Our country is going about the process of finding its next leader. I wonder how much time presidential candidates actually spend thinking about the kind of leader they are and will hope to be. It would behoove them to reflect on what it means to be a leader. Rather than thinking about leadership, they are immersed in getting out sound bites, messaging, and stating their position on issues. None of that is true leadership. Anyone can give their opinion and then find like-minded people who agree with them. That is not being a leader. Leadership has more to do with listening than speaking, compromising than winning and humility than power.
There is nothing glamorous about being a leader.
It begins with maturity. It is easier to be a mature person in an immature system, than a mature person in an immature system. All organizations have a level of maturity. When the organization is immature, and by that I mean, highly anxious, reactive, and self-seeking, it’s easy to get stuck in unhealthy patterns and behavior. It’s much more difficult to stay above the anxiety, not become part of the immature behavior. It’s easy to get hooked. We all have emotional buttons and old scripts that trigger emotions that do not serve us and end up hurting the system. This requires self-awareness and a good dose of maturity.
Any time there is vision, no matter how many people share that vision, always, always, always expect resistance. You can communicate, plan, strategize and work for consensus with the greatest due diligence and someone will say, “That is not going to work,” “I have a problem with that,” “You are wrong.” Resistance happens any time there is change in a system. Be ready for it. Stay the course. Listen again. Stay the course. This requires self actualization and persistence.
Don’t be reactive. When you get a snarky email or someone uses emotional language, or is critical, it is so hard to not be reactive. This is especially true when you have put your heart, mind, soul, and body into a project. It is so easy to get defensive and react. The only way I have learned to not be reactive is to have advisors who are not in the system, to hear my reaction and help me step away, see the comment without emotion, and then respond. This requires discipline and perspective. Get into the balcony!
It’s not about being liked, or popular, or placed on a pedestal. People like putting their leaders on a pedestals. Don’t let them put you there! Once you are put there, jump down immediately. It’s dangerous up there on that pedestal. Many good leaders have been placed up high, only to fall hard. When you are up there on that pedestal, it’s easy to forget you are a human being, with the same temptations and habits as everyone else. Stay grounded. Stay human. This requires humility and awareness of your own ego.
A word on challenge: Lord, in your mercy. I could keep a journal of every challenge I face each week and turn it into a book. I bet you could too. If you are a leader, you are going to face challenges. That’s why you are a leader: to take on challenges. Some of them will be technical. Technical challenges are like mosquito bites. They are a pain, but they go away quickly. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important, or get in the way of greater issues, but you can manage them by finding clear steps to resolutions. Don’t make technical challenges bigger than they need to be.
Adaptive challenges, why they are another story altogether. The are like running an obstacle course blind folded. You think you know the obstacles ahead of you and then, surprise! there is another obstacle for you to work through. This process can be absolutely exhausting and irritating. This is where staying non anxious and not taking things personal come in to play. The approach I have found most helpful is to see adaptive challenges as a challenge course. I take it on like a game to be won and try to figure out how to use resources, problem solving, skills, intuition, humor, communication and rest, to learn my way through it. Challenge courses are fun, and they are most fun when they are accomplished with a team.
Team. Team. Team. It is impossible to accomplish anything significant alone. Leadership requires the ability to work with a team. This means every person has a job to do and not one job is more important than the other. It means you trust people to do their job, and don’t do their job for them. It means you get your job done, so others can get their job done. Creating a good team is so difficult and so important. It’s o.k. to tell a team member they are not carrying their weight. If teams are going to be successful, they most be honest with each other.
Lastly, I want to say as something about peace. Your leadership is not all of you, its only a part of you. You have permission to not be the leader all of the time. You have permission to set boundaries where your phone is off, your email goes unchecked and your batteries are recharged. You have permission to be a human being instead of a human doing. You will be a better leader, if you live into your higher purpose.
A final word. There will some days when you will fail at being an effective leader and you will think, “I suck at this. What’s the point?!” Don’t give up, or give in to the voices that tell you to work harder, be perfect, be stronger, please everyone, and get angry. Listen rather to the voice that says, breathe, listen, laugh, accept, surrender, and be yourself. You got this.
God Bless you in your leadership.