Dedicated to the spirit of Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013
Brutal, messy, humbling––yes, just like parenting and friendship. Healthy leadership rests on a foundation of being a healthy person: increasingly able to respond well to anything. Who the heck does that easily?
A hunger to be in charge has its place in healthy leadership, but only as a servant to the hunger to serve: to create a safe space in which the inherent wisdom within us and others can flourish. And animating that hunger must be a willingness to spend our life leaping off cliffs into the ocean of self-discovery.
How well do you know yourself? How deeply are you willing to know yourself––the choices you make, why you make them, and their impact on you and others? To what extent are you committed to see adversity as a gift, and align your actions with timeless practices of well-being? Are you growing the courage to be happy? If our answer to these questions isn’t the voice of our heart saying something like “More all the time,” healthy leadership will elude us.
How can we not have compassion for anyone (beginning with ourself) who attempts such a vocation––given that it includes managing the encyclopedia of ego-driven impulses that are both barriers to self-understanding and sacred doorways to it.
Here’s an off-the-cuff shortlist of them:
- The need to be needed.
- The need to know what’s going to happen next.
- The need to be right.
- The need to look like we know what we’re doing.
- The need to be liked.
- Infatuation with our effort.
- Fear of conflict.
- Fear of being ignorant.
- Fear of people unlike us.
- Fear of pain.
- Fear of fear.
- Holding another responsible for our feelings.
- Focusing on what we don’t have.
- Every belief, need or desire we hold onto tightly.
It is said there are those who, before they are born, ask for a “go big or stay home” kind of life, an expression of their soul’s calling to not diddle around, to move with perseverance through whatever manifestations of fear keep them from making their choices choices of expansion. Such a request draws to it both intense demands (“Love or Suffer” the t-shirt reads) and abundant support: the wisdom of fellow travelers, including saints and sages, who’ve fallen on their face more than we have (or at least in different ways) and have grown from the experience. How we embrace these gifts defines us.
Perhaps this is why some of us have a lot of juice for a path of service where others look to us for perspective on making healthy choices––any of the faces of leadership: parenting, friendship, ministry, coaching in any form, teaching second grade, guiding an enterprise that enriches the lives of all who are touched by it…. The depth to which these will take us in the ocean of self-discovery is limited only by our willingness.
Thank goodness healthy leadership is tough. How else would we enjoy the benefits of the cliff leapers, those models of healthy personhood: increasingly able to respond well to anything? Who the heck could learn that without help?