In September, Steve was one of the 27 speakers at The Emotional Intelligence Summit. An online summit focused on exploring the many ways that being emotionally intelligent can positively impact every aspect of our lives, from health, happiness, schooling, relationships, career and finances as well as looking at bigger themes such as soul development and the future of the planet. We managed to get a copy of Steve's talk.
Integrity and a sense of purpose is the core framework of leadership, everything else comes afterwards says Lester Levy and Brad Jackson from the New Zealand Leadership Institute.
Sitting in the first Short Sharp event, Interrogating your leadership mindset put on by the University of Auckland Business School Alumni Relations Office, Executive Education and the New Zealand Leadership Institute the other week, it was encouraging to hear Jackson and Levy breaking down leadership clichés and challenging the audience to interrogate their own mindset and beliefs surrounding leadership.
Why is the mindset important you might ask? Well, the last thing you want to be doing is thinking. If you are thinking then you aren’t doing. If you aren’t doing, then you can’t be practicing leadership.
What is your mindset around leadership? Do you believe that...
Leaders must lead from the front?
Leaders should have all the answers?
Leaders should be decisive?
Leaders must inspire and motivate their people?
Leaders must be charismatic?
Without a position of real authority you cannot lead?
Leadership comes naturally to some but not to others?
Leadership can’t be taught, you have to learn it?
You can’t learn anything about leadership in books?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this might be a good opportunity to challenge your leadership mindset. This may feel hard at first as any kind of interrogation requires us to move out of our comfort zone. Give yourself permission to question your own assumptions. Look between the lines and find your own truth. There is no need to accept everything you hear or read, but at the same time don’t automatically reject it especially if it collides with your own personal values. Just think about it, that's all we ask.
So, what does Jackson and Levy mean when they talk about mindset? Mindset is the way in which you approach the world. Think about an athlete’s mindset. At every meet, they try to break their individual and competitior's current record. There are no barriers, only a sense of endless possibilities. Do you approach business or life in that same manner? Do you dream and strive for the ideal world even as impossible as it might seem to reach or do you worry about whether or not an idea will be accepted and discard it for fear of failure. A lot of people like to think about convergence, feasibility and acceptability as opposed to flexibility. How flexible are you?
Please note mindset is not the same as skill set. So many people seem to ask “I need to learn more and develop my leadership skills in order to become a better leader”. Or does this sound familiar “I need a better leadership style, what are the different models?” The thing is that the real work takes place inside. By only looking at skill sets and style, we are not getting to the core. Most managers have a pretty well developed skill set, unfortunately many have an underdeveloped and immature mindset which puts them in a place of totally ineffective leadership. It’s an illusion to think that by focusing only a skills based checklist you will become a better leader, unfortunately that’s the same as asking for a rabbit to be pulled out of a hat. The real development comes through self awareness and self management of one's mindset.
There is evidence that competency based leadership development is not only a restraint but a constraint that will never work. Research by Levy and Brigid Carroll at the New Zealand Leadership Institute show the disquietening idiosyncracy between management and leadership where management identity is strong and leadership identity is weak. When you don’t have high levels of intentionality, it doesn’t matter how much you say you want to lead, the result will be ineffective leadership. Balance your (and your organisation's) investment in skills management with an increased focus on a well developed mindset and watch the transformation.
Leadership mindset is also about your character. It’s not about intellectual or cognitive capacity, it’s about the ability to standout, to go against the norm and fight wholeheartedly for what you believe to be right. Do you have the courage to do this? If you can’t, then please step out of the way and let someone else do it. The opposite of courage is cowardice. An example of cowardice can also be identified as indifference. Do you care enough to question? Are you able to ask out loud about the elephant in the room? Inquiry requires confidence, courage and the willingness to appear stupid. Strangely, a lot of organisations try to stamp out curiosity as inquiry isn't believed to be equal to advocacy. Most of the time people are looking for answers/solutions not more questions. Questions are often seen as undermining and a lot of people seem to advocate before they properly understand the problem. Questions are required to clarify and properly understand the whole picture. How many questions do you ask each day?
If courage is crucial to leadership, how does one learn courage? You only have to look around and find someone who believes in something, and you will see courage. Do you know what your intrinsic motivations are? What is your purpose? What drives you? Focus less on your skill set but more on what you are trying to achieve. What do you want your legacy to be? Creating a legacy is easy. The life that you have lived is your legacy. Is your current legacy the story that you want to leave behind?
Jackson and Levy emphasise heavily on integrity and a sense of purpose arguing that there can be no discussion about leadership if you haven’t first thought about integrity. Integrity is black or white. You either have it or not. The easiest way to work out if you have integrity is to ask yourself “Would you lie for your job?”
