I think we can all agree there is a crisis in leadership. At the heart of this crisis is lack of trust. I don’t want to get into a discussion on the pros and cons of the leaders of the past and the leaders we have now.
What I want to do is to generate a discussion around the idea of leadership that goes way beyond the personalities of those at the top and the characteristics they display (or lack thereof).
We can all be leaders in some shape or form. It is time to reclaim the word leadership and bestow upon it a new meaning. Let’s transform the concept of leadership into something different – something that reflects the change we all want to see in society. Something that resonates with all of us, not just the powerful and the wealthy. Leadership that comes from a different place – a place that holds greater wellbeing for all at the very heart of it. Leadership with a much greater purpose.
Every day we read about, watch or listen to stories of poor leadership. Untrustworthiness, lies, selfishness, unchecked ego, bullying and betrayal – these things are not limited to one country or one type of institution. It’s all very daunting – so where do we start? Quite simply, I think we start with ourselves. We look inward. Who you are is how you lead. This saying is put out there a lot – it’s time to embrace it.
Until we improve self-awareness, understand our own values and understand how to align our actions to these values, we cannot be true to who we are. If we want authentic and trustworthy leaders, we must prioritise self-awareness. Self-awareness is a process of growth and takes time and personal commitment. This type of growth must be ultimately be owned by the individual but without understanding and commitment from companies, organisations and institutions, it will not be possible.
Across the board, we need to demand a culture that enables leaders, and even more importantly, emerging leaders, to do the work on themselves.
Allowing time for deeper self-awareness takes courage on the part of the individual and the organisation. Leaders of the future need experiential learning and support that immerses them in content they can connect deeply with. Through the process of realisation and reflection, we start to see a transformation. We see the emergence of higher self-esteem – a necessity for leadership. It’s important not to confuse high self-esteem with an over-inflated ego.
Ego is not a bad word. We all have one. It is the sense of our own worth. The idea we have of ourselves. An over-inflated ego is very different from having high self-esteem. We see leaders in all walks of life, from politics to companies to reality TV, displaying the traits of self-inflated egos. Ignoring their own flaws, always putting themselves and their opinions before others, using fear and anger to get what they want, defensive, need to have their commands followed at all times, take credit for others work. Over-inflated egos can often mean low self-esteem.
Whereas people with high self-esteem have clear and consistent values, lead with empathy, are open to feedback, are good listeners, learn and grow from setbacks and encourage growth in others, engage meaningfully and form strong connections, can appreciate different perspectives and are not threatened by opposing ideas, are compassionate, to themselves and to others. Importantly, they know how to keep their ego in check.
These are the types of characteristics we want to think about when we talk about good leadership. Leadership for the greater wellbeing for all. These are also the characteristics we want to see in our workplaces when we want to rally employees around a common vision. Someone who is in it for the team, not just for personal gain. Inspiring, empowering and values-driven.
For those organisations concerned why their staff morale and levels of engagement are low, or stress and anxiety levels are high, I ask you to do two things: please look closely at what motivates all of us – feeling valued, meaningful engagement, connections, respect. When we have this, we thrive. So encourage your leaders to work on their self-awareness. This isn’t magic. It can be learned. But it must be practised. When they have done this you will find more selfless and compassionate leaders who are then able to be more aware of others and of the situations around them.
When you are identifying potential leaders for your organisation, try to look at leadership through a different lens. Observe. Try to look beyond the day to day skills or competencies such as being able to organise and control work to achieve specific results. Instead ask yourself: Is this person self-aware? Are they compassionate and supportive? Have they formed strong connections? Do they have a strong sense of who they are? Do they align their actions with their values? These are the people who are best placed to take leadership to a new level. Invest in them.
Let’s not let the egocentric leaders of yesterday define leadership for generations to come.
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