One question most executives continuously ask is ‘how can I/we be more effective in growing our business or fulfilling our mission?’ While such reflection can lead to more innovative approaches, often it causes undue stress. This pressure comes from the belief that most senior leaders have that greater success is on their shoulders alone. And this makes sense. After all, most individuals rise to the executive ranks because of their previous accomplishments. The problem is they gain many of these achievements through blood, sweat, and tears. However, when an individual rises to more complex leadership positions, such efforts and the overemphasis on personal responsibility to make things happen gets in the way of higher success. Leadership development is the key to overcoming this limitation.
There is no doubt; personal drive seems to foster a continuing achievement of aims. That said, this private drive places a wet blanket on even more significant results, and as I note above, it leads to unnecessary stress. On the other hand, when an executive can let go of this drivenness and engage the hearts of those around them, something spectacular begins to happen. When leadership gives birth in the human being – creativity, passion, and inspiration lead the way. It is not a matter of addition. Leadership is a multiplying force!
And here lies the significant challenge for those organizations who crave greater leadership. The very nature of promoting those into leadership positions because of their track record of achievement generates the possibility of muting greater success. This muting of outcomes gets reinforced as other executives in the organization place increasing pressure on those below them to achieve first and lead second. Or worse, organizations do not understand the real nature of leadership or how one develops into a leader. Somehow they expect a rising start, which they promote into a leadership position, to become an instant leader. This quandary is a central reason why we do not see more leadership in the for-profit, nonprofit and public sectors today.
The development of leadership requires one to learn to let go of the reins, build alignment and create a context around them that brings out the best in others. These competencies are entirely different habits than were required to this point in most executive’s careers. Acquiring and embracing these new practices are challenging because they go against the grain of what got the executive to their current level of success. And quite frankly, the ego structure of many who rise to leadership positions still loves the old game. They know it, it has worked and it continues to be fulfilling at some level. But as I noted above, the problem is this old pattern of behaviors mute possibilities and cause more significant stress for the executives and those that report to them.
Those that tend to embrace the leadership development process are willing to challenge these outdated habits. They recognize the value of becoming more self-aware and enjoy the process of developing their teams and themselves. They appreciate the discomfort they feel in facilitating more in-depth conversations, and alignment rather than controlling others magnifies their ability to generate results. And when they begin to actualize this in their engagements with others, they relax more as outcomes and innovation occur. Also, they experience a drop in stress as they take the world off of their shoulders. Such executives recognize it is not on them alone, once they empower the hearts of those around them. As one executive I coached said, ‘As leadership took hold in me, I feel I stopped chasing after it and started allowing the game come to me.’
Thus the most significant challenge any executive faces in becoming an Authentic Courageous Leader is re-orienting themselves to grow as facilitators of contexts that bring out the best in others, in service to something higher. This shift requires they diminish their personal responsibility to make everything happen. That they recognize they must engage their efforts away from direct action and towards expanding their presence, deepening their relationships, and building an environment that inspires others.
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