If you were to ask the average man or woman in the street what makes a good leader, the majority, I think, would put forward qualities such as strength, determination, courage and, for many, ruthlessness. If you were to ask how many people demonstrate such qualities, our fictitious survey group might cite Napoleon, Wellington, Margaret Thatcher and some leaders of industry such as Richard Branson. Leadership is perceived as being
in short supply. We are, so many believe, crying out for leadership. (One of the arguments put forward for grammar schools has been that they would produce the next generation of military and industrial leaders).
But while the word 'leader' usually conjures up the picture of someone like JFK, we are all leaders at certain times - and not just in special circumstances. A parent needs to lead his or her children. A partner within a relationship will, if the relationship is to be balanced and work, have times of being the leader and other times of being led. Even though leadership may not be a full time occupation, we will all have moments when others look to us for direction, guidance and support.
My experience as a trainer and a consultant has made me very aware that every trainer and every consultant is a leader, and that they have different ways of leading. Becoming clear about my own style of leadership has been very important for me both personally and professionally. It has involved me making explicit some of the assumptions and beliefs that govern my behaviour and has enabled me to recognise how these fundamentally affect the messages I send, and the way of working that fits for me.
Leadership, I have found, is like charity - it begins at home. To be a good leader of others you first need to know how to lead yourself - and when you can lead yourself you can lead others. I think you need to be clear about the journey you wish to make, the speed at which you wish to travel and the beliefs and values that will guide your path. In the training courses that I run, we call this process pacing yourself (In other words, being true to yourself and not trying to force yourself to be anything that deep down you know you cannot be). It is about becoming the leader that is already within you.
So often when I'm coaching executives my function is to draw out what they have not recognised that they have within themselves. In the context of training, this means allowing the leader to come out as opposed to teaching slick tricks or having to stick 'leadership' on from the outside much as you might stick wall cladding on a house to
cover up cracks. Leadership, when you are true to yourself, flows like a river and is without effort. It emanates and radiates. It is not something that is forced out with determination, or that creates high blood pressure and sleepless nights.
Put another way, leadership is about personal congruence. And the key to personal congruence is being able to pace yourself. To pace yourself you need to be able to honour and acknowledge the different aspects of yourself whether your conscious mind likes them or not. You will also need to address your own particular habitual patterns and experiences. If this sounds like a tall order, the good news is that the ways to achieve this can all be taught.
In addressing these areas I have found myself personally changing and becoming more completely aligned, a process which can be unending for anyone who seeks to realise more of themselves than they have currently achieved. It is like becoming a charioteer with all your horses running in the same direction, at the same speed and with the same intentions. The pay-off is enormous as you are truly able to walk your talk, to practice what you preach or to do what you say. It produces a particular kind of leadership style which is sometimes called 'leading by example'. This is about leading by being: being one whose behaviour is naturally aligned with who you are and what matters to you. My experience is that once people know they can have this, they want it very badly because it is profoundly healing and very empowering.
Leading in this way whether at work or in your personal life means acting with personal purpose stemming from a centred sense of self. It is centred because it steers a safe course between grandiose self-promotion and unitive self-criticism, rather than oscillating violently between the two. To use a much abused word, this really is
empowering. The fruits of such self-empowerment are readily apparent.
Leaders who are empowered have as a high priority the empowerment of those they lead. Expect such people to be: (i) clearer about what matters to them and more able to be themselves; (ii) not just confident but truly competent; (iii) creative because they are able to adapt what they have learnt to their own circumstances; (iv) not just knowing about a subject, but really able to do it and even to live it.
Once you can pace yourself you are ready to lead yourself and others. The more I have been able to lead in this way, the less I have needed to try to dominate others personally or professionally. The more competent the person becomes, the less they need to dominate, whether as a trainer, a parent, a consultant, a manager, or whatever.
My research suggests that the most effective leaders are motivated by a vision that is allied to their mission. Their mission is an expression of who they are and as a result it is not just a bunch of words, it manifests from within and is an expression of that individual's identity.
Unfortunately, many find themselves in businesses and organisations, in positions where they are expected to demonstrate a leadership style which is not really them, a cultural 'norm' that just doesn't fit. If the culture is made up of bullies bearing threats to create an atmosphere of 'have to' as opposed to one of 'want to', and your nature and belief systems are thrown into conflict when trying to copy such behaviours, leadership will become a heavy burden. Each day will be an exercise in girding loins and repeating in your head 'it's either them or me'. If you are then judged by your ability to mimic external behaviours that violate the inner values that you hold, the way you come across will be seen as confused, indecisive and not 'the stuff we're looking for'. On the other hand, if
you succeed in this deception you may feel split and unable to be yourself. And over time this can eat away inside you, and at your success, like a corrosive acid. As one executive I was coaching said, " On the outside I've got it all but inside I just feel like a hollow tube."
To enhance someone's ability to be a leader in their life, one must first enhance the individual who will be that leader. There is no better way to do this than to create structures which draw out of an individual his or her own unique vision and mission. Why? Because these are born of that person's identity.
I have found that to identify one's mission in life is a very profound experience for the individual. It matters a lot to people and stays with them afterwards. This is because they have achieved a high degree of integration and have a felt experience of what their life purpose is.
It also has two remarkable and often unexpected side effects. People begin to become more successful. They also become more creative.
Once your sense of self and your mission are aligned with what you do, you become unstoppable. How could you not do your mission if your mission is a natural expression of who you are? As one course participant said to me, 'Now I can enjoy doing me'. From my own experience in aligning my behaviour with my mission I can vouch for the truth in this.
As a result you also feel freed up. Free to do what will support your mission and free to dream up new ways of realising it.
So being a leader is not about commanding vast armies of people, nor is it about having power over others. People who seek power over others are usually chronically disempowered individuals themselves. Nor is leadership about control: the better you are as a leader the better you are able to influence. The more influential you are, the less you need to try to control.
That's why for me the purpose of good leadership training is to uncover the natural leader in each of us. To help each of us manifest our purpose and live it more fully and more successfully.