Give me beauty in the inward soul; may the outward and the inward man be at one.― Socrates.
A few years ago, I spoke about leadership at a company’s annual event. The company was celebrating 15 years of leadership by their CEO, John. Later in the night, and after a few drinks, he confided in me.
“I’m miserable. I feel fake, like a robot controlled by the enormousness of the business that I’ve created and the expectations that it entails. Everyone thinks I’m a big success; I’m envied by friends, neighbors and family. My employees look at me with awe. I’ve created a culture of fear where no one dares to make a mistake. I’ve accustomed my family to such luxuries that I can’t quit on my lavish lifestyle. And worst of all, I feel so alone.”
I was taken aback. I was one of those who looked at John as if everything always worked out for him. It never crossed my mind that he could be so troubled. I didn’t know what to say as the truth was that I hadn’t known him very well.
Over the next few days and weeks, his words and sullen face did not leave me. What he was going through echoed a lot of what I also went through 10 years ago.
It was apparent, like me before, that he’d reached a place where his inner thoughts didn’t match his outward actions. His true self rebelled against his false self. Whether at work or at home, his leadership was one of reaction, resting on his street smarts, experience and screaming when things didn’t go his way. He’d simply stood still over the last 15 years and never developed himself or those around him.
Whether in the business world or otherwise, leadership is about personal growth and raising one’s self-awareness. As much as we try to separate the leader from the person, the two are inseparable.
Leadership is not an external act, or a part-time job or something we just do. Whether we are entrepreneurs, engineers, writers or bankers, the leader and person are one. Leadership is who we are being. It is an expression of who we are; it is us in action.
We lead by virtue of who we are — our life experiences, beliefs, values, personality traits, motives, and true essence.
External results, like revenue, profits, market share and peer recognition matter, but they should not be what we pursue. Rather, they ensue and become a by-product of our long-term vision, internal focus and dedication to self and team growth.
Leadership is broadly defined as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” We are taught to lead others, but not how to lead ourselves on the right path first.
Most leadership training courses ignore the power of within, the inside-out kind of leadership or authentic leadership. They instead focus on the external aspects such as vision, innovation, process, productivity and problem-solving.
All these external factors are essential, but they must be balanced by teaching men and women how to unleash their power from within. There are infinite ways to become a great leader, and no one size fits everyone. There are many styles as there are leaders.
The single most important thing a leader needs to be is himself. A leader must be authentic first, then competent later.
Authenticity comes from the Latin word “Author” and simply means to become the author of one’s life. Being authentic means coming from a real place within, where our actions and words are congruent with our beliefs and values. It is being ourselves and not an imitation of what we think we should be or what others want us to be.
“Leading from within” is not a destination but a journey of deep self-discovery, requiring both self-knowledge and self-awareness. It is not stagnant but rather constantly shifts and takes on new forms. We must continually be learning about ourselves, challenging old beliefs, facing our fears, and courageously reaching deep within ourselves to find out what makes our heart sing and our spirit soar.
It means reaching our true potential, living with a sense of purpose, guiding us to make a positive contribution to the world around us. We all have a unique gift or talent, and we must find it and nurture it as it will give us the most incredible platform to become who we must be and serve humanity accordingly.
However, it does not mean only focusing on the inner and rather forgetting about the outer results. It involves a constant dynamic between inner and outer. Our actions are in a dynamic loop from us to others and back again.
First and foremost, we need to understand who we are. What’s our purpose and grand vision so that we can live and lead more consciously, intentionally and effectively. This inner excavation directs our thoughts, feelings, actions, and results instead of being dictated by external results such as money, prestige, and success.
When we are clear on who we are, what we want and how we want to get it, the rest is all doable.
When what is happening on the outside matches what we feel on the inside, the rest is tolerable.
When we live, lead, and act from the heart, we live with certain contentment that can accommodate both failure and suffering as we do what we truly want and not what others want us to do.
Our lives, thus, are not defined by circumstances, life events and others, but rather by our true inner essence and an authentic path to mastery.
On these days that I lead from within, everything seems to work out. The sun seems brighter. I walk with purpose and energy as I feel my heart enlarge. I feel grateful, fulfilled, engaged and happy to be alive?
Only by being inner-focused can we feel those positive feelings more regularly.
What are you waiting for? There is no better time than today to start living and leading from within.
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