Leading from Inside Out

As I wrote earlier, the five-day immersive session with Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute gave me the time and space I needed to regain clarity, focus, and direction. While sharing five meaningful days with eighty other engaged leaders, I reaffirmed what leaders need in order to succeed in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment.

Leaders need to start with themselves.

The only person we have true control of is ourselves. It’s hard to make anyone do anything that they aren’t motivated to do. Even children insist on being their own persons. We ourselves don’t want to be forced to do anything. We’re much more successful when we are internally driven to accomplish things that matter to us in ways that works for us.

If we want to bring our vision alive in the world, we must start with ourselves. It’s a deceptively simple concept, but we all know that we tend to look elsewhere—to start with something or someone other than ourselves. It’s much easier to write up a plan, a strategy, a product or service design, a job description for new hires, but the key to any successful transformation is for the leader to demonstrate by example. If a leader cannot embody, be, or live what they want their teams to embody, be, or live into, the transformation won’t happen. People don’t follow what leaders say; they follow what they do. Our deeds speak louder than our words.

Leaders need to engage in conversations.

Susan Scott writes in her book, Fierce Conversations, “All conversations are with myself, and sometimes they involve other people.” And that’s why, she says, it’s so important to spend time conversing with ourselves. I agree. Unless and until we know who we are, and what we intend to do with our precious life, how can we have authentic conversations with others, let alone lead?

When we know what we are about, where we are going and why, we can enlist others to help through conversations. To get to the destination together, we need the insights, perspectives, and on-the-ground experience of our colleagues and team members. When leaders can share a clear vision and purpose, and listen and learn from their employees, partners, and supporters, then everyone can be ignited and inspired to do their part to accomplish a shared vision that no one person could do alone.

Relationships live in conversation, and conversation is the work of leaders. The quality and strength of relationships depend on the authenticity and integrity of the leader.

Leaders need to commit to a long-term vision.

Changing the world might be an impossible dream. But so many of us have benefitted from those before us who believed that impossible dream of making a difference that mattered to them and to the world. The seeds we plant today may not become a tree during our lifetime, but we plant them for our children and their children’s children.

The alternative is to allow ourselves to succumb to today’s cynicism—self-doubt engendered by a social script that kills us slowly, silently, and steadily, and fear that keeps us safe, small, and shriveled. The aliveness we feel is directly proportional to the risk that we take to listen to our inner voice that whispers the next step we must take on the path that is calling us toward a horizon that has our name on it.

Leaders need to recharge themselves with joy.

Joy is my preferred choice of inner fuel for leaders. It can replace all kinds of shiny objects and unhealthy addictions in the form of habits, things, or relationships. Joy comes from within. Not from outside. And accessing joy is much easier than you think. If you don’t believe me, you can read Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan, and join a tribe of joyful leaders practicing “The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within” (the subtitle of the book).

I used to think that I needed to work harder, get my email under control, and acquire, achieve, and accomplish more, faster, and better. When I learned to be still, quiet my mind, and focus on my innerscape and tend and befriend myself first, I became my own best friend. By getting to know myself better, and accepting my weakness and strengths without judging myself harshly, I began to cultivate inner joy. I no longer needed or depended on external things to fill my bucket. I could fill it with the free, environmentally friendly fuel known as joy.

Leaders need to be supported by other leaders.

It’s critical for leaders to be surrounded by other leaders who can hold a space and provide honest feedback in a safe, supportive environment. This was my biggest take-away from being with eighty other engaged, ambitious global leaders who want to change the world for the better. Entrepreneurs, corporate intrapreneurs, community leaders, CEOs, all provided their diverse perspectives and valuable insights. It was priceless to learn how I showed up, and to receive the gift of honest feedback from a trusted group of leaders whom I admired and respected.

Leadership is a team sport. When we try to go it alone, and believe that we need to have all the answers, and come up with the perfect solution for every challenge we encounter, we are writing ourselves a prescription for failure. The world is complex and constantly changing. Competing values and opportunities show up every day, demanding skillful, appropriate, and masterful responses. We need to remember that we are not alone. Help is everywhere if we can pause to lean in, look, listen, and learn.

If you’re interested in learning more about how cultivating mindfulness and emotional intelligence can help strengthen your leadership skills, SoulCo invites you to join our complimentary 8-week learning series starting on November 1, 2016 in Cambridge, MA. Contact us for more information.

If you’re interested in learning more about how cultivating mindfulness and emotional intelligence can help strengthen your leadership skills, SoulCo invites you to join our complimentary 8-week learning series starting on November 1, 2016 in Cambridge, MA. Contact us for more information.