When thinking about a sense of purpose ask yourself why you are here? What do you want to achieve? Will you fight for what you believe is right, even at your own cost? It is important to understand your own values and belief systems before you can even start to embark on your leadership journey. Only through looking inward will you know what you strive for in the external environment.
These days, it seems like we are still accepting leadership that is mediocre and unacceptable. It can not be ignored that there is a worldwide shortage of authentic, purpose driven leaders in the world. The first step is challenging your own mindset and understanding the type of leader you want to be. This can only happen if you are self intelligent about who you are and know the type of person you esteem to be. Remember the greatest leaders know they must be able to lead themselves before they can lead others.
“Leadership is about having the courage to step up and do what you believe in. If you’re doing the same thing as before that’s not leadership, it’s not even management, it's administration. You are part of the status quo. We need to move with the context, speed up, step back before we step forward. Be audacious, be bold. Learn by doing. Leadership in the end is all about practice” – Lester Levy
Dr Lester Levy
Dr Lester Levy has extensive management and governance experience in healthcare, biotechnology and film and television production and wrote the bestselling book, Leadership and the Whirlpool Effect. He currently teaches The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling and the Leadership and Motivation Short Courses.
Professor Brad Jackson
Professor Brad Jackson is the Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership at the Business School and he is also Vice-Chair of the International Leadership Association. He is the author of six books including A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Leadership.
"In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen." - Brene Brown
Brene Brown's TED talk titled 'The Power of Vulnerability' is a fascinating 20 minutes that delves deep into human connection and our ability to empathize, belong and love. I've summarized her key points below but it is a highly recommended and powerful watch if you have the time.
Originally a social worker, Brown switched careers to become a researcher/storyteller. Her research took her to a place she never imagined, and she fought it too, struggling to come to terms with the concepts that she uncovered, even finding herself on a therapist couch at one point.
In her understanding of vulnerability, Brown looked at two types of people. Those that had a strong sense of belonging and those that struggled for it. She found one key variable that separated the two groups. Those that maintained a strong sense of belonging believed that they are worthy.
The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we are not worthy of connection. Where does this deep sense of worthiness come from and why do some struggle so hard to find it? Brown's research found 3 common themes: Courage, Compassion & Connection.
To understand what Brown means by compassion, one must separate the word courage from bravery. The original definition of courage comes from the Latin word "Cor" which means heart and is a common metaphor for inner strength. When the word courage was first introduced into the english language the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
One must understand, learn and practice being kind to themselves first and then to others. You can't not practice compassion to others if you can not treat yourself with the same respect.
As a result of authenticity, the former group (the ones who had a strong sense of belonging and who Brown refers to as the "wholehearted" people) were willing to let go of who they thought they should be and were able to do something where there was no guarantee. ie willing to invest in a relationship that may not work out.
These were fundamental core beliefs of the wholehearted.
Often, we spend our whole lives trying to perfect ourselves but it doesn't work. Rather Brown hopes that we can replace the expectations that we, (our family, friends and society) put on ourselves with worthiness.
"From the moment you are born you are wired for struggle and are imperfect but you are worthy of love and belonging"
We pretend that what we do does not have an effect on the people around us, in our personal lives and our corporate lives. Mistakes are often ignored and this frustrates everyone. We'd much rather that an organisation or a person was just authentic and real and say "I'm sorry and I will fix it"
There's also another way to connect. That is to let ourselves be deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole heart even though there is no guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we're pondering thoughts like, "Can I really love you this much?" Can I believe in this so passionately?" Just to be able to stop and instead of catastrophising what might happen, to say, I am just so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means that I am alive.
Why is it that we struggle with vulnerability? Often, we ask ourselves "Are we alone in the struggle?" We live in a vulnerable world and one of the ways we deal with it is that we try to numb the vulnerability. How? Through consumerism, food, addiction, drugs and medication. However, research has shown that you can't selectively numb emotions, for example "I don't want to feel these feelings that make me feel vulnerable and scared" Because if you numb the hard feelings, all the other emotions are affected too. When we numb the 'bad stuff', we numb everything; joy, gratitude, happiness and then we are miserable, so we start looking for purpose and meaning which leads us to feel vulnerable.
Brown encourages us to question "Why in the hell do we numb?"
The other thing that human beings tend to do is to try and make the uncertain certain. She cites religion as an example that stemmed from a belief in faith and mystery to now being consumed with certainty. In politics these days we see very little to no discourse or conversation. Only blame. Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, which in turn creates more fear. The vicious cycle of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle for worthiness but it appears to also be the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and of love. Brown found that when we work from a place that stems from the belief: I am enoughwe stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gentler to ourselves and to the people around us.