be developing if you want to lead…?
Leadership Qualities: The Top 6 Leadership Skills For Any Role
Leadership skills depend a lot on specific contexts: in different situations, different skills become more or less useful.
There are, however six skills, which fit together in balanced pairs, that seem to be pretty consistent, regardless of circumstances.
I have organised them into pairs in this way because all too often with these kinds of lists of skills or qualities they become reductive and overly simplistic. A list becomes a hierarchy where one skill is more important than another. Or skills that are listed can be taken in isolation which often leads to a situation where strengths can be overplayed: I keep using a skill that is initially helpful, until I over-use it and it starts creating problems.
Organising skills in these pairs helps to encourage nuance and complexity in our thinking. It is easier to see how if you do one thing, it is necessary to balance it with another too.
It’s not perfect, but it should help in avoiding getting lost in one extreme or another.
Clairty, yes, but humility so you don’t believe your own hype and start to think you are always right.
Risk, yes, but do so on a foundation of trust, not carelessness.
Responsibility, yes, but also the compassion to wield your rigorous perspective with kindness and care.
Leadership Qualities Pair One: Clarity and Humility
What people most need from those leading them is clarity. This has always been the case but in a world of growing complexity, people look to their leaders to cut through the confusion and offer clear guidance on how to move forwards.
There is a danger with the urge for clarity that we begin to believe our own hype, though: that our view of the world is the correct view, and other people just need to wake up, get on board and follow!
Even the best and brightest misjudge things though and if we are to do our best work we have to balance our drive for clarity with a sense of humility.
I need to stay human in my own sense and in the eyes of others. They have to be able to ask me questions and not get shot down. I have to offer clear guidance but keep my eyes open for where I may have missed something – and be ready to admit that I got it wrong.
Generally, people understand if you find out new information and have to change direction as a result. But if you try and cling to your status as the ‘one correct voice’ in the room then you are likely to lose basic respect.
Leaders often think they need to project certainty at all times, but even though it may seem like people want certainty, they actually want clarity – even if that means a clear statement of “That seemed like the right decision when I made it, I’ve learned new information and now we need to adjust our course.”
Leadership Qualities Pair Two: Risk and Trust
When there is a need for action and no clear path, do something. Sometimes you can wait and see but very often, you have to be decisive. So choose something and commit to it – not for ever, but in the moment.
This is true in leadership teams as well. If you can’t all agree on a course of action, it will likely serve you better if you ‘disagree and commit’ with the most senior person making a call and you all agreeing to follow wholeheartedly. If a decision is made but people don’t commit to it or work to undermine it then you’ll all be pulling in different directions and guarantee failure. The best strategy poorly executed will fail, and even an average strategy, delivered with full commitment can get results.
This willingness to take a risk and commit yourself has to be balanced with trust. A climate of trust in your team so if someone genuinely discovers that the decision (the risk) isn’t paying off, you’ll hear about it. The trust to give it a go and set aside people’s personal agendas. Also the trust in yourself that if it turns out to be the wrong call, you can hold your hands up and have the integrity and skill to fix it and turn things around.
For many leaders, it is a lack of trust either in their own capacity to recover or their safety to take risks in a highly political organisational climate, which leads to indecision and paralysis, and that won’t help anyone.
Leadership Qualities Pair Three: Responsibility and Compassion
In many ways I believe the heart of leadership is responsibility. You have to be willing to take unconditional responsibility for whatever happens on your watch. No excuses, no kvetching.
Responsibility is not the same as blame though. That is a common mistake. Responsibility is about the ability to respond (see what I did there? Respond-ability…? Ah fuggedaboutit).
In order to respond effectively you have to acknowledge your part in contributing to any given situation so you can learn from it. You have to help other people to see and own their part in contributing to the situation so they can learn from it.
While this might sound like sharing out the blame, it is totally different. Blame is given, responsibility is taken. Blame actually gets in the way of true responsibility: why would I actively take responsibility for my part in a situation if I think that leaves me open to blame, or even becoming a scapegoat? This confusion of responsibility and blame is one of the most common barriers to effective leadership in organisations.
If you want to be a good leader, you have to role model the best possible version of responsibility as best you can. You take full unconditional responsibility for what occurs, learn from it as best you can, and be compassionate with yourself and others.
Compassion in the counter-point. Compassion is the gateway from blame to responsibility. We each own our part and, with empathy and kindness, we all contribute to resolving the situation.
