Why it is important to lead ourselves first before we try to lead others
It’s easy to lose sight of your direction when you focus on the grind of the day-to-day and get smoked out from the fires that you are fighting.
Steve M. Beauchamp looks at the importance of self-leadership and how to stay focused and motivated when the journey seems long and the goal uncertain.
A new model of leadership
The Great Resignation is upon us and with it comes a new set of challenges for leaders. In order to meet the needs of the 21st century, we need to develop a new model of leadership.
In the past, and to a certain degree in the present, the Western world approaches leadership from a model that is over 100 years old. The structure doesn’t allow for leaders to easily change their approach or change their mind about something for fear of how it will look to shareholders & stakeholders.
The traditional model of leadership is no longer effective in a world where change is happening at an unprecedented pace. One thing is certain, the pace of change will continue to increase not decrease.
We need to accept that the era of needing to detach your personal self from your work are coming to a close. It is time to recognize that there really is no such thing as work-life balance, but rather we should be striving for work:life harmony.
The idea of striking a balance produces a picture for me of a scale where you have to give and take from each side to find the balance. That can be exhausting as you might already know.
I believe work:life harmony is much like it sounds, a blending of things together to create something more full and rich. Think about music for a second, single notes sound ok by themselves but when played together create a harmonious collective sound that is much more pleasing to our ears.
Work:life harmony is not as out of reach as you might think. It just requires you to take a pause and reflect. That reflection is what is needed for leaders to be successful in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Leaders must be able to navigate an ever-changing landscape and inspire others to do the same.
What Does It Mean To Be a Leader In The 4th Industrial Revolution?
In order to keep up with the rapid pace of change, we need a new model of leadership that is adaptable, agile, and able to navigate the uncertainties of the future. We as Continuous Improvement Professionals and Leaders should be the ones to lead the way.
But what does it mean to be a leader in the 4th Industrial Revolution? And what skills and traits are necessary to succeed?
In order to answer these questions, we need to look at the root of leadership. What is the purpose of leadership? And what does it take to achieve it?
In my opinion, leadership is meant to be a support function, to have clear vision and purpose and be able to inspire others to share in that vision and help to make it come true. One of the most fundamental truths is that leadership needs to be self-led.
Leaders Must Be Able To:
• Lead themselves first and understand who their true authentic self is
• Lead others in a constantly changing environment through that authentic self
• Define their own professional pursuit and support others to do the same
• Embrace change and look for ways to continually move toward their professional pursuit
• Serve the greater good not just their pocketbook
Only by developing such leaders will we be able to thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The successful leaders in this new era will be the ones who can navigate change and uncertainty, who can find their own path and chart their own course. They will be the ones who are not afraid to experiment and take risks, and are constantly learning and evolving.
The Challenges in Leading Others Without Knowing Your Authentic Self
There are many challenges that come with leading others, especially if you don’t know your authentic self. Without that knowledge, you may find yourself struggling to overcome challenges, achieve goals and get results.
I believe that it’s important to know yourself in order to be an effective leader. Without that deep connection to your true and authentic self, you end up running the risk of feeling like you need to put on a persona or act a certain way.
You start to feel like you need to be someone you’re not in order to be successful. This is called Imposter Syndrome and it can be a huge challenge when leading others. It can also be extremely detrimental to staying connected to your core values.
People want to feel like they are being led by someone who has their best interest in mind, not someone who is just trying to “get the job done”. You are much more likely to lead from a place of integrity if you really know who you are.
You might not even know what your authentic self is, let alone how to act on it. So what does knowing your authentic self really mean anyway?
I believe we can get closer to finding what this is for ourselves by exploring the Japanese philosophy of ikigai.
Now, you may be familiar with the Venn diagram that was made popular by Marc Winn but what I have found is that really isn’t what ikigai means from a Japanese cultural context.
The Venn diagram originally had the word “purpose” at the center and was created by Andreas Zuzunaga. That isn’t at all what I am talking about when I refer to ikigai.
When you unpack this word and try to find an English definition is quite difficult. So let me instead try to give you my interpretation of this word.
Ikigai is made up of two different words; ikiru: which means to live, and gai: which means value or worth. When you put the two words together you end up with “what makes life worth living” or something to that effect.
