What does it mean to you to be a leader in your own life? Much like the variety of definitions in the business world, how we each view leadership is likely to be varied and dependent on our personal experience.
Currently, the standard dictionary definitions of leadership look like this —
- The action of leading a group of people or an organization (synonyms: direction, control, management, ascendancy, rule, command, power, dominion)
- A process of social influence to maximize a group’s efforts towards the achievement of a goal (establishes a clear vision, shares the vision so others willingly follow, provides the resources to realize the vision, coordinates conflicting interests of all stakeholders)
Regardless of which definition we prefer, as a global society, we are on the verge of shifting into a new paradigm of leadership. My hope is its tipping point is sooner rather than later.
The shifting paradigm of leadership we are witnessing may have less to do with its definition and more to do with its execution. When I consider the synonyms depicting leadership — direction, control, command, etc. — I am reminded why I elected to not remain an employee when I first began my consulting career. Much like my public school experience, I felt choked and bored by the organizational culture and protocols of the day. So many rules, so little room for creativity and authenticity. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that this traditional leadership model has been completely replaced. Command and control leadership still has a majority influence across for-profit and non-profit enterprises around the world.
As illustrated by some of our more well-known business thinkers, their definitions of leadership do not shed a very different light —
The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Peter Drucker
Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. Warren Bennis
As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. Bill Gates
Although Bill Gates at least recognizes the importance of empowering or sharing power with others, all three definitions only account for leadership over others. None address leadership over oneself, which in my experience is the only way we transform anything. First we change ourselves, then everything around us changes. This is the wisdom behind Gandhi’s words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Over the past two decades, my experience of transformational leadership has had everything to do with becoming self-aware. In the first of those two decades, much of my time and energy centred around healing my past hurts and releasing an accompanying sense of “woundedness.”
Physical and emotional wounds clutter our beings with tension, tightness and dis-ease, and when unattended, express themselves in victimhood rather than leadership behaviour. A cluttered psyche leaves little to no room for direct experience to grow our awareness and wisdom. Before truth and wisdom can enter and be truly noted, we must first heal ourselves thereby creating the needed space within our body, mind and spirit for their presence to exist.
During the second decade of my journey — when this necessary space opened up — a new understanding of what leadership meant emerged from within me. Today, my clearest definition reads something like this —
A process of social attraction wherein one’s intentions and efforts emerge (draw
forth) what is required in the moment — people, materials, etc. (collaboration and
co-creation with the universe and all beings)
In discussing this concept of leading in one’s own life with my friend, Chris, he directed me toward another like-minded person. Twenty years ago, Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems Therapy, was also undergoing his own breakthrough thinking about transformation and leadership.
What qualities do people report and display when they live in the world yet hold the
memory of who they really are? What are the characteristics of Self-leadership? …
After twenty years of helping people toward Self-leadership, I can describe what my
clients exhibit as they have more of their Self present — calmness, curiosity, clarity,
compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness.
When you compare Schwartz’s and my definitions of self-leadership with what has been the traditional view, you will find yourself somewhere along that continuum of paradigms. Tragically, IMHO, traditional leadership has had more to do with complying, competing and controlling. I ask you this, “When will we as a society truly accept and act upon this universal truth — The only aspect of life we can control is ourselves?”
What one step of healing (letting go) or opening up can you gift yourself so you find the space within to collaborate and co-create in your life?
For more on self-leadership, click here.