Discovering True Self requires the courage to explore who you really are without the limiting beliefs of who you should be. It takes you into an honest conversation about your true values, your most sincere beliefs, your deepest fears, your protective masks, and your future aspirations. In the midst of this exploration, your authentic voice will emerge and help you resist the temptation to imitate, fit in, or stand out. This inner voice will prevent you from puffing up or shrinking. This brave exploration will lead you to embrace your own unique story, what you truly care about, what you are hungry for, what you are innately great at, and what barriers keep you from expressing the highest version of yourself. To reach this continual understanding of self requires practices that embed the inquiry into the fabric of your life and help you discern your voice over the myriad noises that form and target our conscious and unconscious. These supportive practices can include leadership assessments, journaling, meditation, 360 reviews—and, of course, this guidebook.
The True Self knows that the masculine and feminine are both present within, and it seeks to express them in balance. It tempers the ego and seeks to be grounded and centered. Most important, our commitment to discovering and embodying the True Self includes the promise to make room for others to do the same, and supports a culture of diversity and inclusion. We hold that revealing True Self is a lifelong adventure and the foundation and center for redefining power. Listening to the True Self results in an authentic lifetime legacy.
One of the most touted qualities of a successful leader, trust serves as the foundation of all relationships. Since we hold that all work is done through relationships, the focus on trust-building will result in both efficiency and effectiveness. A strong trust environment requires us to manage conflict and hold others accountable, while at the same time demonstrating a deep care and concern for our employees. Many authors have addressed trust—from Miguel Ruiz’s “being impeccable with your word” in The Four Agreements to Stephen Covey’s “character and competence” in The Speed of Trust, and Patrick Lencioni’s “trust foundation” in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In addition, many organization evaluations include an assessment of the level of trust. Notwithstanding this ubiquity, we felt it was important to acknowledge the prominent place of trust in the authentic leadership journey. We include within our trust discussion the trust of self, the trust of others, and being trustworthy...which encompasses the ability to know yourself and others. We assess trust through three lenses: character, caring, and competence. For instance, in action, are you impeccable with your word? Do you speak truthfully and with good purpose? Do you show you care through visible actions? Do you demonstrate skill and expertise in your domain? These actions help create the psychological safety needed for true leadership conversations that draw out the best of our human family.
We believe the human spirit seeks to bring purpose and meaning to life. While some reject the notion that the world of work plays a role in the higher purpose arena, we acknowledge the truth that much of our lives are spent at work, and our purpose should be displayed there. We proffer that conscious leaders have a power to help redefine the concept of higher purpose and to drive a connection to work that goes beyond the obvious responsibilities. They help articulate the value and meaning behind the work activity, and in doing so, they elevate the respect and value of the employee accomplishing the task. To embed a higher purpose, we articulate the “why” of work and reframe the depiction of hard work. Rather than portraying hard work as heavy or burdensome with a sole focus on the mechanical or tactical responsibilities, we hold the efforts we deliver at work should feel “worth it”—driven by a greater impetus and included in a conversation about the positive impact those contributions will have on customers and communities. Higher purpose conversations should be present in vision/mission/values discussions, and leaders who handle power differently use stories to bring the strategy related to the mission alive. Higher purpose will require us to be comfortable with ambiguity and to consider revolution when all else has failed. The heart of the higher purpose pursuit is the well-known Mark Twain quote, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why.”
The concept of integration relates to our ability to unify our internal self and unify with the world around us. Internally, it begins with integrating the various aspects of who we are, including a balance of masculine and feminine traits and energy. It incorporates our compassion and vulnerability, as well as our decisiveness and action-orientation. It seeks to unite our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. Externally, integration involves bringing people together, breaking down silos and hierarchy, and combining disparate parts of an organization to create one unified entity with a culture of equality. Leaders who integrate understand the power of connection and they work to create a sense of true unity. Integration is not limited to workplace interactions; it extends to ways of being in the world. Integration abhors segregation. A culture of integration, however, requires more than diversity programs. It demands the skill to thwart “island” and “divisive” mentality, and recognizes that leadership and knowledge live throughout the organization. Transformational leaders help weave an employee tapestry that is greater than its parts and reduces the isolation and separateness that is often felt in the workplace.
The skill of navigation allows a leader to help create a roadmap that takes the group or organization to their desired outcomes. It allows the leader to be captain of the ship, but not the dictator. These leaders study and understand the external and internal forces driving the company’s direction, and they synthesize and communicate this information in meaningful ways to those they lead. To be able to navigate effectively, the leader must be able to inspire the people throughout the journey and describe the destination in a way that draws those they lead to be personally invested in the movement to that place. These leaders do not let people “wander in the desert,” and they model being “at cause” rather than “at effect”—meaning, they create circumstances rather than react to them. Navigators help direct the organization in its pursuit of operational excellence and growth, and they steer decisively in times of chaos and confusion. They are change masters who know how to alter course while protecting the underlying mission. They are not afraid to make difficult decisions in defense of that mission. In summary, navigators communicate where the organization is going and how it will get there, and all along the way reminding us of “why” we are going.
Our interpretation of Knowledge includes both the intellectual and the intuitive. In pursuit of intellectual knowledge, leaders are eager to learn and are committed to building knowledge in a variety of domains, including finance, operations, technology, etc. They present evidence that they are serious about that commitment. They devote scheduled time to building both industry and company knowledge, and they approach this inquiry with curiosity and sincere interest. They accept that Knowledge comes from many sources and unlikely places—from a variety of employees and a number of experiences. Most important, they are also students of leadership as a profession, and they invest time and resources into building their competence as a leader.