I have framed this last one more in terms of when things go wrong as that is usually when ‘the rubber hits the road’ for this and it gets tough to do. It is easier to take responsibility when things go well! And it is easier to be compassionate with each other when the pressure is off. They are still essential qualities even in the good times.
Leadership Morals, Roles and Skills
That is a pretty comprehensive overview of core leadership ideas, even incorporating management and power (the boss role). But to really understand leadership, we have to consider how it plays out in the world at large and what some of the current trends and forces are.
Is leadership in crisis?
How do you deal with ‘misleaders’?
How can you stand tall in tough situations?
How can we navigate in complex and uncertain times?
What can a good poem teach us about leadership?*
*(OK, that last one might not have been on your mind when you started reading but trust me, read on and you’ll find out how poetry can help!)
Is There a Leadership Crisis? (Or ‘Who Put the Idiots in Charge and What Can We Do About It?!’)
Many people would argue that we have a crisis in leadership. I’d agree. We see some incredible examples of leaders in the world, like Jacinda Ahern, but we have far more toxic misleaders and arguably, they are currently in more powerful positions.
I’m sorry to say I don’t know how to fix all of that. We all have to do what we can from where we are to keep working to make things better, to heal division, to engage in intelligent and respectful discourse, to take responsibility for our impact on each other and the world, to form a better and more equal partnership with Mother Nature. Beyond that, I don’t know.
What I can offer are some thoughts on how we can all reclaim our own personal leadership and my hope is that with a sufficient groundswell of leadership with integrity, we can turn things around. I hope what I have shared here helps you with your part in that.
One thing I think we can all do is cultivate our own capacity for leadership, because one possible solution is that, if the big figures on the world stage are failing us, maybe we need more small figures rather than setting up new or different big figures who may be doomed to disappoint us anyway. Those small figures might be you and me.
This is some of the emerging wisdom in the world of business, that relying too heavily on the top of a hierarchy is too slow, and they are too distant from the fast-changing realities of the work to make the best decisions. We need more distributed leadership to deal with the pace of change, not clever people with more authority.
What follow are some thoughts on how you can constructively claim your leadership potential, regardless of your role. Even in these tough and uncertain times.
Shine Your Light and Make the World a Better Place
I like this quote from Nick Williams. I think there is a place for fighting the darkness, but so much of the most visible darkness in the world right now seems to be wrapped in bullshit. Not simply lies, misleadership can in some ways go even deeper than plain deceit.
A liar still has an interest in the truth in that they are trying to straight out deny it, bullshitters have no interest in the truth at all. That is what makes them so hard to tackle. As philosopher Harry Frankfurt who famously wrote about bullshit describes, it takes exponentially more energy to refute bullshit than to refute lies.
So don't get into the fight, focus on revealing your light instead, make that where you put your energy. Apply your unique power for leadership to making things better rather than fighting the idiots making things worse.
Now, sometimes, part of shining your own light might include walking away from someone. Even with the best of intentions, there are those we cannot work with…
Dealing with Bullshitters and Crazymakers
I have a kind of stubborn sense of loyalty that makes it feel very hard to walk away from anyone or anything. I feel like I should be able to get along with anyone, but I am slowly learning over the years, the wisdom in just walking away.
Of course, it is not always possible but when in conflict or arguing a case with someone, I have found it helpful to ask myself if I want to continue the relationship with them. If I don't, then I may be best letting the issue go because continuing arguing about something is a continuation of the relationship. That is energy invested in that relationship. Why invest in something that is not important to you?
Of course, there will be times when it is important, either to us or a larger issue which is at stake, to stay in the conversation with someone who we are in deep conflict with. I am not advocating avoiding any tough conversation, quite the opposite. What we do need to do, I think, is conserve our energy for the conversations that really matter and not get sucked into the many conflicts that either don’t matter or are simply doomed to repetition and decline.
I think many of us have become conflict fatigued in our relationships because of the plethora of unhealthy arguments that we can get sucked into on social media. We may then not have the energy for the fights we need to have of the tough conversations which we will all need to find ways to join if we are to cross the great social divides and agree on ways to build a better world. To be able to step into the conversations that matter, we must learn to spot and let go of the tiring debates that are going nowhere.
