The journey called leadership


By Chris Langefeld

“A monumental question for leaders in any organization to consider is: How much greatness are we willing to grant people?’ Rosamund and Benjamin Zander

What leaders do and what they achieve seems to be a key focus in current literature on the topic of leadership.

Many self-help approaches on the subject fix on the latest techniques, tactics and skills that leaders supposedly need in their struggle to emerge as winners in the highly competitive and changing contexts they are forced to operate in.

The radically different focus on what authentic leaders are and how they live is unfortunately pursued by relatively few commentators.

This kind of perspective is more often than not found in biographies such as Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, the reflections of a Richard Branson or Rosamund and Benjamin Zander?s The Art of Possibility.

The focus on the being of a leader and her journey to greater self-awareness is perhaps a richer source of insight into challenges such as building high performing teams, motivating creative performance and being strategically alert to the challenges of change.

The being of a leader and his growth in self awareness, are really both journeys of self discovery. Authentic leaders are usually twice born.

Beyond the circumstances of their birth and origin within a specific social and cultural group, true leaders have often had to endure experiences of hardship, pain, alienation or suffering that have separated them in some way from their contemporaries and forced them on an inner journey of self reflection and change of life direction.

Going through their journey, authentic leaders re-emerge in the world with a newly constructed rather than inherited sense of identity.

True leaders possess a strong and compelling vision that expresses what they want and what they value. Vision in this sense is more than a mission statement. It is the hard won fruit of a struggle to gain clarity on what I really care about, what I really want and what I want to do in the world within which I live.

The vision or dream provides the leader with principles that help her to navigate change with a consistent outlook as well as flexibility in looking for new and creative solutions. A leader?s greatest asset is his own vision that clarifies what he values and what he wants to achieve in any situation.

Besides possessing vision, authentic leaders understand that they are fallible, they make mistakes and that they have weaknesses as well as strengths. They understand that becoming a leader is a process of ongoing development, change and learning.

There are no quick and easy steps to achieving greatness – just the ongoing opportunity and challenge to increase one?s self-understanding and the world one lives in.

It is said that we see the world not as it is but as we are. Now if we have small souls, a fear of other people?s talent and greatness, we then see the world as marked by scarcity and others as a threat.

Authentic leaders are confident, have a healthy self esteem, embrace their talents and basic dignity. Interestingly enough they are able to uncover these same qualities in others. They create the energy and environments that inspire the kinds of performance, perseverance, creativity and loyalty that separate excellence from mediocrity.

In short leadership is a way of life founded on self-awareness. It is not a title, position or act one puts on. Leadership is a way of living that proceeds from knowing who one is, what one values and what one really wants.

Education, tools and techniques may help in the exercise of leadership but can?t replace the substance of leadership – “knowing yourself’

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