Many people are trying to be better leaders. What’s the secret? Are better leaders created or are they just natural?
Much leadership development focuses on how to lead change, foster collaboration and develop an effective leadership style, all crucial to leading a large organization, a business unit or a small entrepreneurial team. However, before jumping into learning new skills, it’s worthwhile to change the focus from how to influence others to how to influence your own self.
When you are effective at leading your own life, leading others becomes a natural extension that requires less effort and is more sustainable. That which you already are is not hard to be on a regular basis.
As an executive coach, I often draw on my wide-ranging background of experience that includes acting, mindfulness meditation and business development to help clients understand how to lead themselves better. Here are the three important points to remember about leading from within:
- Recognize we all on the same journey.
At one point in my 20’s, when I was an aspiring actress, I was frustrated with every lost audition and constantly being turned down for roles. One of my acting teachers suggested I read Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” to understand that every character (and person) is living some version of his/her own Hero’s Journey. This journey has 3 basic parts; we are living in our comfort zone, we face a test or trial, we return triumphantly with expanded wisdom to a larger comfort zone. Then the process occurs all over again. This journey happens for everyone on a larger scale but also on a thousand smaller scales with the everyday tribulations of life.
What I discovered was that I could connect more deeply with a foundational truth when delivering my lines by understanding where the character was on his/her Hero’s Journey. This would make me seem more like a “real person” and less of an actress or a pitch salesperson. I would exude authenticity to the casting director and eventually the hundreds of thousands of people who would watch me on the screen.
To be a leader of true influence, you have to know your own Hero’s Journey, what this journey is about and at what point you are at now in the journey. Once you know this, you will naturally communicate with a more compelling, truthful voice. Those that look to you for leadership will see their “journey” in you, even if they are not aware of it. When your truth resonates with their truth, they are inspired to give you their loyalty and be fully vested in having their work contribute to your larger vision.
- Grow strength by knowing yourself.
Because of the numerous rejections that are part of the audition process, I learned quickly that trying to fit myself into everyone’s idea of the perfect choice for each part was exhausting. I finally gave up and decided to bring my uniqueness to each role, no matter what the casting people said they wanted. To do this, I needed to discover and define what my unique perspective was. To undertake this introspection in a healthy way, I began practicing mindfulness and meditation to understand how I perceived things and how that influenced my attitudes. This helped me manage my mind and emotions in a way that kept me flexible and yet a bit detached so I was able to stay out of the drama and see the bigger picture when needed.
As a leader, you have to be effective in dealing with what keeps you up at night. Not necessarily the specific issue, but how you are looking at that issue. When you understand how your beliefs and assumptions impact what you see and how you see it, you allow yourself more possibilities for resolution. This self-awareness and self-discipline are the hallmarks of Emotional Intelligence.
- Adapt to the situation.
When I left acting and decided to utilize my marketing degree in a full-time position, I had to become enormously adaptive to this new business environment I was entering. I was making the leap out of my comfort zone and could not ask others to bend to what I needed or wanted. I had to find a way to transcend all the obstacles. I took an entry-level advertising sales position at a local boating magazine, not knowing one thing about boats. Twenty years later, I was publishing my own magazine on mindfulness for the corporate arena. This idea of adaptability has stayed with me throughout my career and has served me well whether working with others or leading others.
Leading is about being adaptive. People look to leaders for inspiration, not so much when things are going well, but when things are not going well. When conflict arises, when challenges show up you have to be hardy and resilient with the perseverance to get through tough circumstances with courage, optimism and confidence intact. Adaptability is a choice you make. You take responsibility for the bending that needs to be done to get the ball rolling. This does not mean you sacrifice your values but find a way to move forward that aligns with what you believe is most important.
For many business people, this is a tough one. Executives like to think they can plan for everything. However, more often than not, a crisis will come that cannot be planned for. When you live your life in a resilient way, you accept the setbacks and choose to move forward with plan B, C or D – some of which you have to make up right on the spot.
If you want to be a better leader, start by looking within. Learn to lead yourself well and you will spontaneously understand what it takes to lead others well. In whatever capacity that you lead, before you look to the next best external “actions” you need to take, or ways of “posturing” that will get the right message across, reflect on the similar journey you share with others, the strength you gain by knowing yourself more intimately and the adaptability you are willing to offer to life.
By the way, did you hear the one about the actress, the meditator and the businesswoman who walked into a bar…..