I have always been amazed by the number of people who think of work as a necessary evil — simply what must be done to earn a paycheck. For so many who toil through their workday, the primary goal is to make it to the weekend so they can really live.
Going through the motions, working side by side with others whose hearts and minds they seldom truly connect with, they withhold the very parts of themselves that make them come alive.
For some it wasn’t always this way. Many began their careers ignited with passion and optimism, only to find that their flames began to flicker as they encountered obstacle after obstacle that kept them from achieving what they believed would be success.
Succumbing to the unwritten rules of the organizations and other environments they found themselves in, which suggested they needed to act or think in a certain way to get ahead, they may have slowly sold out on their dreams and relegated themselves to quiet complacency.
Many of us were not brought up to expect that work would be fun or gratifying in any way – nor should it be. That’s why they call it work, you may have been told. As a result, you may have never really expected much from your career or professional life. And as the saying goes, life has a way of living up to your expectations.
Most of us have learned how to turn ourselves on and off at will, in an effort to spare ourselves the pain of disappointment or frustration — or to maintain what we have come to believe is a professional demeanor. It is not uncommon to hear people say that they are very different at work than they are at home.
Those golden parts of yourself that you think you are protecting suffer when you don’t let them breathe and interact in the very realms that allow you to learn who you are and what you are here to do in the world.
You miss the chance to become a part of something greater than yourself. And the organizations and communities you are a part of miss out on the unique contribution you have the potential to make.
You can no longer afford to fragment yourself in this way, denying the fulfillment of your secret dreams and talents and downplaying the insights you have about what you can do to make life better — for yourself, and everyone around you.
As more and more of us feel the pain that accompanies the denial of our spirits, we have begun to realize that the time has come for us to bring the totality of who we are to what we do, no matter our vocation, title or role.
There are people among us who have the ability to snap us out of our trances — our states of quiet desperation — and help us bring more of who we truly are to everything that we do.
They can do this for others because they have done it for themselves. They are called “real leaders”. And they exist at all levels of organizations, regardless of their titles or roles.
Real Leaders inspire others to perform at their very best,
because they themselves are inspired.
When was the last time you felt inspired in your work? When was the last time you had passion for your career? What is it that allows you to feel a sense of wonder and contribution to something bigger?
If you have lost touch with that, do yourself and everyone around you a favor and take some time to reconnect with it. You have something deep inside that you are uniquely qualified and put on this earth to create or do.
When you were young, the energy of your dreams likely propelled you along your path — sometimes blindly, but it gets you off your duff and into action.
You’ve likely experienced hardships along the way and it may have felt at times as though you were failing again and again. Life throws you curve balls and you can find yourself feeling beaten down and doing what you can to just get by, running from one crisis to another and sometimes going in circles.
At some point, you will be tempted to check out and take an easier path – one that allows you to go numb and somewhat unconscious. It may work for a while, but over time you’ll begin to feel the misery that comes along with abandoning your dreams and letting your passion take the back seat.
What would it take for you to get excited about what you are doing right now? What is the bigger why of the work you do every day? Who does it serve, and how?
If you can’t answer that question, do some digging. When you can connect those dots to a bigger picture, you may find that what you thought was insignificant is quite meaningful – and a vital piece of a larger puzzle you are meant to help assemble.
As you recognize your part and the value you provide, perhaps you’ll be inspired to bring a little more of who you are to what you do by playing more fully, being more present, and connecting more deeply with those who rely on you.
Your passion is like a hidden well with unlimited reserves – in the act of tapping it, you will replenish it in such a way that it multiplies. And as you unleash it in your work, you will draw out something extraordinary in every human being that comes into contact with it. That is the essence of real leadership.
We are beginning to awaken to our unique calls to service, creativity and innovation. As you find ways to unleash your distinctive talents and passions at work, you will significantly increase the quality of your own life, as well as the lives of everyone around you.
It seems that we are at a kind of crossroads where the tension is mounting. The deviations and quick fixes that used to work are no longer as satisfying. The pain that comes from denying our greatest dreams and visions is beginning to intensify and more and more people are asking how they can create lives of meaning and significance.
Corporations that are taking steps to create environments that allow people to thrive will be met with rich rewards as ingenuity pours forth in ways that lead to increased profit and market share, as well as the creation of self-sustaining cultures that inspire people to sustain success by doing what they do best.
