What is a REAL Leader?
Often when I tell people that I wrote a book called The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader, 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 The Pinocchio Principle 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, drawing 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 who 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, which 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.
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 that to do this, he or she must 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.
The Pinocchio Principle was written as a roadmap to help people bring to fruition their greatest dreams and visions and better navigate through the perils and possibilities along the way. Reading it will 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. You will learn methods for gaining clarity on your unique call to leadership and leveraging your experiences to prepare for something bigger. Navigational tools explored within the book 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.
As you begin to recognize and prevent assumptions and beliefs that keep you from your greatest work, you will learn to utilize ego in service to spirit. With this vital partnership, the elusive promises of Pleasure Island that divert you from your truest fulfillment are easier to recognize and work through. And facing your greatest fears in the belly of the whale becomes a transformational experience that will reunite you with your own determination, courage and heroism. In the end, you will rediscover the power that lies within us all to create and live our dreams. You will also 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.
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A portion of the proceeds from The Pinocchio Principle goes to the Center for Humane Living, a remarkable organization whose vision is to inspire all people to live peaceful and compassionate lives while implementing a fully humanitarian agenda.