Here’s a light and fluffy piece for a Friday:
Leaders have to consider their own self-identity in the formation of their leadership. Too often their self-identity is shaped by being ‘a leader’, rather than their own identity shaping their leadership. Thus, the engineer becomes the ‘CEO’ and now identifies and congregates with CEOs, rather than engineers. The teacher becomes a ‘school administrator’ and identifies himself or herself as such. The lawyer becomes a ‘Managing Partner’ and considerations of self centre on their identification with ‘leadership’ roles, responsibilities and relationships.
A deeper level of consideration is that of the ontological expression of a leader. [Ontology is the study of the nature of being – originating in philosophy, metaphysics and particularly theology (and has been misappropriated by the IT world, which sometimes displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the English language. If you’re in IT, feel free to write and I’ll clarify where you went wrong.)] What is your being? How is it defined, shaped and externalised? How does this relate to, and how is it expressed – through actions, words and relationship – in and through, your leadership?
The fact that many people define their being in terms of their profession is an indication of how mixed up we are in terms of our own personhood. Are you a lawyer, or are you a human being? (They’re not always mutually exclusive.) Are you a shift worker, or a father? Are you a politician, or someone driven to help others? (Again, not necessarily mutually exclusive.)
In terms of your leadership: Are you the CEO, or are you a person with a family, beliefs, preferences; someone who was brought up as a hard worker devoted to seeing things work well and to service within and without the family, who now works to ensure that people within your company and clients without are provided for and can enjoy the fruits of your collective labours?
Two of the fundamental questions of ontology are: 1) What is the fundamental essence of a thing? and 2) What is that thing’s relationship to other things?
Thus, for leaders, the question is: 1) What is your fundamental essence? and 2) What is your relationship to the world, people, concepts, systems and things around you?
The problem with identifying oneself solely as a leader is that you are a ‘leader’ in only one context, limited by time and space and by definition. Hence: Barack Obama is President – of the federal government of the United States of America, for a few years, in a limited fashion. He’s not my president. He’s not the President for billions of people around the world. If he thinks of himself – of his being – merely as “The President” his own self-identity becomes shallow and is limited to a particular narrow set of circumstances and relationships. However, if he considers himself as a product of his mother and of his father’s predilections, if he considers himself as a person in relation to others, if he considers himself as an agent setting about completing a personal agenda in relation to the rest of the world, as a father himself and so on, then he has a better perspective that will ultimately produce more rounded and more effective leadership.
Under the former situation, when someone ceases to be a ‘leader’, suddenly their world drops around them. They are lost and have a complete lack of fulfilment in their lives, because their very concept of their being so revolved around their position that they no longer understand their own fundamental essence.
This is one of the reasons why when teaching people to communicate, I created ‘Authentic Speaking’. One must be genuinely oneself, expressing towards and with other persons in relation to oneself. I created ‘Gifted Leadership’ with the same underlying principle: leadership is the expression of oneself – one’s gifts, talents, skills, values, history, baggage, everything – in relation to others in order to draw out their gifts and accomplish together a predetermined and determined goal. Business becomes the intersection of people, process and product in relation with one another and an external environment.
One must consider the vital essence, relation and attenuation of a ‘thing’ in order to truly understand it. How does it act in and of itself and how does it act in relation to other things? For the ancient Greeks, the perfection of this lay in their concept of divinity as something totally unchanging that must therefore, by definition, be removed from interaction with corrupt physical reality – it is ‘above’ the ‘physis’, which is that which changes in nature. That is why the study of the divine was ‘metaphysics’ = above nature.
Unfortunately, this is many a person’s view of leadership: leadership is ‘above’ the changing, rather dirty masses. The ‘leader’ is unchanging in his or her resoluteness and directs from afar. It’s an abysmal model, for it denies the reality of those people as human beings acting in their environment, according to their driving internal needs to be in relation to the world around them.
Being a leader should, rather, be about the expression of yourself in and through the actions you take, ideas you communicate, and communities you create, expressed through the individuals, teams and groups through whom and with whom you interact, that seek to achieve a shared and ultimately rewarding and praiseworthy goal.
Untangling your self-identity, deconstructing and then reconstructing your being – that is, conducting an ontological study of you – is necessary to see how and why you react in response to the world around you, why you do what you do, why you feel what you feel. It is vital in order to truly see how you may have been misdirected and may be walking on a path that leads you away from your integrity and personhood to being something that you do not want. It is also vital to acting in a way that more genuinely creates the results, the leadership and the life you desire.
Your leadership is only a part of your being, not the sum total. Don’t be defined by it, define it.
Who, and what, are you?