When you look at the Venn diagram, it can seem quite different from that interpretation and tends to direct you to looking for a big goal or life ambition. And, although that is important, that is not what ikigai means in the original Japanese context.
Discovering your authentic self is about discovering the things that get you out of bed in the morning. They can be as small as looking forward to having your cup of coffee with a book you are reading, or can be much bigger such as looking forward to working with the group that you volunteer with or spending time with a loved one.
The one thing to note is that ikigai has nothing to do with getting paid for anything. It is more accurate to think about it as a reason for being.
I believe that when we get in tune with our authentic selves and live from that place, we can be much more comfortable with the outside circumstances that seem uncertain or unclear.
And when you can find comfort in uncomfortable situations you position yourself to be a much stronger leader and can help others feel more comfortable as well. From this place, I believe that you are able to truly look out for what is in others’ best interest.
However, being in tune with your authentic self is vital to being an effective leader but it is not the only thing you need.
In order to effectively lead, you need to know where you are going, the heading you are following when you glance at your compass, your professional pursuit.
The Danger of Lacking Connection to Your Professional Pursuit
You might be thinking that just because you are in a particular role must automatically mean that you have a professional pursuit. While that may be true, it is not necessarily automatic.
What I mean when I say professional pursuit, is that you have developed a path for yourself that flows out of your authentic self. You have thought about the skills, talents and abilities that you have and have then connected those to a desire to serve the greater good and something others can benefit from.
This is not at all about selfish motivation and lining your pocketbook, although it does have an element of compensation. Your professional pursuit should be something that flows out of who you are and can sustain you to be able to live out that pursuit perhaps for the rest of your life.
So you might be wondering is there a Japanese philosophy that helps describe this concept? The answer is yes. That philosophy is called kokorozashi.
The English interpretation of kokorozashi means “the heart of a samurai”, intending to evoke the thought that your life’s pursuit should be worth something to you and those around you, that you are in service to others and willing to give your life if necessary.
In a more modern sense, your kokorozashi is a personal mission that unifies the passions and skills of a professional to create positive change in society. In other words, your professional pursuit. Something that you have ambition and devotion to see come to be.
Developing your professional pursuit will be a lifelong endeavor that has no end. Much like the Deming cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Action) has no end.
Your pursuit will evolve over time just like you and the businesses you work for or own evolves over time. It is more than just a vision statement, it provides you your true north position that you can navigate with.
If you think about life as a journey, which many of us do, you will encounter the storms of life and the rugged unchartered terrain that you need to overcome. Having a clear idea of how to keep your bearings is critical in being able to successfully navigate.
When you have a navigation system that you can trust and count on, uncertainty of the storm becomes much less stressful. Notice it doesn’t remove the stress, it just makes it easier to work through. It also doesn’t guarantee that it will be a linear path but just that you know where you are heading.
However, without a clear sense of your authentic self or professional pursuit you are on, it can be difficult to maintain focus and motivation. It also becomes very challenging to be effective in helping others maintain focus and motivation.
It is all too easy to lose sight of your direction when you focus on the grind of the day-to-day and get smoked out from the fires that you are fighting. When you allow things to go on autopilot for too long you may end up missing some of the critical adjustments you need to make to stay on course.
The result is that you lose connection to yourself and the mission that you are on. In order to avoid this danger, it is important to reflect regularly on where you are at and where you are heading. Maintaining self-reflection as part of your life on a regular basis will keep that connection intact.
This will prevent your routine from becoming static and “just the way you’ve always done it”. With the right mindset and planning tools, you can make sure that your professional pursuit always feels like a meaningful and worthwhile endeavor.
How to Ensure your Pursuit Remains Alive and Connected to Your Authentic Self
So if you haven’t figured it out on your own by now, let me be explicit. To maintain a solid connection to your true authentic self and ensure that the professional pursuit continues to resonate with you it is important to practice self-reflection.
There is another Japanese philosophy that can provide a much-needed perspective in this case. Hansei is a practice where you first look inside yourself before you start trying to make changes to your processes or environment.
“Han” means to change, turn over, or turn upside down & “Sei” means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. When you put them together, you could interpret the word as “reflection”.
