Leading with Heart

 In Inspiration, Sarah McLean

About ten years ago I received a Service Leadership Award from Sustainable Arizona, an educational non-profit organization that I co-founded.  Sustainable Arizona was formed to teach Arizonan’s how to live and build with conservation and the environment in mind, and I wrote the newsletter which reached thousands of ‘green pioneers’ across Arizona for more than a year.

I hadn’t really considered myself a leader. I thought leadership conferences and books on leadership didn’t apply to me, after all, I wasn’t an elected leader, or leading a big team of people. I had to broaden my definition of leader… A leader is a man or woman who rules or guides or inspires others.

If that is the case, we are all leaders, in some way. I thought: I lead my life, I lead my students, I lead retreats, I lead my volunteers and my contractors, sometimes I lead my friends by example.  So, I guess I am a leader. But what kind of leader was I? What kind of style did I use? And what was Service Leadership? I looked into it.

I found out that the idea of being of service as a leader is as old as the 4th century BCE.  Chanakkya, a man considered a pioneer in economics and political science, wrote: “The king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself, but what pleases his subjects [followers]”

I discovered many terms for this type of leadership: enlightened leadership, values-based leadership, and leading with heart.  “Servant Leadership” is the term coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf.  Servant Leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first,” says Greenleaf.  It’s a lifelong journey that includes discovery of one’s self, a desire to serve others, and a commitment to lead.

Amidst the change and  uncertainty and the great challenges we are facing in the world today, there’s a wonderful opportunity for transformative leaders to emerge.   These leaders will not be the same as the ones that led us into this moment; instead, these great leaders will have a different way of leading, a way that’s needed to navigate these rough waters, leading us to a new paradigm of cooperation and vision.

Many books and seminars address style, process, and technical and strategic issues of leadership, but the leaders emerging today are using a new leadership style – one beyond all techniques and advice.  It’s a style that encourages cooperation and collaboration rather than competition, time lines rather than deadlines, and responsiveness rather than reactivity.

This new paradigm in leadership will be one of vision, courage, and creative responses rather than one of conformity and status quo.

Deepak Chopra, in his book, Soul of Leadership, Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness, says  “A leader moves with life as naturally as possible even when there is no one following. Every step of the way he carries something with him, and this something sets him apart. It isn’t charisma, self-confidence, ambition, or ego. Those qualities are identified with prominent leaders, but none are essential.  The essential element is ever-expanding awareness, which begins with looking and listening.”

Whether we are in a traditional leadership role in the workplace, or leading our kids into adulthood, each one of us is responsible for cultivating the new paradigm in leadership within ourselves.  Self-awareness is vital. A leader who leads from the heart must identify his or her values, walk in the world in his or her integrity, and discover his or her passion to serve and navigate as a leader.  They also need to know when they are in balance physically, emotionally and mentally. And when they aren’t, they take responsibility for their own return to balance.

Steve Jobs gave this advice on being a great leader at the commencement at Stanford University:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

The leaders today utilize the qualities of the heart and intuition: they are keenly perceptive, sensitive, and self-aware rather than closed-minded and hard-hearted.  They look, they listen and pay attention to how they feel rather than relying solely on the intellect.  They have the courage to pursue creative solutions instead of doing the same old thing and expecting different results. They lead with wisdom, creativity, intuition, present moment awareness, and compassion.

Leadership is doing what is right when no one is watching.  –George Van Valkenburg

What is doing the right thing?  Perhaps it is being more aware of what our values are so we can act in integrity.  Perhaps it is to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others and realize our interconnectedness with, and influence on, everyone and everything in our sphere. Perhaps it is about creating community rather than separation. Perhaps it means to listen to our own intuition, and courageously make decisions from there.  Or, it could mean to listen whole-heartedly to others, to see and acknowledge their gifts, and be more present in relationships. Perhaps the right thing it is to shift our internal dialogue from “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I help?” Perhaps it means to be responsible for our own actions rather than blaming ‘them’ or ‘the situation.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams, 1767-1848, 6th President of the United States

“We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for,” says Martha Mayhood Mertz, author of Becoming Athena: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership.  She founded ATHENA International, an organization which mentors and trains emerging leaders in more than 500 U.S. cities and six countries. She’s been researching successful leaders worldwide and has identified eight principles at the heart of effective, enlightened leadership. They are:

Live authentically; Learn constantly; Advocate fiercely; Act courageously; Foster collaboration; Build relationships; Give back; Celebrate.

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