I often am asked, “What is the secret to being a great leader?” I think this is a great question, and my most simple and direct response, synthesized over 40 years of living and studying this topic, is:
“The greatest leader is totally present to the needs and situation of the people who want or need to follow them.”
I also want to add that a leader is differentiated from a manager / supervisor / boss / owner in that the leader is primarily grounded in the competence and preference in dealing with human beings.
Let’s unpack a few definitions in this statement.
Totally present, meaning that this type of leader has the innate ability to show up fully awake, attentive, and mindful of themselves and others. Most of us spend almost all our waking moments trapped in repetitive thinking about some past or future event, handcuffed from accessing our higher abilities to fully function at our best. Too often our best selves are hijacked by some emotional trigger that lingers and negatively affects the way we deal with others. Authentic leaders are those who are mentally, emotionally and spiritually available to what is going on right now, and through the power of that presence they are able to help others get present, get clear, and to be open in dealing with things with less distress and more ease. Think for a moment when you have had the sense of being totally focused in the present moment, or been in the company of others who were, and of the positive energy that flows into dealing with whatever severity of pressure you were facing – my guess is those outcomes were far superior than the normal ones our less-conscious, reactive, conditioned-self outside that state of presence would have delivered.
To the needs and situation, means in essence being all-in right here, right now, to the people and things that are right in front of you in the situation at hand. Too many times people in positions of authority react negatively when things go wrong, due to their focus on the negative outcomes of some future possibility like failure or being judged harshly. Or, they feel uncomfortable around other people especially when problems or conflict arise. The authentic leader who brings presence into the situation has an ability to see things as they are – not what they or the others entangled in the situation may want or think it should be. They have an ease to uncover the facts from the opinions, to ask questions rather than make statements or jump to conclusions, and they keep calm and focused, no matter what distractions may vie for attention. Presence of mind allows a true leader to help them and others “see” clearly, dialog freely, choose the best course of action, get alignment, and to follow-through with responsibility and accountability.
Of the people who want or need to follow them reflects the true definition of a leader, which is he/she is a leader who has followers. Rather than assume because they have the title that people will do what they say or that people should always know what to do like most people in authority feel unconsciously, the authentic leader’s presence is a positive power that is felt by others. They connect with people and have a way that immediately ushers in a sense of trust, care, openness and honesty when they are around. Their comfort in their own skin allows others to relate, participate and be a part of the solution. Rather than scare the life out of the room they bring a sense of safety and peace to those around them . Authentic leaders leave their egos “at the door” by just knowing that they are there to help others, to be of service to those in their care, whether by assisting with helpful problem-solving or conflict-resolution skills, or in providing support and guidance in areas leading to personal and professional effectiveness and growth.
The present, authentic leader knows and is fully enrolled in the sense that they are there to help make the situation, company or organization better by, for and through the people at hand. Presence is the power that courses through the head, heart and soul of an authentic leader, and into the ether of the people affected. Being present doesn’t mean being perfect, or that one has risen above the challenges of being human. It does mean that those who have opened themselves up to deeper self-reflection have learned to release the conditioning that keeps them trapped in past/future thinking, and they also have developed skills in self-assessing their moods, thoughts and feelings. They have ways to bring themselves back into more peaceful, awake and open mindsets when they get triggered, and mindful people also take responsibility for their emotional ‘wakes’ and can stop or clean up their ‘messes’ as they go. While they have a vision of a better outcome, they help others find their own ways to the same goal, so that the right things get done in ways that lead to higher productivity, profitability, success, and happiness. Authentic leadership is not a noun, it’s a verb!
The path to being an authentic leader begins and ends with waking up from the unconscious conditioned, reflexive self, to expanding one’s self-awareness, in being more mindful, and developing a practice of being more open and alive in one’s present moments. I have come to know that this journey is indeed the most difficult one a human can enroll, yet I know of none other more rewarding, enriching, life-affirming and loving as choosing to be a more present, more authentic person and leader.
The world aches for such leadership – are you ready to accept this journey for yourself! I hope and encourage more of us to choose authenticity and presence in our personal and work lives – it will make all the difference.
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. —Peter Drucker
Be Here Now – Ram Dass
You manage things; you lead people. —Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. —Andrew Carnegie
Earn your leadership every day. –Michael Jordan
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton
“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”- Norman Schwarzkopf
“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.” ― John Wooden
Leadership is really about “People-ship!”