The Real Leader Revolution is already underway. People at all levels of organizations will continue to lead that charge both individually and collectively. Do you feel the call? It starts within your own mind – with having the courage to ask yourself what you really want from your work. By starting with ourselves, we can create what we most want to be a part of.
If you are interested in learning more about how to liberate yourself and your organization from unproductive, self-defeating and potentially damaging ways of doing business as usual, I encourage you to get on the waiting list for the release of my brand new free special report The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto. Sign up below to join the pre-notification list. More information on that coming soon…
You might tell yourself that work isn’t supposed to be fun – that’s why they call it work. But when you spend the majority of your waking hours just getting through the day or counting down to the weekend, you have a bigger problem than you might think.
Most of us don’t start our professions that way, but over the years disappointment, frustration and pressure can lead to disillusionment, disengagement, and burnout. Lack of passion and joy on the job will hit you hard in three major areas:
Let’s take a look at how work becoming a grind affects you personally.
You might think that as long as you can enjoy yourself after five (or six, or seven) and on the weekends, you will be just fine. But when you spend the better part of your day on a kind of autopilot, feeling like you’d rather be somewhere else, it’s hard to keep that negativity from spilling over to the rest of your life.
You may find yourself irritable, preoccupied, exhausted or just brain dead.
And whether you know it or not, that infringes on your ability to fully enjoy the things, experiences, and people in your personal life that you hold most precious.
You may even have a decent paycheck and enjoy a position of influence and status in your organization. But when the work you spend more of your waking hours doing is a continual grind, it’s easy to begin feeling as though life itself lacks meaning and fulfillment.
Perhaps you’ve made the decision (consciously or unconsciously) to put your personal happiness on the backburner in the name of your professional success and upward mobility.
Well, unfortunately lack of passion and joy on the job has a negative impact on your professional effectiveness as well. Let’s take a closer look at that.
You can try all you want, but when you are exhausted and overwhelmed you will work very long days spinning your wheels without getting a whole lot done. You may think you just don’t have enough time to finish everything on your plate. And while it is true that time is finite, your real problem is lack of energy.
Creativity and Problem Solving
Lack of energy makes everything take far longer than it should. It blocks you from accessing your creativity, leads you to unnecessarily complicate things, and pushes the solutions to your problems just out of reach. All of this will contribute to a feeling of being unable to get important things done, which will cause you to work longer hours and become even more exhausted.
If your job requires you to have even the slightest degree of influence over others, consider this: getting someone excited about doing something is largely a matter of sharing your enthusiasm. But enthusiasm isn’t something that is easily feigned. And when you try to fake it, you will come across as being disingenuous, which will keep others from trusting you.
It’s exceedingly difficult to get anyone — whether they are your coworkers, your direct reports, or your customers — to become excited about something you can’t muster up the passion for yourself. And while we’re on the subject of coworkers, direct reports, and customers, let’s talk about the impact lack of passion and joy on the job has organizationally.
If you are a leader of others — whether you know it or not — you are setting the tone for the entire organization.
If you are not feeling emotionally committed, passionate, enthusiastic and connected to your work and the people you partner with to do it, chances are the people you lead will not be feeling it either.
Research indicates that as much as 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged. That translates into people who are physically present on the job, but not emotionally or mentally all there. When people are disengaged they go through the motions, doing as little as possible to fly under the radar.
The Cost of Complacency
This complacency causes all kinds of problems, including low quality products and services, plummeting productivity, low creativity and innovation, strained customer relationships, intra and interdepartmental conflict, absenteeism, high turnover, and ultimately low profitability. It does little to attract key talent, and certainly does not contribute to having a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
What does that have to do with you?
Engaged employees are people who feel part of something bigger than themselves — an organization with a shared purpose that has meaning to them. And they want to work for a boss who is turned on and tuned in to the organization and them as people.
If you have no passion or joy for your own work, you will be hard pressed to inspire it in others. In fact, you could end up unwittingly sucking the joy from those who already are engaged, and/or driving them to look for work elsewhere.
Losing your passion and joy at work has significant implications for you on three different levels:
(1) Personally. You just can’t turn it on and off like a light switch. If you are feeling a lack of passion and joy at work, chances are good it will translate into your personal life, like a dark cloud that follows you around despite your insistence that you can shoe it away. You deserve more out of life than that.
