Think of someone you believe was a great leader. How do you know they were a leader?
When we think about it from the outside, leadership is based on the idea of making other people do what you want. We call someone a great leader if they can rally people to their cause.
On the other hand, one of my foundational teachings is that we do not cause other people’s feelings and aren’t responsible for them.
So how can we be leaders if we don’t believe we can cause other people’s feelings? What does leadership look like if you don’t believe your job is to change other people’s thoughts?
I think leadership is about authenticity and detachment, which is different from how most people think about it. Most people think to lead you have to be passionately attached to the outcome and committed to making people see things your way.
But I think a good leader is a good leader not because she is focused on changing other people’s minds, but because she’s focused on showing-up authentically as herself and being an example to people of what’s possible. It’s not about controlling what other people think—it’s about controlling what YOU think about YOURSELF.
When you’re focused on what other people are thinking, you can’t lead, because trying to control someone else’s thoughts doesn’t produce confidence. It produces anxiety. If you’re trying to control the varying opinions and thoughts of lots of different people, you can’t possibly craft a clear, strong message. Instead you’re trying to fit what you’re saying to whatever you predict someone else thinks. This makes you feel anxious, overwhelmed, and powerless.
When you’re a leader, you have a vision of where you want to go. You can communicate that vision confidently. You have faith in your vision. Leadership comes from confidence in yourself and your ideas – but it’s the kind of confidence that allows you to hear feedback, taken in divergent views, and process other ideas without taking them personally or making someone else’s point of view mean something about your own abilities or intelligence. You don’t take it personally when other people don’t share your vision, and you aren’t bothered by rejection. You’re focused on your mission.
When we take other people’s agreement or disagreement personally, we cannot lead effectively. When it becomes about your ego, when you don’t manage your mind, you cannot inspire or advocate effectively for your ideas. So leadership isn’t about manipulating other people into agreeing with you. It’s not about using other people as a stage on which to prove your merit to yourself or other people. It’s about having a commitment to a value, goal, or objective, and showing-up authentically to move towards that objective.
The irony is that, as with so many things in life and thought work, when you stop trying to CONTROL the outcome of any given interaction is when you will truly succeed. You must remember that your only goal is to show up as yourself and tell the truth as you see it. That’s your only job.
People are attracted to truth, authenticity, integrity, calm, and confidence. It’s true if you’re a spiritual teacher, a stay-at-home mom, or the general counsel at a start-up. We all have opportunities in our lives to lead by example, and that is the only kind of leadership that matters or works.
P.S. If you struggle with your leadership role at work or at home, your self-confidence is the problem. And I’ve got the solution for that.