On every leadership program I ask, “How do you define leadership?”
The answers vary from, ‘getting people to follow your vision’, ‘working with others to get something done’, to ‘influence’.
My favourite answer by far is this one: “Leadership is hard.”
It’s probably the most accurate response. Leadership is about putting our hand up to say, “I’ll do it. I’ll have a go.”
When we put our hand up, we risk everything. We risk being wrong. We risk being criticised. We risk failure. We even risk being fired in some cases.
To exercise leadership means we make choices with our values, with our best intentions, for something bigger than ourselves.
Leadership requires courage. It needs grit. It needs compassion. Especially for ourselves.
So how then are you developing your leadership?
Reading books helps. Attending programs is good. Hiring a mentor is sensible.
Here’s what does NOT help:
- Taking a program because it gives you a credit or a certificate.
- Going to a conference with speakers lined up back to back with no room for discussion, reflection or follow through.
- Hero-model programs where the leader is touted as the saviour and solution. Leaders are important. So is being a good follower. We’re all in this together.
- Beware of programs that tout ‘developing your leadership potential’, strengthening your capabilities’, ‘expanding your capacity’. This is waffle and bumph. Real leadership is about choices.
Nothing expands our leadership more than the choices we make in the moment. To speak up when we could be quiet. To refuse when it’s easier to obey. To help someone else when our own work is weighing heavy.
Being able to choose leadership in difficult moments takes practice. Like a martial artist, hours in practice prepare us for a moment of challenge.
Leadership practice focuses on three things:
Presence is deep self mastery of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self. It requires quiet contemplation and conscious choices of self-nurture.
Perspective is the length and breadth of our thinking. It’s the capacity to consider generations of past influences, and impact of our choices on generations to come. Perspective is about who we hold as stakeholders and the complex systems that weave us together. It’s about being world-centric no matter where we find our feet planted.
Power is about the effort to act. Every time we make a choice based on our values, for the greater good, we strengthen our courage muscle. Leadership becomes less about us, our career aspirations, our paltry personal concerns, and more about how we can help.
Every act of courage lifts us all. 10,000 acts of courage will actually shift consciousness of those around us to a happier state of being. And happy humans makes for a happier world.
So strap on your courage boots, and choose.