“We are attempting to make work more lifelike, more in the image of what we instinctively want for ourselves.” – David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea
We need a revolution in how we think about work and our place in the world of work. In the 21st century we spend the vast majority of our waking hours in this world of work. For many, a large chunk of the restorative power of sleep is stolen by the haunting presence of one’s work.
Due to the large portion of energy given to work, we have a right, even accountability, to approach this work in a manner that enriches us as a person.
The revolution I advocate is an intentional approach to leadership. The revolution is accomplished as a leader frees the flow between internal motivation and external validation.
The internal motivation includes intent, purpose, and understanding. These are about who we are as an individual.
The external validation includes commitment, authenticity, and practice. These are about how we translate who we are to the world.
Thus, a revolution.
A revolution is commonly thought of as a collective assembled for the purpose of overthrowing some existing system. The revolution I advocate begins in the heart and mind of the individual leader. It is about awareness, focus, and love.
The revolution I advocate begins in the heart and mind of the individual leader.
Let me first address why I say individual leader versus leader. An organization, a collective of any kind, is only as good as those who make it up. For instance, an organization does not have values – people have values. Individuals have unique, specific values.
Organizations don’t misbehave, people misbehave. Individuals choose to do what is wrong. Organizations don’t do the right thing, people do. An individual chooses what is right based on the context of his or her individual belief system.
Organizational change can happen without the individual, but organizational (collective) impact will never materialize without the commitment of the individual.
It was many years ago when I first felt the pull of the individual. This had a lot to do with my place in varying systems; family, church, work, school, etc. In these areas, I often felt undervalued as an individual. In those younger years, I didn’t know the lack of respect being shown to me was rooted in a lack of self-respect in those whose behavior I encountered.
While I’m sure many academic experiences should stand out for me, there is really only one that does. It is my experience with my statistics professor, Dr. Heiser. I remember Dr. Heiser as an intelligent respecter of persons.
On the first day of class I walked in and took a seat just like the other eighty-nine students. Dr. Heiser began by telling us that if we wanted to sit anywhere in particular, to take that seat as he was about to pass around a seating chart. I stayed where I was, as I did not know a single person in the class. It seemed strange for a university professor to be going to the trouble of a seating chart. Being a stat teacher, maybe this was his efficient way of taking roll. So I stayed put and forgot about it. That is until the next class session two days later.
We all entered class and took the seat we had committed to on that chart. Dr. Heiser then leaned against his desk, looked to his right at the first person in the first row and began to call each one of us by our first and last name; without one single error. He had my attention.
Dr. Heiser rode his bike to all his commitments on campus. It was normal to have him pass by you, nod his head, and speak to you using your name. I spent many hours in Dr. Heiser’s presence while he instructed the student collective. I always felt honored as an individual.
In today’s organizational life, particularly with those in leadership roles, we may require attendance to instructional events that are intended to cause, or motivate, a change in outcomes. It is most often an approach that focuses on a group, teaches a generic approach, and expects compliance. Compliance is often just what is received—compliance to a targeted outcome without any thought and/or accountability to how that outcome is achieved.
While this may be the approach in our organizational history, longevity of a behavior does not make it right. If we instruct only for the outcome then we deserve what we get.
In the 21st Century there is a level of enlightenment on the horizon. Part of this enlightenment, as explained by the authors of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, is to understand the individual behavior(s) required to obtain any desired outcome and teach there.
My own progressive enlightenment has been a journey that began in my teen years when first becoming longingly conscious of my individual, unique self.
Setting goals—stating a specific desired outcome—has never been a problem for me. But from those early years I’ve consistently focused my attention from the end result to the present in order to understand how to get to that end. This doesn’t mean I’ve always been good at doing this: It does mean that forcing my attention—and yes, many times I still have to force it—into the present has encouraged my learning on the journey.
What I’ve described here may simply be my style of planning. If so, then what I’ve learned by this style has been about focusing in the present and the impact of my behavior.
My focus on the individual is a focus encouraged by my own unfolding experience with taking personal accountability for my own behavior in the present and the impact of that behavior now and in the future.
In the last several years of my work I’ve intentionally chosen to focus my efforts on leaders. One obvious reason has to do with impact; I can personally work with only so many individuals. I can work with leaders who then are encouraged to model self-awareness. A less obvious reason is more personal; to build the confidence of the individual leader.
Being a leader is defined less by what you do and much more by who you are. It is unfortunate for both the individual leader and those being led when the leader lacks confidence. This epidemic lack of confidence has many a source. A large source of this low level of confidence is both societal and individual.
From a societal standpoint, we too often recognize confidence as aggression and ego. This is the old confidence. The individual source of a low level of confidence is rooted in judgment, a lack of commitment (or ability to commit), and guilt. These individual sources block awareness that is foundational to an individual’s confidence.
Our confidence is found in who we are. This is not to say that we don’t need to grow, develop, and evolve as a person. We cannot actually grow, develop, or evolve without embracing who we are. Unfortunately, most leaders are not fully conscious of who they are; thus cheating followers out of the impact of a real leader.
While an unfair judgmental attitude toward others is a behavior unbecoming to a leader, the source is the judgment of self—the self-abusing judgment that causes us to judge others. I meet too many individual leaders who see themselves in unfair, inaccurate, and limiting ways.
A lack of commitment, or more specifically a lack of understanding the power of commitment, impedes the attainment of the very things we say we want as outcomes and results. Not understanding the power of a commitment in our leadership—a commitment that in and of itself can make things happen—blocks us from the beginning of effective accountability.
An internal language that consistently communicates, “I can’t” is a stubborn block to understanding and embracing who we really are. As a result of this language, we deny self in a manner that—unlike the servant approach to denial—denies others the impact of our leadership. The self-denial I reference leads to a false confidence in the impact of our leadership. We are led to believe that placing all our energy externally is service, and energy directed internally is selfish.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, the opposite is true. A focus internally (on self) benefits and serves the external (others). This approach is selfless.
This is the new confidence of the revolution. I’ve chosen to call this approach of intentional leadership a revolution simply because of what I’ve seen individual leaders do when becoming aware of who they really are. I’ve observed changes in behavior that have led to improved performance, exceeded expectations, and originally stated outcomes and results. Most importantly, I have seen what this awareness and the corresponding focus on purpose have done for the joy in leading for the individual.
The revolution I advocate begins in the heart and mind of the individual leader. I welcome you to this revolution. The 21st Century belongs to the aware, focused, and loving leader. The impact of your leadership is intended for the benefit of all.
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