LEADERSHIP IS A JOURNEY OF SELF-TRANSFORMATION
Seriously thinking that I need a break, don´t you? Yet lucid enough to be grateful for this “school year”, in spite of the challenges, or maybe precisely because of their positive externalities: some key realizations resulting from the deepening of the questions.
My greater discovery (or should I say confirmation?) is the profound insight that leadership is a journey of self-transformation. Only when we finally stop fighting and trying to change others are we ready to discover that leadership is almost purely an “excuse” to engage in self-transformation. Everything else is day-to-day management, even if we decorate it.
Most voices agree that we are witnessing the birth of a “New Order”, where our leaders are facing new dilemmas, which seem rather intractable to many of them. The very concept of leadership is being redefined, and there is a rising consensus that only through building a new kind of collective leadership will we be prepared to face this “Order” in a way that is conscious, intentional and strategic. We are also witnessing the decline of the "heroic leader", as no one can solve the adaptive challenges that we are facing both at the macro and at the micro level. I would dare to add that in the medium term –and I hope that this is much more than wishful thinking- we will also be witnessing the decline of selfish leaders, and that real social commitment will once again become "fashionable", even if only for those who want to enjoy fulfilling lives. Last but not least, we are definitively in need of “complex thinkers”, able to transcend polarities and to continue expanding their minds -and their consciousness- to work through them wisely.
To navigate these new circumstances, we need leaders who cross the boundaries of their own thinking –and emotions- and evolve those of their businesses, organizations and teams. We also need to question the suitability to face the future of traditional leadership structures and styles. And above all, we need leaders for whom the "technology" of transformation is familiar and who have skills that are quite different from those that were so useful when problems were better defined, that is, in the "past" of leadership. And we need, according to my personal “crystal ball”, people who do not take themselves too seriously, with the vision and the generosity to put ahead the long term and the “common good” agenda, and who add to the formula a strong will and a good dosage of sense of humor and perspective.
Intrigued? Willing to explore more for your own sake? I started writing today thinking that this is a topic which deserves both you and me, and that it is complex and profound enough to last us for a while. I also thought that for years I have been in a privileged position, which has taught me many lessons on the topic, first from my own experience in different “worlds”, but much more than that, from my work with (already? truly?) about 2000 leaders from more than 120 nationalities. I believe that the task is worth the effort, and that even if we do not reach any conclusion, just to engage in this reflection process would be powerful in and of itself. My conclusion is that I am going to spend the coming months exploring the “qualities” that those who want to play a transformative leadership role -myself included- should cultivate and, more importantly, that I would love to find ways -including this blog- to receive your feedback on this task.
For starters, my first insight is that those qualities go beyond culture, nationality, religion or sector. In fact, they transcend those “details” and are present in the best and most successful leaders - and human beings- that I have come in contact with, and I would dare to say, as I often tell my clients half-jokingly, that they are probably true of leaders from other galaxies. Secondly, I am now, after many years of trial and error, acutely aware of the fact that great leadership starts with "private victories", which begin with the Self, before it can be expressed outside, in the "we", and that those “victories” have much more to do with “being” than with "doing". In other words, that the transformation required in order to have a real impact on the environment begins necessarily in the being. This is where the “journey” starts and the realization that the “being” is the only place from where it can be truly taken is precisely the reason why we have so much change and so little transformation going on.
The journey is therefore not for the fainthearted, and it truly requires our undivided attention. You will agree with me that one of the most important things that we have in these times of "landslides" is our attention. Our world is full of people who are absent and "away from home". The best antidote that I know against this feeling of absent-mindedness –which can hardly coexist with the courage required for the transformation of Self and others- is to deliberately cultivate silence, inner strength, and presence.
In my work I find people, teams, organizations that act -during overwhelming percentages of their time- without pausing to reflect. Let me leave outside of this reflection process the fact that we make “plans” that are more or less efficient, even if they change constantly, to quiet our sense of uncertainty. I am talking about listening and acting from individual and collective presence in an “encounter” with oneself, with the circumstances, and with others, that has the potential to change what we think, do… and are. That presence is the greatest asset we have and also the most threatened in our times.
In my experience, that presence is necessarily nourished -and vice versa- through "gravity", one of the ancient virtues that Roman society appreciated the most, along with veritas, pietas, humanitas or honestas. And please, let us not confuse the term "gravitas" with "gravity", understood as self-importance, so common in our management teams and in our meeting rooms, as they have nothing in common apart from the fact that both derive from the Latin word that indicates weight.
The "gravitas" I am talking about has an ethical sense, it is related to seriousness (and not to solemnity) and dignity and it connotes a certain substance or depth in the personality. To be a great leader you have to have weight, you have to think, rethink, question, reflect, research, engage... Our day-to-day cannot overpower us, and we need to find the time to cultivate this presence and this gravity, which require -indeed they demand- a great degree of personal discipline, greater and greater the more complex the challenges we have to deal with.
Until, I am told, one becomes comfortable in that “sea” of complexity and we stop “trying” to change anything or anyone any more, our consciousness expands and we feel a sense of gratitude and joy… This is where real transformation takes place, coming from an expanded consciousness, a humble vowing, a true understanding of the “game” and, more than anything, from the realization of the beauty of the real –not imaginary- journey.
My best wishes for a great summer, and for a great journey. May you only encounter the best winds.