You're dangerous, you know.
Leadership, of any kind, isn't cultivated from a bullet point presentation, or a sound bite. It encompasses the very essence of who you are, and what you're here to accomplish.
You're holding the power -- or it's holding you.
You, with all your humanness and its notorious ego, which insists on reducing the infinite complexities of the universe into little black-and-white boxes, are running this show.
I got so caught up in the dangerous stories I was telling myself about what I deserved in my career, and when I deserved it, that I forgot to pay attention to where I actually was.
I've sold out my professional dreams and aspirations more than once because I hadn't yet learned how to stop scurrying around, and settle into leading from my heart.
Being of a somewhat stubborn nature, I figured if I kept on powering through all the challenges, I'd be wearing my super-hero cape by the end of the week.
Can I just tell you, I spent months weeping into my pillow when I woke up in the mornings, years pretending away the truth, eventually filing bankruptcy, before I woke up.
Bruised and battered, I'd forgotten a lot of things, including how to ask the good questions, and listen for the right answers.
Ask Good Questions
As the master poet and international corporate leadership teacher David Whyte says:
"The marvelous thing about a good question is that it shapes our identity as much by the asking as it does by the answering. Nine years ago, I wrote a poem called 'Sometimes' in which I talked about the 'questions that can make or unmake a life.. questions that have no right to go away.'
[...] They almost always have something to do with how we might be more generous, more courageous, more present, more dedicated and they also have something to do with timing: when we might step through the doorway into something bigger, better -- both beyond ourselves and yet more of ourselves at the same time."
- Are you willing to accept what you're afraid to receive?
- Where does your sweet spot meet that of the needs of the larger world?
- What are the questions that won't leave you alone?
Because, if you don't know who you are, where you're going, who you want to go with you, and why you think you're going there -- well, you'll end up getting blown sideways through your life.
That's not leadership.
In my case, I'd gotten so ensnared in the trap of overwhelm, crippling self-doubt
and almost breaking myself apart in attempts to force the timing, that I lost it all.
I was not generous or present or courageous. Instead, I was desperately busy trying to build a protective wall around myself so I could feel safe. And to make it all happen, right now. Now, dang it!
That is decidedly not leadership.
Cultivate the Wildness of the Edges
In permaculture, the edges between one space and another are often the wildest, containing a richness of biodiversity not found in more contained areas.
The same principal applies to leadership. The truth is that everything cool and rich and wild happens at the edges: fresh creative ideas, and innovative ways of implementing those ideas.
Passion + ambition + fear + creative thinking + self-doubt + confusion = the rich, messy edge waiting for me to cultivate.
Thanks to bankruptcy, I started messing around with the edges. The edges of questions that wouldn't leave me alone, and the deep-seated fears that kept me from answering those questions and achieving my goals.
It has, quite simply, saved my ass. The first time was a few years ago, after a spectacular selling out of my career goals. Learning to meditate allowed me to remember who I was, what I more deeply wanted, and how to start creating a structure to realize them.
Mindful meditation created enough space within my panicked thinking to feel once again feel the presence of hope and possibility.
All along the way, I was forging real leadership skills.
- Start telling the truth, first to yourself, then to your clients and customers.
- Hold the pain of telling the truth; this allows you to deepen and grow into yourself without giving up.
- Ask for help.
- Balance the brain's built-in negativity bias by noticing all the good stuff everywhere around you.
- Cultivate more flow experiences, which creates more happiness, which results in stronger, better leadership.
- Aim for your sweet spot, using all these strategies to set and achieve results.
Mindfulness was my e-ticket for learning how to show up in the world, consciously crafting the qualities of a real leader. If I can do it, so can you. I promise.