Regarding intuitive knowledge, well-rounded leaders embed practices that allow them to hear their own inner wisdom, and they use their intuition as a trusted guide. Self-knowledge plays an important role in their intuition and their leadership delivery. They work to combine all knowledge and knowingness in a way that informs holistic and creative decision-making.
We use a broad interpretation of listening to include hearing ourselves, hearing one another, and hearing the world at large. Following Mark Nepo’s Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, we hold that listening is sacred and it beckons us to a deeper knowing and understanding of ourselves and others. We believe that the traditional concept of listening is the foundation for human connection, and it requires respect, presence, self-discipline, commitment, and practice. Listening goes beyond the intellectual, and acknowledges cues that are revealed throughout and even before the interaction. The ability to listen helps the leader know how to speak to drive organizational focus and manage performance.
Listening allows us to more intimately know the strengths and weaknesses of others, and it provides data to help us determine progress both in their development and in our own. Leaders who ignite true power seek counsel and understand when to listen rather than speak. They know that listening forms the foundation for their leadership language.
Effective leaders welcome feedback about their blind spots and they help create a culture where being listened to is expected.
When leaders listen to their people and to the world, they leverage all human, physical, and financial assets synergistically. They listen with their whole selves to what is being said and what is not being said; they incorporate an understanding of the impacts of character, culture, and society. They can maximize moments by being completely present—skillfully resisting the temptation to continuously multi-task and reject the now. They honor the role of the figurative or literal “talking stick,” and they grant it freely.
We hold that optimism is the expression of a belief in possibility, breakthrough, and potential. It is rooted in the conviction that we can move trajectory and circumstances, and design desired outcomes. Optimism injects an energy of positivity, curiosity, and imagination that encourages employees to believe in their individual power to create and manage their futures. Optimism inspires bigger dreams and the action to support those dreams which, in turn, facilitates a productive mood and a positive morale.
Optimism fuels hope and supports resilience. At the same time, optimistic leaders do not ignore reality as part of true optimism—quite the contrary, they articulate hard facts and possible outcomes. However, they believe in the power of declarations, and they know that there are always opportunities to be seized in even the most challenging of times. They reject the fear that limits action and possibilities, and focus on the desired outcome. Most of all, optimistic leaders bring a sense of humor and playfulness to work. They take their work seriously, but never themselves.
Vulnerability is a precursor to courageous leadership. Contrary to popular thought, vulnerability is not a weakness, even though we have been taught in subtle ways that it is. In fact, we only use the term when there is danger, such as cybersecurity vulnerability, financial vulnerability, and social and economic vulnerability. Consequently, we need to reframe our idea of vulnerability if we are to gain its benefits.
Brené Brown has spent more than twenty years researching vulnerability, and her Ted Talk on this subject has been viewed by more than thirty-seven million people to date. In that talk and in her research, she emphasizes that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation and the foundation of all change management. Leaders who are comfortable with being vulnerable lead creativity, innovation, and change more expertly by allowing a “fail fast, ask questions, admit your wrong, and express confusion” culture. In those cultures, our willingness to be seen—truly seen—sets the tone for authenticity throughout the organization. These organizations recognize that without vulnerability there is no growth, there is no learning, there is no trust. All conversations that matter require vulnerability. It takes courage to say, “I don’t know,” “I’m sorry,” “You hurt my feelings,” “It was my fault, “I need help”, “I love you”, etc., so they often go unsaid.
The resolve to be vulnerable is based on the acknowledgment that we all have been shaken or scared, and that by leaning into our ability to experience the vast range of human emotions we will free others to do the same. As we tell our story, we open the connection and intimacy that is required to deliver extraordinary results.
The focus on energy starts with the commitment to be self-aware about our personal state of energy and to determine what impacts it, both positively and negatively. Managing our energy incorporates the understanding that energy comes from physical, mental, and emotional health, and that our personal energy significantly impacts those we lead. It includes the promise we make to ourselves to maintain physical health, to reduce energetic blocks, and eliminate the toxicity in our lives. Being mindful with our energy directs us to what type of energy is needed for a particular situation. For instance, some moments may call for our warrior energy to emerge, and some may require that we use our voice in a subtler way.
Healthy leaders do not underestimate the overriding influence of workplace energy. They are moved by the truth that organizations can be the most toxic places on earth or can provide a place of growth and healing. They view energy management as part of their leadership promise. Skill in this arena also includes the awareness of where to place our energy personally and organizationally—whether on the small stuff, attracting talent, or eliminating bureaucracy, for example. Leaders who are intentional about their use of energy are more productive and effective.
The energy of an energetic leader is contagious, and it ultimately ignites engagement at work. Leaders who use their energy to “walk the talk and talk the walk” with enthusiasm know that the path to true power is less treacherous when it is fueled with an internal, sustainable, healthy fire.
This model and the words and definitions incorporated in it are provided to help give language to a renewed idea of leadership that is productive and uplifting. It is our hope that together they will provide a framework for your thinking as you move through the reflections and embed a mindfulness practice into your leadership. Our goal was to make the definitions broad enough to resonate with many different types of leaders and various leadership situations. Strict adherence to the model, however, is not required for your leadership evolution. Again, this process is uniquely your own. Embrace what speaks to you and move through the rest. Your voice is the ultimate guide.