As creative leader Nils Leonard said in a talk he gave:
That's not to say everyone you may need to walk away from is an idiot! They will of course be human beings, deserving of respect and dignity, maybe they are more like what Julia Cameron refers to as a 'crazy-maker'. Someone who, for whatever reason, just creates chaos when they are present in your life. Whoever and however they are, I am slowly learning that sometimes I just have to walk away and this may serve you too.
Once again: "Don't fight the darkness, reveal your light."
Sometimes you can’t walk away though, so how do you find the power to stand strong when there is no other option?
Finding Your Leadership Power and Standing Strong in Tough Situations
If Leadership has become a dirty word in many circles, power is usually seen as even worse. But as Martin Luther King Jr. said:
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic.”
We have to find it in ourselves to claim our power, but to do so responsibly, and in such a way that we are not easily manipulated or led astray by the pursuit of power.
To embrace power sustainably, in a way which is not given to manipulation, we must find ways to be independent of many conventional social pressures.
“...they make us dependent on a social system that exploits our energies for its own purposes. ...If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one's shoulders.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
For most of us, we have a need to engage with the conventional social system and shrugging off the social controls Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘chick-sent-mee-hi’ in case you are interested!) is talking about may be very difficult. But there is a particular kind of power in finding ways to increasingly find joy and meaning from the pure flow of experience, for example: from being more present in every moment, from enjoying simple pleasures, from finding satisfaction in learning new things, from being nourished by time with family or friends.
To link back to dealing with crazymakers and other difficult characters, in studying conflict some years ago, part of the conversation was about power. Conflict often happens when one person feels their power base is threatened. But if you can source your sense of power in different ways, you are less likely to feel threatened and even if conflict happens, it won't be as difficult to deal with.
This is another way of being able to deal with crazymakers when you can’t walk away from the relationship: reduce their power over you by finding ways to practice non-attachment that when you have got to stay in a tough conversation, at least you won’t get as emotionally triggered. Cultivate the emotional capacity so you address the issues that matter and let go of the things which might irritate you but won’t help you resolve the situation.
The freedom that comes from aligning yourself with the 'ongoing stream of experience' is a kind of spiritual power which, if you can grasp it, is very hard for anyone to undermine. The power in turn gives you more relational freedom, it has the potential to create a virtuous cycle: you find freedom so you are more powerful, your power makes you more free.
If you can lead people from this kind of freedom, helping them to find their own sense of independence and freedom, that can be an incredible gift.
Speaking of gifts…
What Does Poetry Have to do With Leadership?
To finish this exploratory piece on leadership in real life, here is a poem to encourage you to find the ways that you can (to return to Jaworski’s words from the beginning) more actively and consciously 'participate in the unfolding of the world'.
Why finish with poetry? Well, in unpredictable circumstances where things can change very fast, specific advice has a short shelf-life. It might be irrelevant by tomorrow if things change!
Poetry and metaphor can help us to shift how we feel, how we see the world, they can nudge us towards a different way of being, and that kind of nourishment doesn’t depend on the specifics of a situation. We can take the more fluid and ambiguous expression of poetry and metaphor and, with reflection, derive insight which we can apply flexibly wherever we are in our journey’s and whatever we are doing.
In fact, one of the greatest and oldest books on leadership is written in short prose-poetry verses, The Tao Te Ching.
So here is a brief piece to help with your reflection:
You are not gifted
You don't have a gift
You ARE a gift
The question is
What kind of gift are you
And how can you present yourself
How can you presence yourself
So as to surrender yourself to your own deep mystery
And offer yourself to the world
This need not be grand
There is subtle leadership
In walking tall and breathing deep
And you don't have to have it all worked out
In truth you need not know what kind of gift you are
As long as you are willing
To step out
With a generous spirit
And a brave heart
Because it won't be easy
The butterflies in your stomach will try to swallow you whole
And the darkness and bullshit in the world will seem overwhelming
But there is magic
In just keeping turning up
In the face of all that
And not giving up
Generously from the heart
With no expectation of return
You are not gifted
You don't have a gift
We all have unique ways that we can contribute to making the world a better place. Whether it is in the formal setting of political, social or corporate leadership, or in the humble but no less important areas of family, community, sharing stories or other creativity, supporting and inspiring your friends… many places.
Remember, a leader is anyone who influences others to take effective action. How can you positively influence those around you in every moment?
How will you discover and share the gift that you are? How will you express your unique and powerful form of leadership?