(2) Professionally. The overwhelm, frustration, and exhaustion you feel is likely keeping you from performing at your best. While you may be working very long hours, your problem is not lack of time but rather lack of energy. Lack of energy is accompanied by lack of creativity, problem solving and influence. Energy comes with passion and joy. And when passion and joy are lacking, your performance will be lacking too.
(3) Organizationally. Just as passion and joy can be contagious, so too is the lack of it. A leader’s lack of passion and joy gets translated into disengagement, both for the leader, and the followers. Disengagement negatively impacts productivity, innovation, customer satisfaction, employee recruitment and retention — and ultimately profitability.
So if you feel like work has become a grind — but not a problem you have the luxury to address right now, think again. It may well be that you can’t afford not to. Rejuvenating your passion and joy on the job is easier than you think. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to find another job.
Consider making reigniting your passion at work a priority.
And if you are interested in receiving some support and guidance, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week small group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off on March 20. Sign up before March 10 and receive a 15% early bird discount!
Do you ever feel like you are in the middle of some kind of transformation, but not yet clear on exactly where you are going and what form things are going to take? Speaking from my own experience, it can be a bit unnerving when you are in the thick of it. You may feel as though you’ll never find your way through.
They say it helps to find inspiration from those who have gone before you. On that note, this week’s video post (which I filmed a few years ago when my daughter was still quite young), features a caterpillar.
I hope you enjoy it.
We have all experienced times of pressure, anxiety and sudden change.
When jobs are tenuous or organizations are restructuring, it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
I know it may feel as though you are at the mercy of your circumstances. However, even in the worst of situations you have more control than you might realize. One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response. And that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
Start with awareness.
The greatest change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there.
Extraordinary leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
Watch your stories.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means — and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from.
These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security.
They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
What’s the worst that can happen?
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK in the worst of scenarios, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
You have everything you need.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Ever notice that just when you get comfortable, life has a way of shaking things up? Some people seem to enjoy change more than others. Most of us prefer to be the ones doing the changing – it brings newness along with a sense of control – we are at the helms, steadfastly steering our ships. But imagine if you will, that a massive wave summoned by a hurricane has ripped the captain’s wheel right off the ship and you are left clinging to something that no longer has any power. The tighter you grip it, the less energy you have to deal with your circumstances in a way that will truly serve you (and everyone around you as well).
At times like these, we often pray for the storm to pass – for things to revert back to the way they were – or for a specific course of events that we believe would be life’s perfect solution. These solutions are based on what we think we know – which is largely a product of what we have already seen and experienced. And relying upon the patterns and strategies that worked for us in the past is often inadequate for our present and emerging challenges.
The world is changing and so are we.
We tend to strive for comfort and familiarity, even when what’s comfortable isn’t necessarily effective or even satisfying anymore. We wish and pray that the chaos be removed and order be restored. But often life’s little disturbances are exactly what we need to reach our true potential and escape complacency. Perhaps as Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now, “…what’s appears to be in the way IS the way.”
Stormy seas (and life’s sudden surprises) have a way of testing our resolve and our resiliency. Pressure brings out our extremes – for better or worse. And fear does funny things to people. At its worst, it produces panic – a physical state that literally disables the brain’s ability to think clearly. At one extreme a person is frozen by fear and at the other he will thrash about like a drowning victim who pulls his rescuers under the water with him. The key to surviving a seeming assault of this kind is learning to relax and stay calmly aware of our surroundings so that we can identify and creatively utilize the resources at our disposal.
One of the most critical resources in our control when all else seems beyond it is our perspective.
The way in which we view things determines the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening, which directly influences the responses we will have. If we believe we are helpless victims at the mercy of something that seeks to destroy us, we will become bitter, resentful and apathetic. In this state our true power remains dormant. We collude with our view of reality to create a condition that validates our doomsday stories and sink even deeper into the abyss. Those who try to rescue us from our self imposed paralysis risk being dragged beneath the current created by our own negativity.
If, however, we view our predicaments as adventures and see them as opportunities to give things all we’ve got, we reach deeply within ourselves and tap reserves of courage, wisdom and ingenuity we never realized we had. In the proverbial belly of the whale we find our inner grit and creatively rise up to life’s challenges in ways that transform us and everyone around us as well. We become the heroes of our own stories.
