Leading From Within

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the statesman
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the statesman

Many powerful people have discussed and described leadership. The hallmarks of leadership include creating a vision, establishing a direction, and demonstrating by example how to pursue the path. As I reflect on those I consider great leaders I think of people such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi. Certainly they were vocal, strong in presenting and pursuing their visions and voicing their passion, most definitely important aspects of leadership. However, they each learned leadership through the crucible of life which honed and prepared them for their mission. They first had to lead from within, so that their integrity shone forth and their personal power established. Without first mastering themselves, and demonstrating leadership of themselves, they would not have had the same power to shape nations.

Imagine spending over 20 years in a prison cell. The courage and the conviction required to abide the appalling conditions Mandela suffered enabled him to emerge as the statesman he is. Gandhi’s did not invent his ideas on nonviolence on a whim but as a result of years of struggle, including imprisonment, and demonstrated conviction to his values. Martin Luther King grew up with a full understanding of oppression, and knew it was dangerous to seek change, but had a vision, a dream, and was willing to back it.

To achieve leadership greatness one must, I strongly believe, lead ourselves first and foremost through and out of our own darkness. All through our life we have built up layer upon layer of programming, training, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, addictions, emotional responses, social expectations etc. These cover up and detract from our clarity over our life purpose and the values that are core to us. We establish protective mechanisms that keep us safe, maintain security and levels of certainty, but which also rob us of the ability to align with and act in accordance with our core purpose. Cutting through the façades we have built around our soul so we can shine forth in the fullness of who we are is a powerful process and requires deep commitment to self, and personal leadership. Success in this endeavour provides the substance for and basis of our personal power. It enables us to manifest leadership to others because we have triumphed within ourselves.

Fundamentally it is pain and pleasure that motivates us to action. We avoid pain and seek pleasure, with pain taking precedence over pleasure. We grow up with experiences shaping our beliefs, attitudes, values and perceptions. We learn who we are and what behaviours are acceptable, and which are not, from our primary care givers. We associate pain with non-conformance, from failure to work within norms and social boundaries. We associate with groups (friends, colleagues, gangs etc) and learn of the rules for reward by these groups. Obedience to norms carries rewards. Breaking from the norms, being odd or different, carries penalty and pain. But a leader cannot work in the norm, as an average person, as part of the group. At some point they must assert themselves, separate from the group, and come into their own space.

Most people start learning this as teenagers, rebelling from parents and choosing another tribe to belong to. They move from one social group to another, establish different patterns and norms, and feel they are closer to being themselves. Later they discover it was their desire to belong that motivated them so they were still being managed by groups. Some never get over this, looking outside themselves to satisfy their need for acceptance and belonging rather than from within themselves.

When pursued further, the maturation process eventually leads us to question who we are, why we are here and what greater purpose we serve. The recognition of our individuality, our uniqueness, and the possibility that we have value enables us to seek within for our gifts. Discovering and being true to who we are becomes important. There is a shift from seeking love and acceptance from outside to a place where we provide that to ourselves, and become less bound to the whims of our “tribal” groups and roots. However there is also pain in this process.

Shifting our focus from outside to inside us requires us to meet and confront all our fears, insecurities, debilitating attitudes and behaviours, and find ways of putting them behind us. Some of us have powerful inner critics that berate us as our parents may have. We hear the piercing criticism from within with greater clarity than the scolding we may have experienced in younger days, which can stop us in our tracks. Whether it is the voice of our inner critic or the rigid walls of protection we have erected over the years, they stop us shining, and to truly emerge we must overcome them. If we stay bound to our insecurities we shun the opportunity to change and to transform ourselves from part of the pack to the leader we can be. If we seek to change ourselves through coercion and internal aggression and anger we have simply substituted the voices of our experience with our own tormentor. We emerge when we have found ourselves to be lovable, acceptable and perfect as we are, and truly believe that. That is not saying we are perfect. Goodness, what is perfection and who can judge that? It is saying that we are entirely acceptable as we are, that we have our own uniqueness based on who we are and what we have experienced, and everything has brought us to this point in life, and all of this is perfect and right as is.

