Not a Bad Payoff

Every leader with an iota of self-awareness will inevitably find themselves facing their greatest adversary.

I’m talking, of course, about the one in their head.

Yes, there are competitors and outside circumstances that impact everyone who steps up to wrap themselves in a mantle of leadership.

Yet, because leadership is an inside-out gig, it’s the inside bits that either sneak up quietly and pull the rug from beneath our feet, or loudly shout us down with internal accusations of insufficiency, fraud, or worse…

I’ve addressed limiting beliefs in recent articles, so today I thought having a look at another default operating system would be useful.

Before taking the plunge, let me say that it’s no secret that I love my clients and the work I get to do with them. I’m blessed to muck about in the shadows (and light) with impactful leaders who are changemakers and visionaries, and that’s just plain cool…

And, as accomplished and brilliant as these folks are, a common default we encounter is the complete opposite of inside-out.

Our conversations often begin with clients pointing to “my team” or “my leaders.”

To be fair, these are men (with a few exceptions, given the focus of my work) at the top of their organizations, and they face webs of complex relationships every day.

Yet, in almost every coaching interaction, we consistently find the richest material, deepest insights, and most valuable and impactful actions once we turn the client’s focus and attention inward.

This isn’t just about the client finding “the answers within themselves.” Yeah, that’s a very coachy cliché with lots of truth to it, but there’s a bigger, more complex picture at play.

Think of the leader – specifically, the conscious leader – as a fractal of their company’s culture, purpose, message, and essentially everything that makes their organization what it is, what it does, and what it offers.

And just as a fish rots from the head down, it also swims from the head forward.

If the leader isn’t aware of, or tethered to and living from, their own purpose and values, things are going to get funky.

On the other hand, when a leader is reliably connected to, expressing, and embodying their purpose and values, they set a clear, living example for the entire organization.

The temptation, particularly when things begin to go sideways, is to move faster and look toward others to find a fix.

Sure, it’s counterintuitive to slow down and look in the mirror when things aren’t going as expected or desired, but those are the very moments when doing so becomes most important.

If you’re wondering why, consider the messy texts and emails that get sent in the heat of crises. Typically, they ain’t pretty or clear – and the post-impulse mop-up, if it ever happens, costs far more time and energy than would a few minutes of conscious introspection.

Outside of racing, there’s a reason the clichés “fast is slow” and “go slow to go fast” exist. (Ironically, both can also be true in racing!)

Here’s the thing: The impact leaders have in their presence – in their very being – can never be overlooked or emphasized enough.

That doesn’t mean leaders are called to endless navel-gazing and introspection. But it does mean they are called to practices of deep self-awareness every bit as much as they are called to focusing outside themselves.

Big picture and details, internal and external, individual and collective, micro and macro, all are equally important parts of embodied, conscious leadership.

One place to begin, of course, is to carve out intentional contemplative, introspective time. Paying more attention to frequency and regularity of practice will get you farther than insisting on all-or-nothing rules like “it doesn’t count unless I meditate for 30 minutes every day.”

Ease your way in and find reflective practices that work with you and for you. Even a conscious minute several times a day will get the wheels of awareness turning and open the door to more.

And, because no one in the real world of leadership goes it alone, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Humility goes a long way.

It’ll take time, but your teams, your family, and others in your orbit will notice a difference. More important, you’ll begin to see yourself with greater clarity – and you and your leadership will grow in more ways than you can ever imagine.

Not a bad payoff of hitting the brakes and looking inside, eh?