Regardless of who you are and what you do, there will come a time when the plateau you have been walking upon takes a steep turn in one direction or the other and you will be required to do something that stretches you beyond your usual way of doing things.
Perhaps it will be in your career. The work that fulfilled you at one point in your life may no longer be enough. You might find yourself doing something very well but suddenly devoid of the gusto you once did it with. It could be the company you keep – people who at one time shared your interests and passions but who you suddenly find yourself no longer wanting to spend a lot of time with. Maybe it will be your lifestyle. The objects and material possessions you that once gave you joy could one day feel more like clutter or distractions. These things become like shells that the hermit crab has outgrown. The crab must release its previous home and step bravely and vulnerably into the unknown in order to find something more spacious.
The quest for a new shell and even the new shell itself may feel daunting, clumsy and overwhelming. But the act of letting go of the old to make room for the new allows us to evolve and realize our true potential. Anything less will ultimately become imprisoning. When we allow ourselves room to grow, life’s little and big disturbances are not so daunting. We know there is more to us than meets the eye and finally step into our own greatness. And as we do this for ourselves, we model the way for others to do the same.
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being.
Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
– Albert Schweitzer
Leaders are people who have the ability to shine a light on their surroundings and everyone around them. The light they shine comes from within them, a product of the unique combination of their talent, energy and passion. The very best leaders are those who help others ignite their own sparks so that they too may serve as a beacon of hope, inspiration and courage. Illuminated by this light, our paths become brighter and we are able to clearly see any obstacles that lie before us so that we may swiftly and effectively overcome them and grow stronger in the process.
This light also allows us to recognize and bring out the strengths in ourselves and others that will allow us to persevere and emerge victorious in the face of our greatest challenges and setbacks. Exercising true leadership does not require that you have a degree from Harvard, or anywhere for that matter. As we endeavor to practice leadership in every aspect of our lives, no matter what our vocation or role, shining our light brightly requires that we remember a few key points.
Leadership focuses on possibility and potential
In times of widespread change, there is great fear. It is easy to become immersed and overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness, frustration, anger, and sadness. These feelings often lead us to become engaged in defensive routines that seek to place blame, or to resign ourselves to victim status, waiting for rescue. We must reframe what we are seeing and make sure the lens is clear. Shakespeare once said “It is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”
We can look at what is happening around us and instead of focusing on what is being destroyed, pay attention to what is rising up within us. We are stronger than we think we are. We are resourceful. Together we can create far more than we can individually. Often our greatest attributes, talents and strengths lie dormant inside of us until something happens that requires we summon them up. That time is now.
When we focus on the positive and put our energy on what is possible, we see solutions that previously evaded us and recognize that we are capable of far more than we realized. As we act from this frame of reference, we inspire others to do the same. When we focus on the positive attributes in others, we help bring them out and others recognize they have greatness within them as well. In this way, we are exercising leadership regardless of what our job or role is. This is what is needed most right now.
Leadership is more than position, title, status or power.
Leadership is not the private reserve of people who hold fancy titles, have people reporting to them, or are even in organizations at all. Leadership is about bringing out the best in everyone and helping them focus their unique talent, passion, energy and style into something that benefits a greater good. But we have to start with ourselves. We can’t wait for someone to come in and make everything right, or rely on people in high positions to do that for us (whether than be in organizations, communities or governments).
The more we look out there for our solution, the further we get away from the solutions each and every one of us holds within. We are all pieces of an intricate puzzle, and every single one of them is essential. We must take responsibility for what we have control over in our lives and make whatever impact is ours to make, even if that is only in our thoughts – in what we are paying attention to, in what we say and do, and in the example we set for others. We are collectively creating a reality that mirrors our thoughts. We must do what we can to keep that positive and constructive, so that our actions are that way as well.
Leadership is not a one man or woman show.
We are all familiar with the idea of a mighty hero, who is infallible, fearless, and all powerful. When people believe those should also be the characteristics of leaders, they act in ways that can become more disempowering than anything. Leaders who believe they have all the answers seldom listen much to others, except to know how to better defend their own positions.
