The prevailing approach to leadership today – and to business in general – is to focus on short-term performance rather than long-term results. This short-term focus means we’re often forced to be more transactional than strategic in our work. We’re even seeing this dynamic in the political sphere, where longstanding alliances and relationships are minimized in favor of expediency in the pursuit of unclear and unshared goals. Since this tendency toward the transactional creates even more uncertainty in already challenging times, it has huge consequences for all of us.
To better understand our fast-changing and unpredictable world, I’ve spent a lot of time observing and talking to successful people. Not surprisingly, I’ve found that real success comes from who you are as a person – your purpose, values, relationships and character. These things influence behavior and actions. Who you are drives what you do and how you perform.
Using this perspective, we’re able transcend the transactional and tap into something larger than ourselves. In other words, we’re able to regain our connection to the strategic by focusing on what’s within our control. In creating a strategy for ourselves, we’re then able to bring that vision to those around us.
This ability to better understand ourselves and our surroundings is foundational to any leadership development initiative and forms the basis for what I call grounded and conscious leadership. Being grounded refers to the dimensions of yourself as a person, or what I call the six healthy roots:
- Physical health: keeping you agile in a fast-paced world
- Emotional health: helping you stay both tough and nimble in uncertain times
- Intellectual health: providing the tools for learning and staying relevant in a complex environment
- Social health: ensuring you have the relationship skills you need to live in a connected world
- Vocational health: helping you balance meaningful work and competition in a demanding age
- Spiritual health: connecting to the larger world and building trust and gratitude in the face of cynicism
Ultimately, these dimensions function much like the human body, where a complex network of systems works together to keep us alive. Though the roots of grounded leadership form an integrated whole, we can’t expect the impossible – not everyone will be able to finely hone each one. The best move is to view cultivating your roots as a lifelong endeavor.
Once our roots are established and we’re committed to the principle of lifelong learning, we can take it up a notch by developing our skills as conscious leaders. We all face the challenge of adapting to an ever-changing technological world, and many of us struggle to keep up. It’s not that we aren’t aware of the challenge itself but rather that we lack awareness about what we can do about it. In building an awareness of our options, we’re able to act and adapt more quickly. In this way, being conscious acts as an accelerant to our personal development as well as the attainment of organizational goals.
I’ve identified four principal reasons we’re unaware in the face of so many changes:
- We’re too shallow. Superficial and unaware, we spend too little time in self-reflection.
- We’re too narrow. Biased and closed-minded in our thinking, our options appear limited.
- We’re too safe. Protective and reactive, we fear change and fail to evolve.
- We’re too small. Cautious and self-centered, we fail to see connections and possibilities.
The process of thinking about these challenges and the impact they have on our personal and professional lives can be daunting. Fortunately, for each perceived limitation or constraint, there is a corresponding antidote. I like to call them practices:
- Go Deep: Discover your inner self, and toss out negative and unproductive beliefs.
- Think Big: See a world of possibilities, and cultivate an “and” rather than an “or” mindset.
- Get Real: Manage your personal accelerators and hijackers, and learn to leverage your anxiety.
- Step Up: Reach for your highest potential, seek opportunities and take risks.
In many ways, this understanding of grounded and conscious leadership stands in direct opposition to current assumptions about the path to success. The focus on acquiring skills, building competencies and being the smartest person in the room misses the mark. The resulting need to be right, the hoarding of knowledge and the externalizing of blame ultimately sabotage us. The best organizations develop cadres of grounded and conscious leaders in their workforce. In today’s wild and wireless world, being conscious is the new smart.