To lead others we must lead ourselves. We must be able and capable of dealing with adversity, the naysayer, and find ways through and out of those difficulties. Our ability to deal with and manage external adversity and opposition is much greater when we have mastered the opposition that comes from within us. Our ability to lead with clarity and conviction in public is greatest when we have already managed that within ourselves in isolation. Perhaps being in prison for 20+ years is something that could benefit everyone. Certainly it provides time to reflect, see ourselves more clearly and deal with our personal demons. However not all of us need to change whole nations. We have good we can accomplish by remaining engaged in the world, but the battle within is just as real. A growing number of people are learning the benefits of meditation, yoga etc for stress relief. Some find it painful because they slow down a little and start to see themselves more clearly, and find things they judge as unacceptable or wrong with them. If we wish to lead others effectively then we must have already learned to lead from within. We must have confronted ourselves and been victorious in engaging with and being comfortable in the presence of our own voices and messages from within. We must have learned about tolerating and working through the issues that surface from our past. We can be hampered by insecurity and doubt or develop a powerful love of ourselves, warts and all. None of us can become entirely free of these things, but we can develop comfort for and appreciation of the fog we create in our lives, and find ways of charting through them. For as we move through our own internal fog we develop the capacity to lead others through theirs.

I have always found the following an inspiring statement:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson, “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”

The more we connect with ourselves, and manifest the greatness within, the greater our capacity to work through life, deal with issues, and exhibit personal power that will inspire others. If you wish to lead others, then first lead yourself.

Where are you in the process of developing personal power and governing yourself? What barriers have prevented you achieving the success you desire? What behaviours and attitudes diminish your ability to lead others and create change within your organisation? As you learn to lead from within you also gain greater understanding of the issues and barriers faced within organisations and how to work through them.

Pause Your Judgement and Notice the Beauty

Steam locomotive
A beautiful example of a steam locomotive

I had a wonderful experience the other day that reminded me of my own biases and judgements. I got to see them clearly, and the beauty that exists in those I might judge. I was richer for the increased awareness.

I caught the train into Wellington city and one of the conductors collecting tickets walked along and clicked each ticket and said in a very robotic, short, sharp fashion, “Thank you.” He was stern looking and seemed quite stiff in his body. Click. “Thank you”. Click. “Thank you.” Click. “Thank you.” My judgement: he was bored to tears and going through a learned process or routine. Then magic happened. He finished the ticketing process and stopped to chat with a small group. His whole being softened. His face lit up. He changed roles and was instantly a bright, engaging, excited and friendly character. In that moment, for me, he shifted from being alien and difficult to fathom to a beautiful and vibrant human being. I got to see the problem with my own biases and judgements.

Judgement is a very natural survival- and fear-based process that occurs within milliseconds of meeting anyone. It enables us to simplify the complexity of life and make decisions quickly. It was massively helpful when walking around a corner and meeting a sabre toothed tiger or a mammoth, or a strange cave person. It does help us now as well. Is this a hostile or a friendly audience? Is my customer pleased to see me, irritated, or angry? Judgement is natural and essential. It is not always accurate. Some of our judgements are biases we have learned, as children from our parents or from our own experiences. Often they are very contextual and then get applied generally. They limit our openness to others, particularly those we judge as different.

A friend of mine, who has some clear understanding of some of his biases, was taking his daughter to choose a new school. In meeting with the principal, he heard, paraphrased, “We are largely a white school”. His response: “I may be a racist but that doesn’t mean my daughter has to be.” They went looking for a different school.

Research highlights that diversity in our teams and organisations creates an environment where we get better solutions and results. The varied opinions, experiences, thinking processes, however annoying we may find them from time to time, create variation that challenges and improves the outcomes.