If leadership is truly about bringing out the best in others, leaders need to learn how to better listen to and connect with others, with a mind that is open and has room for ideas and thoughts that may oppose their own. Only then will we find the solutions that truly benefit a greater good.
No one person has all the answers themselves. Leaders are there to help others unearth and do something with their ideas so that they can become a part of a collective solution. To do this, they must place just as much importance on what others have to say as they do on their own thoughts and ideas. In cases where leaders admit they don’t have the answers, they embrace the opportunity to show their own vulnerability as well as their faith in the ability of themselves and others to find the answers together.
True leadership unites. It does not divide.
Conflict is an inevitable part of life and relationships. It exists because we are different. We need to look at it in a way that allows us to come together and learn more about who we are and what we are able to do together. There will always be people who look different, believe differently and act differently than we do. Sometimes the things they do scare us because we don’t understand them and see them as a threat.
In every conflict, each party truly believes they are right, and most of the time they have very good reason (at least in their own minds) to think that way. The problem comes when they vilify or label others in ways that keeps us from truly learning more about what is really going on. And when we make someone else the villain, we don’t have to look at ourselves and make changes. We become entrenched and stagnated. Progress cannot occur when this happens.
We must embrace and learn from our differences. It takes greater courage to explore and learn from them than to build up walls that keep us alienated from each other. When we alienate, we keep ourselves from our own solutions.
We must also trust in our ability to work together to find solutions and get away from the blame game that sucks up our energy and leaves us frustrated and tired. When listening to a position that is contrary to our own, rather than becoming defensive, we must become curious. This practice will benefit ourselves and everyone around us. And we might learn something in the process.
Leadership brings life to our greatest dreams and visions.
Leadership is about taking people to a higher place. But before we can go there, we must envision it and create it. We must pay attention to the ideas, thoughts and inspirations that land gently on us and beckon to be given a vehicle to enter the world. In order to do that, we need to take steps in our own lives to nurture them. These ideas come to us when we are relaxed, thoughtful, and open. This does not happen when we are rushing around putting out fires.
We must create the time in our daily lives to honor and develop our dreams, and to take care of ourselves in such a way that those dreams continue to come to us. We must pay at least as much attention to the possibilities for change and improvement that exist all around us as we do trying to keep things running the way we think they should.
Many of the things we devote our time to trying to control and improve have served their purpose and need to be replaced by something else. Leaders are those who ask the tough questions about whether what we are doing and have been doing is still in everyone’s best interests. When times change greatly, we must change with them.
We need to pay attention to the small still voice within us that dares us to be greater. And we must quiet ourselves enough to truly hear what it has to say. Then we need to have the courage to take action in spite of our fears. We must be willing to move out of our comfort zones and act boldly. And in so doing, we will model the way for others to do the same.
Think of a leader that you admire and would like to emulate.
What is it about that person that impresses you the most?
I often ask that question of people in my workshops. Some identify historical figures, some modern day civic leaders, athletes, musicians or public figures. Many talk about a current or previous boss they’ve had. And still others will speak of a teacher, a coach or a parent. The interesting thing about the subsequent discussion on the impressive qualities of these leaders is that it is almost never about what leaders do or have done, but rather WHO THEY ARE.
Words used to describe these people include honest, authentic, courageous, inspiring, sees the best in others and believes in them, visionary, respectful, communicative, not afraid to make mistakes, humble, engaging, walks their talk, builds a strong team, develops others, shares credit, and the list goes on.
Early in my career, I taught a lot of classes on how to lead – covering subjects like creating and communicating a compelling vision, delegation, setting goals, providing performance feedback, resolving conflict, etc. What I’ve realized through the years is that the extraordinary leaders are not necessarily people who have mastered all the techniques.
They are people who have the ability to speak to our hearts as well as our minds, and to awaken something in people that lies dormant, waiting to emerge. They then help people to tap these inner reserves and apply them to create something that makes the organization (or the world) a better place for everyone. Great leaders learn to do this by first doing it for themselves. The rest they pick up along the way.
Leadership strategies, tools and techniques fall flat unless the people who employ them have strong personal foundations. Extraordinary leaders have learned over the years who they are and they bring the best of themselves to everything they do. Much of their wisdom has come from making mistakes and learning from them in ways that allow others to benefit. They refuse to be something they are not and have the courage to take a stand. They care deeply about others, but are independent of the good opinion of others and therefore free to be themselves.
