“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” (Aristotle)
“Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself” (African proverb)
“You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you” (Rwandan proverb)
When working with top leaders around the world, there is one challenge that keeps coming up in different ways time and time again: isolation.
The more senior a “master (or mistress) of the universe” might be, the more isolated they might be from those around them.
This isolation is frequently blamed on a very busy work and travel schedule. And it can certainly be reinforced by physical location and distance in these virtual working times. But this columnist’s 10 years of being a leader himself and nearly 30 years of working with them has shown that the principal reason for isolation is “disconnection”.
Not so much with others but with oneself.
As leaders rise in an organisation or entrepreneurs grow their business, they can often lose sight of their original values, purpose, goals, even identity, as they become institutionalised and imprisoned by the reality and promise of ever greater power, riches, etc.
One senior leader at a top private bank told me: “I was so busy playing corporate games and worrying about my mega-bonus that I forgot who I was”.
Since then, he has quit his highly-paid job and moved to a much smaller boutique firm, which allows him to travel less, be with his family and community more and most importantly, reconnect with himself and who he really is.
Mireille Ineza Karera, who is the CEO of Kora Coaching & Business Academy, believes this Self Connection and Self Leadership are so important because “everything starts and ends with you. This means being aware and conscious about how you lead yourself in all areas of life and being intentional about who you are and how your deeds have an impact on others.”
Mireille gives a specific example of this from her own recent experience: “When I returned back home from the Diaspora about four years ago, I saw a need to take ownership of creating and growing the coaching industry in our nation.
Self-leadership in that context was to keep myself and my organisation accountable in that field. This is something that nobody gave me a mandate to do. I saw a problem in the supply of competent coaches and found a solution for it by creating the first Coach Training Academy that certifies different kinds of coaches in Rwanda and Africa.
So, to the concept of Self Leadership, I believe that you need to be clear about what your impact should be and run with it until you reach the finishing line.”
But before you can make an impact, Mireille insists that you must be clear about your “calling” so that you can then “lead with purpose and intentionality”.
She continues: “there is a difference between a career and a calling. You work for your career to earn money, status, skills and other benefits, but you cannot be excellent at Self Leadership without knowing your calling. Your calling is when you do the work you were born to do. Self Leadership inevitably becomes second nature.”
And sometimes this “calling” can be divinely inspired. German philosopher Friedrich Buechner defined it this way: “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
But how can current and future leaders identify their calling?
I find that solitary prayer or meditation and then quiet reflection time really helps. I encourage even the busiest executives to dedicate at least half an hour on a Friday afternoon or Sunday morning to closing the door, switching off the electronics and sitting with a blank piece of paper, pencil and eraser.
And then they may ask themselves these 10 questions:
1. What does it mean, in a general sense, to be a “true leader”?
2. What does it mean to me personally to be a “true leader”?
3. What do/would I hope to achieve as a “true leader”?
4. How will it enhance my career and my personal life?
5. In what ways might it actually impinge on my career and my personal life?
6. What natural strengths, learned talents, overarching passions, and core values do I already possess to be a “true leader”?
7. What is still be missing for me to be a “true leader” and what “hot buttons” do I need to be aware of?
8. What do others say to me and about me as a leader? What do they see in terms of “blind spots” that I don’t see?
9. How can I best overcome my shortcomings through prayer, meditation, hard work, stretch assignments, travel, studying, mentoring, coaching, etc.?
10. What else do I need to be successful leader?
And if you do all of this, hopefully you can live up to Mireille’s personal credo: “Whether understood or misunderstood where you stood. Be one who outstood.”
In the meantime, the third column in this new bi-weekly series will be published on 19 December. This column will delve into the key leadership skill of “Vision” and it should help you set your own professional and personal vision and goals for 2020.