Leadership, practiced at its best, is the art and science of calling to the hearts and minds of others. It is engaging others in an enterprise of sound strategic focus, where they can experience a sense of ownership, of making a difference, of being valued and adding value.
Consider the story of the woman who woke up in the hold of a ship. She knew she was in the hold of a ship because of the movement and the sound of waves. She went up on deck and saw icebergs. Seeking the captain of the vessel, the woman went to the bridge and asked him where the ship was headed. The captain told her they were sailing north, into the cold and ice. The woman felt saddened and complained that she wished they were heading someplace warmer and more hospitable, like Tahiti. The captain simply shrugged. The woman then asked why there were sailing north. The captain replied that the direction was the one they had always sailed and continued on his northerly course. The woman went back down to the hold. She felt powerless and dejected. Yet she had forgotten something critical. She owned the ship!
This story illustrates something that lies at the very core of leadership: understanding power. Many of us are very much like that woman, having forgotten that we own our lives, our careers, our participation in organizations, and our essential direction. When this occurs, we are powerless and adrift, not knowing how to fully exert our talents and abilities. Yet we always have the power to rediscover the essential potency of choosing and redirecting our lives and our efforts. We have the innate authority and ability to change directions, to seek more worthy and rewarding ports and destinations. I firmly believe that many people in society, in our organizations, in political life, and in communities are awakening to the need for, and the potential of, the leadership spirit that lies dormant within them.
What it takes to tap this spirit is profoundly simple, yet extremely arduous. However, if we do not engage in making the effort, then we will never release the leadership spirit within, nor will we create more effective leadership. In the end, this failure will cost us dearly.
For far too long, corporate and political America has been over-managed while being seriously under-led. We cannot thrive by focusing on the individual parts versus on the whole fabric of society and of our organizations. We need to stop emphasizing the short term over the long term. These are survival models, and by driving a survival model, we are dangerously close to forgetting how to thrive and increase the quality of our lives.
As one philosopher put it, “We must differentiate between a higher standard of living versus an increased quality of life.” They are not the same thing. Many “successful” executives have failed to be successful with their families, ending up alienated from their children or estranged from spouses. Few have achieved a sense of inner peace or even really enjoyed their success. At another level, if one family thrives while five other families suffer, then everyone has a decreased quality of life due to the fear of crime, acts of frustration and anger, a diminished quality of environment, and constraints on the human psyche.
Who is the Captain of your ship, where does the real power lie? You are the owner of your life, and as such, the Captain, the one who seems to be in charge is your “employee” – your designated shipsmaster. Sometimes you need to have a true change in orientation and focus; this will require putting a different executive function in place, one that focuses on things such as your personal health, the quality of your relationships, time to reflect, a true change in the course of your career and even your life.
Who is in charge of your life? Are you on automatic, having given the power over to some old patterns of thinking and perceiving, or are you taking the time to truly assess, step back and re-imagine your life and career?