Honest, compassionate, engaging, respectful, open-hearted, vulnerable.
What type of person comes to mind when you think of these qualities?
I’m willing to bet that “World Leader” or “CEO” wasn’t at the top of your list. In fact, a recent survey out of Quinnipiac University, outlined in Time Magazine, asked a pool of 1,078 voters to submit the first word that came to mind when they thought of the current leader of this country and the top three words were idiot, incompetent, and liar. A far cry from the words above which Brene Brown uses to describe brave leaders ( also the name of her new leadership coaching program, Brave Leaders, Inc.)
This disconnection in how leadership is viewed versus what makes it effective got me thinking about what true leadership is – what sets a tyrant, a pushover, and a truly effective leader apart from one another? In a word: consciousness.
It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Lao Tzu:
“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.”
When our consciousness is rooted in ego and we lead from that place the effects can be devastating. This is true whether we are heads of global companies or heads of our household. However, when we lead from a place of compassion, empathy, honesty, and respect the effects can be equally miraculous. And often, it isn’t by acts of seeming greatness but instead, small acts that equalize and connect others.
In 1987, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, people believed you could catch the disease simply by touching someone who was infected. While this wasn’t true, sufferers were completely shunned and ostracized making it difficult for them to receive care. On April 19th of the same year, Princess Diana, one of the most famous and beloved heads of states at the time, opened the first unit in the UK dedicated to treating patients with HIV and AIDS. And she didn’t stop there. She actually visited this clinic in person and was photographed shaking the hand of a patient, doing so without any protection or even gloves. This small act of compassion forever changed people’s perception of the disease.
What I love most about this story is that she in no way needed to do this, she chose to. She understood her role and what was possible through it. And she created positive cultural change just by extending her hand to someone in need. No ego was present.
When we connect with someone, learn about them, and hear them out we are creating a safe space for them. We are respecting and engaging them. This goes for a stranger, an employee, or a partner. From this place, they are able to apply themselves purposefully, to make mistakes, and to learn. They are empowered to grow.
Conversely, when we prioritize a person’s status or a product they produce, we skip this vital step and it has a reverse effect. When someone feels that perfection, status, or a certain end is most valued and anything else results in negative interaction, their performance and experience will sink rapidly. And with it will go the relationship, the project, the team, the mission…
True leadership is not about standing at the top and doling out orders, demands, or criticism. It is about connecting both to a deeper purpose and to the people around you. It is about a desire to receive in order to share, not to gain fame or notoriety or wealth solely for ourselves. When we adopt this type of leadership in our workplace, in our relationships, and in our lives we have the power to create positive change that is beyond what we could dream and that will live on long after we are gone.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Where in your life can you bring about the qualities of true leadership? Put one into this practice this week and see what shifts.
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