Leadership comes from within

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“Inflexible mentality remains the biggest stumbling block to change.” Mikhail Gorbachev

Leadership is a subject that has always fascinated me. ‘Are leaders made or born?’ Stephen Covey, an expert on leadership, suggests that leaders are self-made. That implies that I can decide to be a leader. This got me thinking and this article explores the idea that leaders can be self-made.

If I decide I want to be a leader how do I begin? My belief is that all leadership starts within. I believe all great leaders of others began as great leaders of themselves. I call this personal leadership. To establish my current level of personal leadership I need to establish whether I am making decisions, taking action, changing it if necessary and driving my life in way that achieves my goals. The question being, ‘Am I the best CEO for my journey?’ I often hear people say, “if only this, if only that wasn’t.” As the custodian of my well being and success the notion that I need to wait for external circumstances to change to make my own experience okay is disempowering. What if things never change?

As we know things always change, and that is part of the problem. What if they don’t change the way I would like them to change? What then? Am I doomed to perpetual unhappiness until things go my way? But what if I get to choose? Things happen. I cannot control what happens to me, I can only control how I respond. Trying to control my environment is, quite simply, energetically exhausting and ineffective. So a new personal action strategy is required.

Controlling how you respond is the first step. You already choose your reaction to all of your circumstances however claiming responsibility for these choices and claiming your power in these choices is possibly the most challenging initial internal shift towards being your ultimate CEO. It often seems easier to pass off the responsibility and embrace our inner victim, “what option did I have?”, “what was I supposed to do?”, “my reaction was totally normal”. Easy and ‘normal’ as this may be, it is not effective. It doesn’t change anything. So understanding that you are always responsible for your choices is key.

The second step is to ask, ‘what am I choosing?’ If we use the current economic environment circumstance as an example: Ask yourself, how am I responding? Am I weighed down and resentful about how this is affecting me? Am I taking it in my stride as one of those things that happens that I need to make decisions around? All these questions are choices that I make constantly. To be an effective personal leader I must be conscious of what choices I am making.

The third step is to question whether that choice is appropriate or not. So the question becomes; ‘I have chosen to react or respond in a certain way, is this response getting me closer to my personal goals?’ The answer to this question will establish whether I need to modify my personal action strategy or not. The strategy may be as simple as looking at the situation differently or as difficult as recognizing the need to make new choices. I am aware that I am reducing a complex concept to rather simple terms to keep the idea of personal leadership in focus. There is nothing simple about changing myself and if I am currently dissatisfied with how my life is, the only person who can change that is me.

Consciously controlling my response to the world is easier said than done. It requires learning and knowing what I believe about myself, about the people around me and about the world. As a child I developed beliefs about the world from the people that raised me. At that time I learned to respond with their belief system. I believe this rests at the core of leadership skill. If my reactions to the world are rooted in the belief systems of others versus my own, the power and insight with which I make my decisions will be profoundly weaker and less consistent. I will lack the conviction that I require to navigate my life and to comfortably embrace my inner leader.

Generally we believe that our thoughts are rational and appropriate. However, the fact that they are closely united in the ego mean that they might not be. The ego dictates how I respond in the world. Everyone has an ego and it is fragile, it believes in scarcity and control. So any circumstance that feels threatening will ignite the less rational parts of my ego and I will find myself reacting with disproportionate emotion to an external stimulus as banal as a comment, a tone of voice or a facial expression.

There is a form of psychotherapy called Transactional Analysis that defines the ego as holding three states, namely parent, adult and child. This means that two thirds of our ego is potentially behaving as a parent or child and one third as an adult. The adult is the only ego state that is present, rational and appropriate. So if we spend most of our time in our parent or child ego state we are spending very little time being rational or appropriate. The aim of this form of psychotherapy is to get the individual to expand their adult ego state as far as possible. Effective personal leadership will lie in us being able to access the adult part of our ego most of the time. We do this through working on our self-awareness and our self-management which reveals itself in our choice of behaviour to external stimuli.

We know that for peace in the world we need peace in our hearts. So too I believe that for true leaders in the world we need people who are true leaders of their lives. I believe Stephen Covey to be correct in his idea that leaders are self-made. My conclusion is that leadership is not a quality in an individual; it is a choice I make about what I want for myself. If I blame others for my experience of life I put my power in their hands. If I take responsibility for my choices I access my power and I begin to lead. I become the author of my future by leading in the present. If I can lead myself powerfully into my future then, and only then, I may be ready to lead the world.