Take a quiet moment to contemplate this question. When you recall a leader you deeply respect, do you conclude that they are “doing” leadership or “being” leadership? What part, the act of doing or the nature of being is playing the role of the leader?
If you choose the option of ‘doing’, then you most likely think they have earnestly honed their skills through mastery of technical or hard skills. You may believe, they have earned their title of a leader after taking their company through a successful IPO or becoming a serial entrepreneur.
If your perspective on leadership is geared more towards a doing, the role of leadership becomes an intellectual task that feels very heady, like another thing on your mountainous to-do list. You might even write it down as an important and urgent priority such as to do a ‘4 pm – walk the floor’. It’s like you have to remember, to ‘do’ leadership. With this approach comes having to ‘remember’ how to communicate, walk, stand, project and connect like some third class actor, and if acting is not your thing, it can feel a bit like hard work.
Tactically, playing the role of leadership or adopting a “fake it to you make it” type attitude might work for you temporarily. You may even get some useful pieces of advice from your mentor who has had similar leadership challenges to you, but for most, adopting this type of strategy leads to feelings of inadequacy, frustration and self-judgment.
If you’ve adopted this strategy, you might find on some days doing leadership works, and you sometimes you do it well. Other days, however, for whatever the reason, no matter what you do, something’s not flowing. Whether you’re leading a board presentation, writing talking points for your next all-hands meeting, or trying to figure out how to solve a staffing problem – you feel awkward, scripted or unnatural. Take skiing, for example, one minute you can be cruising down a slope, appreciating the calm, and quiet of nature, feeling at one with the mountains, then you reach a tricky bit, and you lose all confidence and become all stiff – usually ending up dishevelled in a snow pile.
Well becoming a leader is a bit like this, yes there are some technical or practical aspects to learn so you can better navigate the piste but there is also a prior bit to this – learning how to flow and not knock yourself down when you were doing all right.
The not knocking yourself down part is the most difficult as there are many layers to it. At the foundational level, it’s about knowing who you are at a psychological level, and 2. from this, understanding what’s real and what’s made up. Sure trees showing up on a slope are real, but your experience of navigating the obstacle can vary.
Most of what we create in our lives, our experience of business challenges, team and personal issues are made up to look like a real deal breaker when all we need is a new perspective or some fresh new thinking to solve them. This is what great leaders do; they have a deep understanding of who and what they are and a way of connecting to their deep intelligence to uncover the truths behind what’s presented on the outside. They go in, reflect, listen and then use this knowledge as their internal compass while remaining cool and calm.
One of the issues that we face in the modern world of technology is that we’ve grown up believing the answer is on the outside, in other people, in your mentor, your coach or from employing other people or things to fix our issues or at least drown them out until you get time to deal with them properly.
“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself, it is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult” – Warren Bennis.
Although some of what American business school professor Warren Bennis has written on the topic of leadership, is not in line with us, we are particularly drawn to this quote.
Becoming yourself starts with a knowing of the commonly unrecognised factors behind what drives leadership qualities in the moment, how you apply your technical skills and lead performance and innovation.
When you begin to see yourself as a creative process, insights about yourself, the business and others come to you when you precisely need them. It’s about getting quiet, and reflective. It’s in these moments of quiet, with a still mind will you find your unique gems of wisdom that will motivate you to change, to do something different, to challenge the status quo and to inspire your team.
Great leaders are naturally great listeners, inquisitive and curious about themselves, life and making an impact. Not only do they want to change the world by creating technology that evolves and disrupts, but they also are curious about themselves as a species, how they can learn more, grow more, lead and inspire others more to join them on their quest. It’s this self-enquiry and enquiry about the world that turns entrepreneurs into serial entrepreneurs and leaders into great leaders.
Rather than seeing leadership as a title or as an extra role to play alongside the day job, experience it as a becoming of who you are. It’s in these moments of quiet reflection where you will explore the fundamental truths about yourself and others and the innate skills you already have on the inside ready to be unleashed when we’re not getting in the way.
Like a how a snowflake forms, all completely different, albeit the process from gases to form is the same, in the world of what we think we know, although we all have access to the same wisdom and learning, we all tread slightly different paths to make our way in the world.
Some leaders join the path late, some don’t even try, and some know without needing to know, they are it.