The emphasis is on what went wrong internally and on creating clear plans for ensuring that it does not reoccur. When you approach yourself in this manner it is apparent that the results you are getting (good or bad) are very much connected to the action (or inaction) you are taking.
Having a hansei practice embedded into your PDCA/SDCA process will ensure that you are always looking for opportunity within yourself first before looking around you.
There is a very simple set of questions you can follow to help you determine if you are in need of some personal adjustment before making the decision to adjust other things.
1. What did you plan to have happen?
2. What actually happened?
3. What did you learn?
4. What do I still need to learn?
5. What type of experiment could I do next to help facilitate that learning?
6. How should that experiment be designed?
7. When ready, what’s the best way to standardize the learning from that experience?
I believe for the most part, leaders want to look for ways to improve their work and their lives.
However, it can be difficult to stay focused and motivated when the journey seems long and the goal uncertain. It can also feel a little self-defeating when we are reviewing the results we are getting.
But if you are approaching this practice from the place of your authentic self in the context of your professional pursuit, it can feel a little bit liberating. You go from having a sense of defeat to a sense of we just aren’t there yet. Much like hiking on a trail you’ve never been on before.
The Importance of Self-Leadership for the Future
As we move into an uncertain future, it is more important than ever that we take control of our own destiny. The world is changing at a much more rapid pace, and with it the demands on our time and attention.
Self-leadership allows us to build a personal plan and then take action on that plan. It helps us focus on what is important, stay motivated, and make progress despite setbacks. It also allows us to embrace change and new opportunities.
It is not easy to be a self-leader, but it is well worth the investment you make into yourself. With the right mindset and the right tools, we can all be leaders in our own lives.
To keep up with the increased pace, we need to be agile and able to quickly adapt. In this new world, the ability to lead oneself is more important than ever. In my opinion, ensuring that you include the types of pauses I mentioned above will allow you to move faster and with more ease, though it seems counter-intuitive.
When you can really embrace your authentic self and identify that professional pursuit that resonates for you self-leadership becomes much easier. The whole idea of the future becomes brighter.
You get more energized when you wake up in the morning and at times will wake up without an alarm because your body is just ready to tackle the day. Planning for the future becomes much easier because it is attached to a hope that you now carry with you.
It has become a part of who you are. These are the types of leaders that the world needs. No matter what industry you find yourself in, being a self-aware and self-led leader is critical to your organizations’ success.
Your team now and the team you will lead in the future is counting on you to lead, not to follow. And they certainly don’t want you to just tell them the path they should take. They want to follow you down that path.
Think about it like going on a hike again. If you were out on a hike in a place you’ve never been wouldn’t you feel much more at ease if you were following someone who knows the way?
You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you do need to understand yourself and the path you are on.
Where do we go from here?
By getting in tune with our authentic selves (discovering our ikigai), we can better prepare to be effective leaders for our teams. This will lead us to really having a clear picture of our professional pursuit (developing our kokorozashi).
When we learn to practice self-reflection (hansei), we learn to be more understanding and supportive of ourselves and those around us, creating a more positive and productive work environment. It’s been my experience that the Japanese wisdom and philosophy I have introduced to you can help us achieve this.
I encourage you to experiment with these concepts and find what works best for you. What works for one individual may not work for another, so it’s important to continuously explore and experiment until we find what works best. This is the true spirit of improvement and it can help you achieve your goals both professionally and personally.
I believe in the importance of self-leadership. That’s why I offer services that help you cultivate this skill. If you would like to learn more about how to work with me, you can visit my website or send me an email at email@example.com.
My services include Private 1:1 and Group virtual coaching on ikigai and in special circumstances I am able to do in-person ikigai retreats for groups. I also offer a coaching program for CI Professionals: The Obvious Route™.
Steve is a Certified Ikigai Tribe coach, lover of nature, and a continuous improvement mentor & practitioner.
His coaching practice aims to teach and coach the concepts of building strategic alignment through Japanese wisdom & philosophy.
By building that alignment, he has helped his clients remove barriers to their success and has reset their trajectory in order for them to achieve the transformation they didn’t know was possible.
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