The best of leaders, regardless of role, title, or vocation, bring out the best in people. Often they see things in others before they are able to see it in themselves. From this space, they interact and communicate with the person one is becoming – the strong, capable, smart, willing, and resilient contributor who then becomes instrumental in translating vision into reality. The extraordinary leader knows that anything less than this is an illusion.
Great leaders do not make their people great. They simply help others to see the possibilities and invite them to the table. They present us with a vision and a choice and hold a space within which we can show up and grow. The rest, of course, is always up to us.
Often when I tell people that I wrote a leadership book called The Pinocchio Principle, they assume it must have something to do with ethics. It’s understandable, since the first thing most of us think of when we hear “Pinocchio” is a puppet whose nose grew when he lied. Pinocchio could easily be used as a metaphor for people who lie through their teeth while their proverbial noses grow. I can see why some might think it is a commentary on the importance of honesty in leadership. And while being truthful to oneself and others is a vital part of being a “real” leader, the reason I picked Pinocchio as a metaphor goes much deeper than his nose.
Pinocchio is the story of a puppet who longs to become REAL.
Like Pinocchio, at our core we too have a burning desire to become real, to bring into creation the greatness that resides somewhere within us. We are born with these impulses — to give form to our distinctive blends of talent, energy, passion and style. We come into the world equipped with far more than we are immediately able to utilize or even comprehend. And though these rich parts of ourselves are always there, they have a way of becoming latent over time.
There are people among us who have found ways to tap that well.
They draw forth bits of the magic we are all capable of. These are the people we love to watch and be around — who do what they do so well that it is an art. As they tap their inner reserves and unleash their own greatness, they inspire each of us to do the same. In this way, they are true leaders.
In Walt Disney’s rendition of Pinocchio, the puppet encounters a blue fairy.
She tells him, “When you prove yourself to be brave, truthful, and unselfish, Pinocchio, then you will become a real boy.” One could imagine what Pinocchio might have been thinking upon hearing these words. What are these things this fairy speaks of? How do I get them? What must I do? How long will it take? Where do I start? With the promise of a dream fulfilled, he endeavors to do whatever is necessary. And the odyssey begins. The twists and turns it takes are trials we can all relate to, and challenges that I believe are a part of our human experience.
The qualities that the Blue Fairy encourages Pinocchio to demonstrate are not things he must acquire.
They are attributes he already possesses. But in order to activate them, he must endure a series of events that allow him to realize these qualities are there and to exercise them accordingly. In order to return to himself — his true self — Pinocchio must endure a journey of trials and tribulations that first lure him away from himself. And the same kind of drama seems to unfold in one way or another for each of us.
Every one of us has within us an animating genius.
This genius yearns to take different forms depending on who we are. Real leaders could be defined as those whose animating genius longs to create something for the greatest good, which is ultimately accomplished for, with and through others. It has a keen ability to look around, see possibilities and utilize resources in a way that brings something into existence that benefits others, whether that is a family, a community, a non-profit organization, a corporation, or the world at large. To accomplish this, leaders have the distinct charge of working with others in a way that brings out their best — that allows those we can impact to find the animating genius within them and apply it in service of accomplishing a common goal.
Before leaders can bring out animating genius in others, they must start with themselves.
Many of us associate the primary meaning of “to lead” as directing something on a given course, or being in charge, and this can be one of the functions of leadership. But the essence of leadership is much more than this. The Merriam Webster Dictionary has the following entry as the first definition listed for the word “lead”: “a: to guide on a way especially by going in advance.”
If one of the essential functions of a leader is to bring out the best in others, this definition would suggest doing so requires that leaders first bring out the best in themselves. This, in and of itself, is the very same odyssey our friend Pinocchio finds himself on: to discover and liberate within himself what is real — divinely inspired genius — and to courageously apply it in a way that is truthful and unselfish.
