4 Questions to Change your Course as a Leader

“Leadership” and its development within individuals has become a multi-billion dollar industry. When you google “leadership” you will get well over a billion hits leading to advanced degrees, coaching models, training programs, books, videos – all proclaiming to have the magic bullet of building strong leaders. I feel quite certain most have something useful to offer to their recipients. However, what I have also found over the course of my career, and most recently through my work as a leadership development consultant and coach, is that the recipe for becoming an effective leader is seldom – if ever – found outside of oneself.

The greatest leaders in history, as well as those whom I have personally followed in my life, are those who live courageous, authentic lives whose primary purpose is to be in service to others. It is truly that simple.

They are the living examples of what they are inspiring others to be.

Their lives are the inspiration for others to follow. Think Jesus Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela – they all lived lives of courage, authenticity, and purity of intention. Their approach, commitment, and subsequent choices in life inspired others to follow them. Nothing more, nothing less. So, how do we become the most inspiring, powerful leaders we can be? Well…what I can assure is this: it is not about getting your MBA, passing a leadership course, or being promoted into a leadership role – those are only stepping stones leading to a greater and deeper journey. What is the secret??

The secret sauce to becoming the most inspiring and effective leaders (and individuals) we can be comes from self-awareness. We need to get to know ourselves, what our true calling is, and ultimately, how we want to contribute to the world. Okay, okay…I know that sounds like a bunch of psychobabble.

Yet, what I know for sure is that we are at our most powerful when we align why we are here with how we wish to contribute, and having that cause or calling tied to something greater than ourselves.

So, let’s back up – if we want to become the most effective leaders we can be, what are a few questions that can help lead us to that state and to our most powerful state of alignment?

Question 1: What am I here to do?

This questions rolls off the tongue easily; yet, for the real answer, we must dig deep. I sometimes chuckle to myself when I work with companies who have spent tens of thousands of dollars working with consulting firms to come up with some grandiose mission statement. They always incorporate words like best, biggest, optimal. Frankly, if we were to ask most executives what the mission is for their organization they would not be able to tell you the REAL difference in what they do versus what their competitors do. That is a problem. We need to dig deeper…what is it we REALLY are here to do, as companies, as organizations, as leaders? The way this manifests is the HOW…I am more concerned about the WHY and the WHAT!

When we – as individuals AND as leaders of organizations – have a cause which is powerful and transformational, others want to be a part of it. It is in our human condition to want to be part of something big and life-changing. We can make this real whether we are baking bread, building cars, or providing healthcare to sick people. It is all about tying it to something greater than the tactical mechanics of making money. THAT is where the magic is.

We need to look deep. Tap into where the energy comes for what we do. Odds are, it is NOT solely about money. And I can assure you of this – if it is, that is not a sustainable model.

Question 2: Am I choosing Love or Fear?

In my belief system, there are two basic emotions from which all actions come: love and fear. Anytime there is dysfunction on a team, my experience shows that it derives from fear. Fear of not being heard. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of being passed over. Yet, when a leader chooses love, magic happens. Okay, many of you are now rolling your eyes…as this sounds a bit ‘airy fairy’ for a business blog. Yet, as I have written about many times before…love has EVERYTHING to do with it! When we love our clients, customers, coworkers, and employees, the energy changes. People rise up to meet you. They will go the extra mile. They will share openly. They will foster collaboration. This starts with the leader…the leader must model LOVE in every form, action, opinion, hiring and firing. When we do, we inspire the same from our teams – and that, again, is magic.

Question 3: Am I ‘aligned’?

I have built my company around the concept of alignment…which for the individual means choosing to do what you love, being good at it, and tying it to something greater than yourself. There is nothing more powerful than knowing the work you are pursuing is purposeful. When you are in the company of a person who knows why they are here, who stands confidently in that knowledge and is using their skills and talents to that end – one cannot HELP but be inspired. It is contagious. My first book talks about many such individuals who impacted my own quest for alignment. The beautiful truth is this: it is NEVER too late to determine your destiny and to become fully aligned to your life’s course. My second book. “Is This Seat Taken? It’s Never too Late to Find the Right Seat”, (which will be released in a few months) highlights 15 remarkable stories of individuals who did not “find their seat” until very late in life…certainly past what society rules as a conventional timetable. Thus, our continued charge is to peel back our layers and get in touch with how we wish to contribute in the world, and then have the bold courage to dive into the deep end and do it! No matter when, no matter how…continue on the course at whatever stage in life you find yourselves. Period.

Question 4:  Am I truly lifting folks up?

As a Rotarian, I am continually inspired by our mantra: “Service above Self”. It is a very powerful mantra and one that is applicable for every aspect of life. When we approach life and work in the spirit of service, we exemplify true leadership. Leadership is 100% about serving others rather than ourselves. When this happens, more often than not, we inspire others to do the same. We connect with others through love and in the spirit of service. These folks may be underperforming sales people on our teams or they may be individuals who are beyond their level of competency in their current roles or they may be our CEOs who have lost the plot of why they are doing what they are doing. I have personally had experience with each and every position I just highlighted; and what I also know for sure is this: when they were met with encouragement, support, and a soul-to-soul connection, they responded in kind. Many realized they were in the wrong job. Others realized they needed constructive coaching and were willing to take the tough love to get better. Regardless, by lifting them up through love, concern, and support, they responded without the need for “whips and beatings”. And, by modeling this behavior, the culture of the team shifted. Everyone began to help each other…which changed the entire dynamic and led to astounding growth and fulfillment.

Leading by example has always been the most powerful way to influence others. As Albert Schweitzer has said: “Example isn’t the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing.”  Leadership is something we live. Leadership is a practice and a way of approaching life. It is not something we teach and tell…we model leadership through our actions. Leadership is all about serving others, which by its own magnetic power, will inspire others to do the same – which undeniably has the power to change the world.