This is an incredibly challenging and yet incredibly potent question for us to be asking.
We’re living in times that are so full of uncertainty, and looking at what it is to be a leader, or what it is to recognize quality leadership, is an important question.
I also believe that there’s never a time when we don’t need great leadership, or that we shouldn’t be asking ‘what is great leadership.’
Over years of personal development, coach training and continuing education, I’ve read so many books and so many theories and ideas about what leadership is.
Yet each time I feel like something comes up short.
There’s something missing in the usual definitions and teachings about leadership.
Perspectives on Leadership
Brené Brown speaks of leadership being about one who takes responsibility to recognize the potential in other people and ideas, and to have the courage to bring that potential to realization.
Simon Sineck talks about how leaders are responsible for the safety of others, and how it’s so important that leaders understand their connection to people as opposed to results, noting that so many leaders in organizations are talking about the bottom line and the results that they’re “responsible” for without ever speaking to the people that they’re responsible for or responsible to.
John Cotter, a professor of leadership at Harvard university, says leaders have a future vision and see a future they’re able to inspire others to want to manifest.
I love Ralph Nader’s definition of leadership, which is that leadership is ultimately about creating more leaders.
There are definitions that talk about leaders simply as people who have followers, and I cringe at that. I’ve talked in the past about the guru model that generates these followers who don’t really know how to think for themselves.
I believe that a leader shows up in their moment to lead and inspires everyone around them to show up in their moment to lead.
Lao Tsu shared that the leader is barely seen or barely recognized at the end of the task, such that when the work is done, the people that were there working together believe they’ve done it themselves.
Everyone involved feels so empowered and so proud of themselves. They’re not giving the credit to just one leader.
I’m seeing amazing leaders showing up in the background doing tremendous work, and simply inspiring others, helping others feel safe, taking responsibility, and building potential.
A New Definition of Leadership
Something I’ve not come across in any definitions of leadership is the idea of self-leadership.
My coaching and mentoring work is all about awakening inner wisdom, and I particularly work with leaders.
Leaders have in common some kind of responsibility, whether it’s a responsibility for their family, their volunteer organizations, the department they’re managing, or their business.
There’s a leadership element in having responsibility, but the question is, are we showing up as the leaders we’re capable of being?
Many entrepreneurs, managers, parents, volunteer committee chairs and organizational executives are not showing up as true leaders because they’re not bringing their full self-leadership to the table.
They’re not bringing their full inspiration and creativity.
They’re not bringing their vulnerability.
They’re not bringing their innovation.
Maybe they simply don’t know how, and that’s okay.
Many of us end up having creative ideas to start a business, or we get promoted into a job based on our aptitude and what we’ve accomplished, but when it comes to really being in leadership, it’s inevitably about impacting others around us and being effective.
We really don’t know how to do that and that must change.
Effectively making a beneficial impact is what quality leaders do, and ultimately what every Soul on Earth is longing to do…even if in simple ways.
Practice Makes Perfect…or at Least Much Better
One of my favorite definitions of leadership from my dear friend and fellow Leadership Coach Craig Miller is the idea that leadership is an art, and, like any performance art in particular, requires practice.
We need to practice things that keep helping us to ripple out in ways that inspire, that make people feel safe, and that encourage people to work toward a shared vision.
When we’re all standing in our inner wisdom and truth, when we’re really connected to what matters most, we have the greatest potential to ripple out and effectively impact others in positive ways.
The Shadow Side of Leadership
Leadership has been known to be horribly manipulative.
It’s been known to take advantage of very challenging situations and say, “Follow me. I know what to do, and I will help keep you safe, and I will be responsible for you, and I will inspire you toward this new vision.”
The shadow side of leadership preys upon the fears, anxieties, and difficulties people are experiencing in times of challenge.
As we meet a world full of challenges, whether they’re viruses or climate change or economic hardship or the shadows of unhealthy leadership, what we need is greater self-leadership.
We need to know who we are, what we care about the most, and what our own vision is before we can make a truly sustainable, beneficial and effective impact in the world.
A New Vision
It’s great to have a shared vision with others, but you must first and foremost know what your own vision is for yourself.
What do you really believe in?
What do you really care about?
What’s your passion?
What do you want?
What are you inspired by?
Then you can find and connect with those who might have a shared vision, and move toward that vision with integrity, dignity and enthusiasm.
The Future of Leadership Begins with You
The definition of the word lead is “to cause to go with oneself.”
If we look at that in a rudimentary way, we could say we’re causing others to come with us.
I like to take the word ‘oneself’ and separate it into “one’s self.”
This definition of lead, “to cause to go with one’s self,” is about connecting to your Higher Self, your capital ‘S’ Self.
Leadership is about knowing your truth…grounding, centering, presencing, being fully here, feet on the ground, recognizing who you are in all of your thoughts, your emotions, your will forces…all of it integrating and becoming cohesive and coherent together.
Leadership is about connecting to your True Self, and being a model of inspiration for others simply by being you.
Then you begin to ripple out and inspire, and encourage others to do the same.
We must be effective self-leaders before we can be effective leaders of others.
Many people are looking around wondering, “Who am I?”
Who am I to step up?
Who am I to do this work?
When we can show up fully, each of us individually knowing who we are, knowing what our own inner saboteurs are that get in the way, knowing the parts of ourselves that are living in old stories and old paradigms, and knowing the True Self that’s asking us to evolve and move forward, then we can show up in that space of our truest, most sacred, inner wisdom as much as possible, every day.
That can only have beautiful effects on the rest of the world.
I invite you to tap into your self-leader, and to stand strong in that inner leader with your wise self at the helm, inspiring others to do the same.