I wrote The Pinocchio Principle to serve as a roadmap for bringing out the best in yourself and others. My desire is to help people bring to fruition their greatest dreams and visions and better navigate through the perils and possibilities along the way. The book was written to help you:
- Better differentiate what is true within yourself from the conditioning that would have you acting in ways that are inauthentic and self-defeating
- Gain clarity on your unique call to leadership and leverage your experiences to prepare for something bigger
- Explore navigational tools that will help you determine the extent to which you are on or off course and the direction you need to take next on your journey to becoming a real leader
- Recognize and prevent assumptions and beliefs (your strings) that keep you from your greatest work so that you can utilize ego in service to Spirit
- Recognize and steer clear of the elusive promises (Pleasure Island) that divert you from your truest fulfillment
- Face your greatest fears (the belly of the whale) in a transformational way that will reunite you with your own determination, courage and heroism
- Rediscover the power that lies within us all (the fairy’s wand) to create and live our dreams
- Find ways to return to the quiet places within yourself that nurture and inform your greatest visions
The ultimate odyssey is always that of self-discovery. Every challenge, every opportunity gives us a chance to learn more about who we really are and to utilize our inherent gifts in service to something greater than ourselves. When we give ourselves completely to the journey and find meaning in each step along the way, we will truly live. And through our example and the unique contributions we all have to make in the world, we will truly lead.
We stepped out into the crisp January air, her small, sweet hand wrapped in mine. She smiled with her whole body as we began our walk to the park. Each of my steps was two or three for her. We paused often to smell flowers and watch bugs zig zag across the sidewalk. The sun’s rays danced on the leaves of the elm trees above us and filtered softly onto our shoulders. The birds showered us with song.
It was a brand new day. A brand new year, for that matter. And we were seizing it.
My morning with my three year old niece was a liberating one. It took us twenty glorious minutes to make our way a few hundred yards from the house my husband grew up in to the old elementary school grounds down the street. When we got there, Lucy stretched her arms out like wings and ran joyfully across the playground as the wind playfully tossed her wavy blond locks and almost seemed to lift her off the ground. She was freedom personified. Sheer joy. Exuberance.
And I thought, this is what I want more of in my life.
Maybe it was the week of vacation that preceded our little walk that allowed me to forget about all the thoughts that had furiously competed for my attention before we left for our trip. Perhaps it was being a few hundred miles away from home and all the things that needed to be done – tasks yet to be finished and those yet to come. Or maybe it was the sheer inspiration of my beautiful little companion that allowed me to be fully and completely present, immersing myself in each moment and allowing it to unfold without any interference on my part. I felt alive. Vibrant. Happy.
We tottered on balance beams, skipped across hopscotch squares, and visited a coop of chickens, watching them peck at the ground and contemplating what each bird’s name should be. But the highlight of our little jaunt was the tall, spiraling slide that crowned the jungle gym. Lucy had decided she wanted to ride down on my lap. We got half way up and stopped. She looked up to our destination, and then down from where we had started and said, “That’s high.”
“Yes, it is sweetie,” I replied. “We don’t have to go up there if you don’t want to.”
She looked at me for a moment and then wrinkled her brow with determination and resolve. “I want to slide!”
“OK then. Here we go…” We climbed the last couple of steps and squatted onto the platform. Lucy sat tall on my lap, brimming with courage and delight. “One, two, three!” As we let go and spiraled down the slide, the squeal of her laughter brought a wild and uninhibited smile to my face.
And I thought again, this is what I need more of in my life. Maybe this is what we all need more of in our lives.
I know. It’s easy for a three year old to experience sheer joy and bliss at the very prospect of being alive. They have no responsibilities, no bills to pay, no people depending on them. They have yet to experience heartbreak, disappointment, and disillusionment. And let’s face it – our adult lives are a lot more complicated than a day at the park playing hopscotch and watching bugs and chickens. I still can’t help but think about it.
Now, back at my desk, staring at my Outlook calendar, I can still feel the childlike wonder and euphoria of that day. It begs the question, how can I bring more of that to my life? To my work? To the world?
This question has begun to deepen and grow roots. It has taken on a life of its own. It peeks out from my computer screen and beckons to me. It lands softly in my mind as I drive to and from appointments. It jumps out of file folders and onto my desk. It takes a seat at the table when I meet with my clients. And it brings with it more questions…
What if we could somehow strip our daily activities of the assumptions and heaviness they have accumulated over the years and approach things with the same sense of curiosity and delight that little Lucy did on that beautiful January morning?
Could we rediscover and ignite our passion for living in all the many areas of our lives – including the countless hours we spend at work?
