We all have biases towards certain areas of our lives. Some people focus on relationships, some on material success, some on pleasure and excitement and others on personal growth or spirituality. In leadership it is the same – we focus on one particular area – usually performance and / or competence. But life isn’t neatly divisible into separate compartments. We need to consider how everything affects us. Our actions come from a combination of our personalities, the people around us, our abilities and what’s going on in the world. If we do not look at all these aspects then our actions will not be successful. This is why Inner Leadership is so important; it enables each of us to be clear about what we need to do in all the areas of our lives to be successful overall. Inner Leadership is an approach to looking at these areas through a combination of exercises and processes to support and encourage each of us in our own unique journey.
Inner Leadership is about being true to yourself and doing what you need to do because it is right for you. It doesn’t matter to the Inner Leader whether they have followers or not – their own inner vision is what counts for them. It’s about honouring and respecting yourself without the arrogance of certainty. And if the Inner Leader truly honours and values him or herself, then they will honour and value others as well.
At the core of all of us – acknowledged or not – is a deep caring for and connection with all life. There are many obstacles, some external but more often than not internal, to reaching this inner base of caring, security and joy. Not the least is fear and following on from that the confusion that results from all the stuff we take on board from others that doesn’t belong to us. Our task is to understand and release the barriers that have blocked us, through no fault of our own, from being in touch with this source. Once we have done this, like clearing the clouds that stop the sun from reaching us, we can express our joy and caring for the benefit of others.
Inner Leadership is for those who want to undertake this journey to their source and to emerge back into the world as a true Inner Leader – one who cares and is strong enough to do what is right! This may or may not be a difficult or easy journey – that depends on what we need to let go of – but the final destination is one we will all arrive at – peace and joy and a sense of who we really are.
The diagram below sets out a way of looking at Inner Leadership and taking into account all the vital areas that exist in our world. Two key differentiations are between Head and Heart (or task and people) and between what’s in us and what’s external to us.
If we look at the quadrants we can see they all have a part to play in what makes us unique. For example, the stories we tell ourselves about us and others and the world are vital in the way we live our lives. All of us have a unique story which is the way we view our lives. Sometimes the story may be very helpful – more often than not there will be elements which we need to let go of – and we then need to rewrite our story to progress on our inner journey.
“Being Your Best” looks at how we can be the best we can possibly be. So much focus is often on the negative – what we need to do to improve, be better etc. and we often take for granted all those areas that we are good at and tell ourselves, “well anyone can do that!”, when of course they can’t!. Focusing on what we are good at and building on this gives us confidence and strength and the potential to be brilliant at our own unique contribution. Part of this is developing a “Practice”. A practice is a daily set of disciplines (discipline originally means learning not painful processes!) which we use to develop ourselves – much as sportspeople uses coaches and daily workouts. It is something we all could benefit from.
In Anglo-Saxon societies we often underestimate the importance of others. Jung once said “It’s never a question of what; it’s always a question of who!” Other people are the arena for our growth and both trials and joys. We need to treat others as ourselves with respect and care but that doesn’t mean staying in relations that demean us. Knowing what is needed from relationships will help the Inner Leader be with those who support and lighten their load.
Leadership research shows that the type of organisation we will be happiest in is very dependent on our personality. Even when we have ideal work, if the organisation is not right for our personality, we will not be happy. It is therefore vital to identify the most appropriate organisation for ourselves.
Lightness, positivity and humour are probably the most important attributes an inner leader can have. Especially pertinent to the world today is a positive attitude of saying yes to life as there is so much negativity and gloom around. We have the highest material standards, wealth and health of any generation in history (at least in the West) and yet we are miserable. How much better it would be if our leaders could encourage joy! This links to spirituality in terms of reaching wholeness. We cannot isolate parts of ourselves from other parts – all is an interconnected whole. This wholeness is our Self – the Holy Grail of our journey. And key to reaching this is play, fun and artistry – our own creativity in whatever way we express it!
Ralph Lewis is a Leadership Development consultant and a Programme Director at London Business School. Ralph is the Chair of the UK Greenleaf Centre for Servant-Leadership and has worked internationally across the public, private and NGO sectors. He has extensive experience of running leadership development and culture change programmes and action learning groups dealing with business challenges, personal development and organisational values. Developing Inner Leadership – A Pathway to Wholeness by Ralph Lewis is available from Amazon and from e-mediatebooks.com.