I remember an organisation that decided project managers must be Myers-Briggs ENTJ. Any other type was excluded from being a project manager. Their projects all had a common look and feel, and failed to respond to variation in a similar fashion. It is difficult to learn from others when those others are the same as you. In a different organisation I had consulted with them for several months, and had worked with the manager in a different context for several years. Then, because he was considering offering me a permanent role, he had me psychometrically assessed. I did well in all the cognitive and behavioural aspects, but he turned me down for the role because, in his opinion my Myers-Briggs suggested I was a business analyst, not a project manager. That was a thoroughly unscientific judgement based on his own misuse of the tool. This was in spite of him having observed me as a successful project manager in a variety of different contexts over the years we had known each other.

What challenges are you aware of in building diversity and inclusion in your teams and organisations? What benefits have you noticed? What judgements get in your way? Do you surround yourself with those you feel comfortable with or do you actively engage with those who are different from you, who may challenge your ideas? What value is lost when there is a push for sameness rather than diversity?

Easier Can Be Better

Taking the easier course of action
Easier can sometimes better

Tremendous energy can be poured into changing old patterns and behaviours. When you identify some quality of yourself that is not working for you, the tendency is to place enormous attention on changing it to a satisfactory behaviour. For most of us, that is accompanied by our internal critic working overtime, that voice within us that speaks into our middle ear about how we don’t measure up, won’t amount to much, and are under performing. The more effort we exert to change, the greater this voice that articulates all the accumulated negative feedback of our past becomes. It can become a riot in our mind. Even without the critic, and there appear to be the fortunate few with that blessed silence, focussing on changing old patterns tends to be a long and relatively unrewarding process.

Neuroscience has identified that once a neural pathway is established, and only a few repetitions are needed for the brain to adopt and establish a new pathway, it is almost impossible to remove. The best approach for change is to bed down another pathway, and place attention on asserting that behaviour until it becomes dominant. Rather than remove the old pathway, the idea is to create a newer, more productive, and more frequently used, pathway that makes the less productive pathway irrelevant through disuse.

I had an experience of this recently. Following significant surgery I had earlier last year I have found my confidence when facilitating groups markedly diminished. The degree of nervousness prior to running a session was significantly greater than my pre-surgery experience, and after I completed a session I found my critic undermining me for the most insignificant of reasons. However, when I was actually in front of the group running the session I had almost none of those issues, finding myself comfortable and increasingly fluent in my facilitation. On a recent weekend programme, the struggle against these before and after pain-laden attacks on my psyche were particularly pronounced. Rather than fretting over the behaviours that were undermining me, I shifted my focus by firstly sharing very simply with others I trusted that I was anxious, struggling, and otherwise authentically expressing and naming my experience in the moment. This had the effect of diminishing the energy building up around the anxiety, and curbed it. I then found that my capacity within a session improved because my warm up to it was cleaner, and the post-session internal shame game also diminished. As the multi-day programme unfolded I continued this practice and found that the confidence was easier to achieve as I owned my anxiety without making a big deal of it. I consciously placed my attention on the outcome I was seeking, a fluid and confident facilitation session. My focus and attention was very much placed on the outcome I sought rather than on changing the old pattern of anxiety, and the transition felt relatively smooth.

When you have an unproductive behaviour that is dominating you, perhaps you can identify what you would prefer to do instead, and find ways of asserting that behaviour, rather than condemning and “changing” the old one. Some ways of supporting and enabling such change in oneself can be journalling, enlisting the support of a coach, and developing awareness of your inner mental and emotional world to determine the most opportune intervention to offer yourself.

Reclaiming Self

The innocence of children
Children, relatively free of protective patterns of behaviour

When we are born into this world we are innocent (in my belief system) and unfettered by protective patterns of behaviour. As we experience life, encounter pain of varying kinds, we learn to erect protections to keep us safe. These become increasingly complex as layer upon layer of protection is established in response to all that life throws at us. Each protection requires energy from us to support and maintain, and as a consequence robs us of our life force and capacity to freely respond to life. It is often a crisis that makes us aware of how our behaviours interfere with our ability to engage with life in a meaningful way. We may experience ourselves as “too…”, an indication that our internal Critic or Judge (or external, when heard from those around us) considers us as having wandered from appropriate expression. Examples include “too volatile”, “too reserved”, “too pleasing”, “too aggressive” and any number of other judgements, singularly or in combination. These behaviours, when the judgement has some merit, have typically been developed in response to our needs being unmet and us seeking to satisfy them to the point that the behaviours become patterns that are applied without conscious thought, long past their use by date.

