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Last month I was surprised by the rusty state of my own leadership. Underneath my usual steady appearance, it felt like I lost something that used to fuel me deeply. My will and drive to be a leader, to take initiative, to stand up for causes I believe in. The reflection was about me leading my own life but also about the way I was serving others with my leadership.

Looking back it was easy to sum up the disappointing moments, the failures and harmful occurrences. And though I was not aware of it, these experiences had a stronger effect on me than I thought. I was living with the brakes on, with a false sense of modesty and mostly with a lack of focus and determination to give my energy to what matters most.

Causes for rusty leadership

Reflecting about it made me see that it had to do with being strong, providing safety and comfort for others and mostly with an irrational expectation of myself to prevent further disappointments. Resulting in a lack of direction, unawareness of my influence and not living my purpose.

By acknowledging this, the insecurity got replaced by a new sense of wholeness and a new kindness towards myself. It felt like a second chance. A second chance to stand up for what I deeply believe in and want to contribute to, despite the burdening experiences of the past. Nelson Mandela once said: ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’ This is what I’m reliving. The moments that I fell make me who I am right now.

Reflecting on your leadership

Possibly you share these moments of reflection of not being the leader you want to be, that your leadership is under pressure or that you lack the energy to go on.  So how is your leadership doing? The following seven questions helped me to reflect and I hope they can help you as well.

Am I aware of my deepest desire?

What I mean with desire is that what gives you direction intrinsically, your cause or your purpose. An answer to this questions gives you focus to do what you’re called to do in this life. Often it results from something that shocks or affects you deeply, something that irritates you, knowing that it can be changed or tackled. An inner drive to make it happen. My advice is to make time and give attention to the things you deeply care about!

Am I aware of my influence?

If you’re feeling down you tend to loose the awareness of your influence. Slowly your strength as a leader diminishes as you start to doubt yourself. Is this what people really want? Will I let them down? What if I see it wrong? Your influence hasn’t disappeared but you’re unable to connect with it due to internal barriers. We often blame others or come with excuses like ‘bad timing’ or ‘it is an uphill battle’. The fact that we’re not succeeding has more to do with our inner barriers than with the external circumstances. So try to determine your internal barriers and overcome them.

Do I have a real contribution?

We can loose ourselves in all kind of activities. Activities that, if we’re honest, don’t have a real contribution to the things we want to achieve on a deeper level. We tend to waste a lot of time to numb our insecurity, instead of standing up again in our purpose. Being busy seems like an effort to obtain a level of usefulness. It requires new focus, planning and discipline to give your best time and energy to what is most important to you. That’s why I wish you would give space for what matters most.

Am I living my convictions?

Our convictions have a strong impact on our behaviour. They help us to give sense to what happens around us and motivate us to take action. They are leading principles giving us meaning and direction. If we don’t live by our convictions it feels like being disloyal to ourselves. The bigger your responsibility as a leader the more this will be a pressure point. Hence, the question if you’re being loyal to your convictions. Because if you’re not it will drain your energy. Are you able to endure the pain and even rejection to stand for what you believe in, especially when the costs are high? That’s why I encourage you to live your convictions, especially when it is really hard.

Is my personality becoming more attractive?

Why are some leaders easier to follow than others? It largely has to do with the development of their personality. I define personality as all the qualities a person has that defines how he/she will react in various situations, the way he/she thinks and what motivates him/her. It is easier to follow someone who can handle his/her emotions well and reacts in a connecting and engaging way. It’s also easier to follow someone who is transparent in his/her way of thinking, and therefore easy to comprehend. And finally leaders that gain motivation from a collective purpose and the development of people, instead of being busy making a good impression. That’s why choosing for connection and oneness is a good idea.

Am I still learning?

JFK said that leadership and learning are indispensible to each other. If you think you have arrived as a leader you’ve stopped learning and will find it difficult to handle feedback in a constructive way, providing you still get any. Besides the fact that a learning attitude and the required vulnerability are increasing engagement, there is another reason to keep learning. Anaïs Nin said: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ So if you’ve stopped learning, it has an effect on the way you look at people and your organisation. What strikes me is that organisations with learning leaders are more agile and more able to adapt than organisations that don’t have leaders with a learning attitude. So choose for vulnerability and learning.

Am I connected with my source (of inspiration)?

What is your source? Where do you return when you’re thirsty? When you need sanctity, wisdom, direction and new energy? The amount of time you spend at your source needs to correspond with your level of responsibility as a leader. The bigger the responsibility, the more time you must spend there. Here you can be yourself, let go and search for answers. And from the residing inner peace you can return and be there for others, for your cause. Making a real contribution to the things that matter, with increased influence and conviction. So please spend enough time at your source.

Managing the fast changing environment

The time in which we live requires leaders who are able to manage the fast changing environment. Leaders that do the right things for the right reasons. Leaders who can connect, take hard decisions and make a real contribution to the recovery and renewal of organisations and society as a whole. I hope the questions guide you to a deeper reflection and I’m excited to know how it will fuel your leadership.

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One Comment

  • Bob Vrijaldenhoven

    Thanks for sharing. Daring to doubt oneself is a virtue and probably even a leadership competence for the future. As in an ever changing future the ‘easy’ copy-paste solutions give a false sense of security and are not doing justice to the complexity we face.

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