Leadership Lit Up: Five distinctions that separate the best from the rest

“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 

light-person-woman-fireLeaders 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).

ID-100313162The 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.

Puzzle image courtesy of bluebay at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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