We all have the spark of leadership in us

We all have the capacity to inspire and empower others.

But we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our personal growth and development as leaders.

There are a myriad of management texts and cases that seek to define and categorise leadership. In my opinion, leadership is hard to define and is most often preached at a theoretical level. Through out my career, there have only been the very few times when I have seen it in action and immediately recognised it as leadership.  To be totally honest, only 3 people in my 12 year career thus far have I considered as good leaders.

So why is leadership such a thoroughly discussed subject yet, you only know it when you see it?

Two days ago I had the opportunity to attend a leadership course. I walked in with bare expectations, least it would have been an opportunity to self-improve. I was prepared to sit in a room and absorb all sorts of jargon, theories and models on leadership. In his introduction to the course, this is what he said:

“What if I told you that the best way to truly lead others — not just manage them — is to first get to know yourself?”

BOOM! Out of no where… the whole room was caught off guard. I sat up from my chair and he had my full attention. Ohh…what an interesting start, I was beginning to enjoy this course. Little did I know, in these two days I would begin to change how I see myself, and how I see leadership.

The trainer’s intent was clear from the start; he was not going to explore cookie-cutter leaderships styles and expect us to forever try to imitate it. All he asked from us was to be truthful with ourselves and follow him on a journey of self-discovery whereby we will start to understand that there is no rulebook on specific characteristics or traits of a good leader, but even more importantly we do not have to wait to be at the top of an organisation to be a leader.

We all have the spark of leadership in us.

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More often we are made to believe that good leadership is all about the people (team), and not about you (the leader).  This is evident in many self-help books, articles and blogs available today have been meticulously analysed, professionally written and categorised to help leaders understand their teams, how to communicate better with them, empower them, how to extract the best out of them and the list goes on.  There comes a point when one has to ask “If I study all the latest material and research, read all the books, mould myself on leaders like Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or even Nelson Mandela, what remains of me?”

You might as well be you. Everybody else is taken.

In reality most leaders today lead in an unconscious state of mind…they come in to work, attend to their day to day, sometimes encountering a challenge resulting in a rush of blood to the head and ending up in a frenzy. Despite how many books or publications on leadership they have read, we know they often make it up as they go along. That to me is dangerously scary and may even be the worst thing leaders could do for their team.

So if you’re in a position of leadership and don’t feel you have any blind spots, you’re either very naïve or very arrogant. All leaders have blind spots – the question is what are they doing about them? The reality is most leaders invest so much time assessing the cultural and functional dynamics of their organisations they often forget the importance of critically assessing themselves – BIG MISTAKE!

I believe that leadership is essentially an intrapersonal management process. Before leaders can start looking at their teams, they need to understand more about themselves. I believe the more you understand about yourself, the more you’ll be able to understand other people.

Learning and development are lifelong endeavours but how many of us dare to admit there is minimal investments in learning once leaders have reached the C-suite? The learning journey doesn’t come to an end just because you reach a certain station in life – or at least it shouldn’t. It is also not sufficient to have that Harvard Leadership programme once in your career lifetime and call it a day. It has consistently been my experience that leaders who are not growing simply cannot lead growing organisations.

In order to be a good leader, it requires a commitment to developing yourself. Being a leader is much more complicated than simply acting leader-like.  The 3 fundamental aspects for development are:

1. Are you self-aware?

Do you have perspective?

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Have you ever had the time (or tried to find some time) to do nothing but just reflect? You’ll be surprised (as I had found out) how you get to know yourself really well and really fast. By self-reflecting, you are able to bring your inner road-blocks to the light and attain that clarity you’ve been seeking for. By practicing self-reflection you are more in tune with your conscious and unconscious mind. What you’re developing here, is sensing. Sensing your intentions, your motives.

For example, have you been in a meeting where some leaders can just walk into a room and sense what’s going on? They listen when they need to listen, they talk when they need to talk. They seem to do exactly what’s required in that exact moment. How do they do it? It may appear they have developed an understanding of context and subliminal cues. Consciously and subconsciously, these leaders have developed their senses to constantly test themselves through real-world experiences and reframe their life to understand who they are at their core. As a result, they will start making conscious decisions about how to respond.

2. Are you sincere?

Are your words & actions accurately reflecting your inner self, so it cannot be an act?

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Many leaders pretend to be who they are, contrast to people who actually want to follow someone real. People are hungry for honest what-you-see-is-what-you get leadership – no beating around the bush, no sugar coating. Disguised flattery is an insincere compliment and most often, just plain insulting. People would see through them immediately. I never cease to be amazed at the great number of leaders who believe they can operate effectively in the absence of trust.

To me, insincerely is more obvious in the UK workplace. You see, unlike the rest of the world, the British have been brought up in code. Their politeness, is sometimes a curse. In the business world, this politeness is ubiquitous. In every meeting the British spend hours going around the mountains and back, yet they do not always mean what they say. If you’re like me – a non-British,  I find it hard to pick up their subtle cues to understand what they actually mean. For leadership, it’s an absolute nightmare.

3. Are you genuine?

Does it reflect who you are at your core?

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Real leadership comes from deep within – don’t B.S. me. Having integrity goes beyond speaking the truth to include taking responsibility for how one thinks and feels and what one does.  It includes the genuine presentation of oneself to others.  You have to ensure that your words are consistent with your deeds; yet, it is not enough just to practice what you preach. To get people to follow you, you also have to get them to relate to you.

In all my research, the greatest leaders looked inward and were able to tell a good story with authenticity and passion.              -Deepak Chopra

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Authentic leaders naturally demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. Ultimately, they know who they are and never lose sight of where they come from.

Authentic leaders, inspire their team naturally. By knowing themselves, they are often non-judgemental, direct and kind.

Here is an example of an authentic leader in action —

Always remember you get the team you deserve. They will become just like you. So why not be the best that you can be?

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