Could we find a way to mute the thoughts that keep us from being totally present with people in our lives so that we could really be with them?
Could we let go of our preconceived ideas of how things are supposed to be and allow them to unfold the way they need to, trusting that we will summon whatever resources are necessary to deal with things as they come?
Could we respond to situations that push us out of our comfort zones with the fortitude and tenacity that Lucy displayed on the towering spiral slide?
Imagine what life would be like if we did… How much more joy we would experience. How creative we could be. How courageous and resilient. How our relationships would deepen and grow. How meaningful our work would become.
I, for one, think it’s a question worth considering. And just maybe, the very attention we put on the question will begin to illuminate the answers we need most.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
What is it that you are longing to create in the coming year?
And what do you need to let go of in order to allow it to fully take root?
Every year, we are encouraged to set New Year’s resolutions. We are a goal driven society that is conditioned to seek more. Our egos desire more money, more fame and prestige, and more stuff. A deeper part of ourselves longs for more peace, more meaning, and more purpose in our lives. We want to move beyond our previous realizations of what we’ve already accomplished to master newer, better ways of doing things –whether that be what we create in our lives or in our organizations – and as leaders what we are able to inspire others to do as well.
Though it is tempting to occupy ourselves with thoughts of how we can go about achieving all of this and what we need to do more of, perhaps what we really need to start with is what we need to do less of – what we need to let go of in order to create the space for something new to come in. We are constantly evolving as human beings – and as communities of human beings. It is so easy to look to the past to define who we are though the things we’ve already done – goals we’ve achieved, titles we’ve acquired, creations we have built. Our previous experiences coagulate to form an identity that is easy to confuse with our true nature.
The fact of the matter is, you are not your accomplishments, your creations, or the sum total of the various roles you play in your life – manager, director, vice president, mother, father, friend, son, daughter, etc. You are much, much more than that. Your potential is limitless.
And yet, we limit ourselves by these definitions. They filter the experiences we allow ourselves to have and compel us to define the form that our deepest longings should take. In order to be happy, we reason – we must get that promotion, achieve this or that particular goal, hit that target. So we continue to go through the motions, doing the kinds of things we’ve always done – on a sort of auto pilot.
Some of this may bring satisfaction, and some may bring a growing source of discontentment. We need to attune ourselves to that which brings us the most of what we truly desire and open ourselves to the possibility that what we really want may need to come in a form that has previously been undefined for us. In short, we must allow ourselves to surrender what we think we know to open up to the mystery that is unfolding in each of our lives.
Easier said than done, right? How exactly do you go about letting go of the known when it is all you know?
We can take our cues from nature. Snakes and other reptiles shed their skin, trees drop their leaves, and caterpillars create cocoons in which their forms entirely dissolve before recreating themselves in the form of butterflies. Even a fish in a bowl cannot stay in water that contains its excrement – the waste must either be emptied and replaced with new water, or absorbed by something else that will remove it from the fish’s environment. Without engaging in these renewing processes, these creatures will die. And so it is of us. Many of us are already walking around encased in layers of old, dead stuff that needs to be released.
What are you holding onto in your life that has run its course? What are the old outmoded ways of doing things that no longer bring you energy? What are the things you’ve acquired that you no longer need? What beliefs are you holding onto that are no longer true for you?
Pay attention to the times that you feel constricted, anxious, or tired and in those moments ask what you can let go of. Don’t be afraid of the answer. Though it may frighten you because it introduces an element of the unknown, following these insights will always lead to freedom and liberation.
Your computer can only handle so much data. If you do not delete old email and get rid of files that have been accumulating over the years, and if you continue to add new programs without deleting old ones, you will find that it becomes sluggish and unresponsive. Just as freeing up space allows your computer to process things more quickly, so too will clearing your own personal space (whether of things or thoughts) allow you to access new levels of clarity and creativity.
You will breathe easier, be more present in every action and interaction you partake of, and bring more of who you really are to what you do. And you will open up the space of possibility that will allow something to come in that may surprise and delight you. Rather than being something you slave away for, it will simply emerge and reveal itself to you.
And of course, any work you do on yourself will serve as a form of leadership for others who, like you, seek their own answers and could benefit from your example of unearthing what is possible and allowing it to take form in new and unexpected ways.
Butterfly photo by wiangya.