The words “leader” and “leadership” have a certain mystique about them as if they are reserved for those special people who somehow qualify, through the right education or expertise, to lead us to better times. But in reality, leadership is an internal state of mind that’s available to all of us, regardless of our personal and professional roles. We are built to lead through the harshest circumstances ever imaginable. We are built to be resilient and figure things out. We are built to collaborate with others to find the most creative solutions to our most stark challenges. Yet every day, I see people from all walks of life who innocently forget this innate capability and allow their agitated thoughts (their insecurities, frustrations, anxieties, judgments…) to choke their sense of power and wellbeing. The complexities and challenges we currently face in the world are demanding us to BE LEADERSHIP regardless of the positions we have in our organizations, regardless of whether or not we feel offended or betrayed, regardless of what we think about our own capabilities, regardless of what we think, period.
Over the course of history, we’ve attached different conditions for entry to the rarified role of leader or leadership. It used to be that only the tough and masculine could be leaders of their countries or armies. And in business terms, it was the charismatic leader who was somehow born with innate leadership qualities that demanded respect and followership. Most recently, it’s been about being the kind of leader who inspires others to be their best. Training programs on supporting executives to learn the skills of Transformational Leadership, Servant Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Conscious Leadership, Embodied Leadership, Distributive Leadership, Entrepreneurial Leadership, Complexity Leadership, Systems Leadership, Feminine Leadership or Situational Leadership abound business literature.
Though there’s something great to learn from all these programs, they all assume that there are skills and theories to be learned and practiced. And if we do them right, then we can become the inspiring leader who would lead the organization to great heights. Although billions of dollars are spent annually on these types of skills training programs, studies continue to show that organizations doubt their leadership pipeline’s competency to meet current challenges.
The freedom to BE LEADERSHIP is available to each of us at all times, and goes beyond improving our psychology of success with positive beliefs, affirmations, and skills; and goes beyond tackling or understanding our personalities and learning the skills to be bolder, more confident, more compassionate or more assertive. To BE LEADERSHIP is about knowing that there is a source of intelligence, wisdom, and creativity that is always available to us, beyond what we think we know. This innate source of leadership and wisdom becomes more accessible when we loosen our grasp on the rightness of our thoughts, and when we stop worshipping our thoughts as if they are a 100% accurate assessment of our reality. To BE LEADERSHIP is about knowing that having agitated thoughts is part and parcel of the grand design of being human. These agitated thoughts determine our moods and tend to kick in at various times throughout the day to judge and label ourselves and others, and to create concepts and ideas about our capabilities, our personalities and the severity of our situations. This is a natural part of being human.
What we often forget, however, is that thoughts are fluid. Thoughts are not a fixed and accurate assessment of an objective reality. Thoughts come and go. Whether I think of myself as confident or insecure, doesn’t matter. Whether I think of my colleagues as toxic or inspiring, doesn’t matter. Whether I think of my circumstances as insurmountable or easy, doesn’t matter. These are just thoughts, ideas, and concepts, and don’t even come close to the pure potential that we are as human beings. Judging a colleague as toxic or inspiring tends to fix them to an idea, instead of free them to be a full natural human being.
Over 80% of communication is nonverbal. So people know when they are being judged regardless of the words we say or the smiles we give them. And once they feel judged, they tend to guard themselves, pull away and disengage. So no matter what effective communication or leadership methods we use, if we believe that our conceptual ideas about someone are the truth about them, we’ve pushed them away and narrowed the possibility of truly connecting with them to address an issue.
During the course of any day, our thoughts/moods often fluctuate depending on a multitude of factors. If we take our moods to be the truth about ourselves or our circumstances, we are always feeling that the ground beneath our feet is shaky and unsafe. We innocently want to blame our low moods on external circumstances (our finances, colleagues’ personalities, politics, etc). This way of thinking puts the blame “out there” and makes us feel at the mercy of others. We innocently tend to feel either hopeless and resigned, or become controlling and assertive in order to fight or cope with whatever is out there that we believe is causing our low moods.
The truth is, WE ALL EXPERIENCE LOW MOODS, regardless of whether we are the head of an organization making millions of dollars, or work an entry-level job earning low wages. Freedom from low moods is NOT about cultivating positive thoughts or reliant on our external circumstances. Freedom from low moods comes effortlessly when we recognize how natural it is to experience fluctuations in our mood on a daily basis, and the fleeting nature of our thoughts that generate low moods.
In our fast-paced busy lives, we often don’t have the luxury of time to wait until our agitated thoughts are settled or our low moods to shift. We often need to make split-second decisions and work with individuals who trigger the heck out of us. Knowing that our agitated thoughts are NOT an accurate assessment of ourselves or our colleagues, allows us a breathing space to expand into stillness and curiosity, instead of collapse into fear and reactivity. Even the tiniest sliver of this neutral reflective breathing space allows others to feel the safety of being around us and communicates volumes about our leadership abilities. We slowly realize that we are the safety and leadership we’ve been waiting for. We slowly realize the world of creativity, wisdom, and power that’s available for us beyond our agitated insecure thoughts and beyond any theories or skills of leadership.
Dr. Noushin Bayat is the founder of Engaging Wisdom, Inc., a consultancy organization that provides coaching and organization development services in operations, change management, and leadership development. She supports executives/teams to engage clear thinking, psychological agility, and presence to collaborate effectively and deliver emergent innovative solutions within complex agile environments. Dr. Bayat is apprenticing with master coach and consultant, Rohini Ross, and continuing to deepen her awareness of how the Three Principles understanding of mind, consciousness and thought impact literally everything! She has worked on change initiatives requiring the design of training and leadership development programs, scaling and operationalizing coaching deployment and developing agile solutions within agile product development environments. She has a BS in computer science and communications, masters in public health and spiritual psychology, and a doctorate in organizational leadership, with advanced training in coaching, yoga, and meditation. You can sign up to receive her newsletters and blogs at www.engaging-wisdom.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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