In becoming aware of such behaviours, perhaps through the failure of relationships, difficulties fitting in, negative feedback from multiple sources etcetera, the question then arises ‘What should I do about me?’ The process then becomes a matter of reclaiming oneself and finding ways of freeing our life force, returning to a spontaneous, creative and adaptive way of living, being better able to respond positively to the present.

In my own life this process started with a crisis of identity in my early 30s and has subsequently seen me free myself up and how I live and present myself to the world, an ongoing process. Earlier this year the surprise need for life-saving surgery plunged me into a whole new cycle of self-reclamation. The process of recovering from surgery required adapting to the loss of hearing in one ear, and developing physiological strategies to compensate for impairment in my balance processes. The physical recovery, while being a challenge, has been easier in many respects than the process of reclaiming my concept of self. In many respects it is as if the surgery sliced through significant protective mechanisms and unleashed old patterns of thought and feeling that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager and that I found particularly difficult in the first instance. Now, it is difficult seeing poor concepts of Self return, but at least they do so in an environment where I know I can process and work through them in a constructive fashion. In a sense, a very real sense, I’m back to dealing with old issues all over again. The reality however is that I am now working at a much deeper level, as if I have taken the head off and am cleaning out an infectious boil, rather than dealing with a superficial spot. While the issues are similar, feel very familiar, and are, I am better equipped to deal with this new level of emotional healing than I have been previously. The act of staying engaged with what arises within me, riding the wave as it forms rather than trying to escape it, will eventually lead to me being freer than ever before.

Some ways of engaging in the process of reclaiming Self include:

  • develop capacity to identify and observe behaviours in yourself that do not fit well relative to how you would prefer to be and what would work best in your context
  • develop love and acceptance of self that is free of needing to understand why you behave as you do and that opens you up to being able to forgive yourself unconditionally
  • define your core values, life purpose, vision and mission which will provide you with clarity about how you would prefer to live and present yourself to the world, something to aspire to
  • establish goals for moving forward into new, more productive, behaviours
  • find trusted individuals who are able to provide you with love, support, and constructive feedback
  • recognise that life is an ongoing journey and while you may have a preference for where you end up, and how you behave, perfection is out of the question and any vision you hold is a guide rather than an edict that must be obeyed at all costs
  • appreciate the fog that arises when life serves you growth opportunities, and allow that fog to water your life as rain does fertile soil

Through these approaches we can reclaim our lives, incrementally bring ourselves back to a fully free and available space to manifest our full, unfettered potential.

Co-Counselling: A Doorway to Self-Directed Healing and Transformation

I have been practising Co-counselling for over six years, and as a result I am equipped to process emotions, identify and resolve patterns of belief and behaviour that get in my way, and am able to create my own positive future. These and other outcomes are directly accessible by learning and practising Co-counselling.

I became aware of Co-counselling as a result of the Essentially Men programme, the skills learned being a core to the programme. As I learned Co-counselling my capacity to work with myself and support others increased; I became more emotionally competent. Now, as a facilitator of Essentially Men programmes it is a vital part of my tool-set.

When I first attended training I realised I was harbouring significant anger and was distancing myself from women because of a then recent betrayal by a woman who had been a dear friend for many years. Consequently I would not allow women close to me, and I was failing to form and maintain intimate relationships. I carried so much distress that I didn’t know how to act differently. As a direct result of my Co-counselling training I was able to identify and dislodge patterns based in fear, grief and anger, and opened up to new possibilities. I was able to re-engage with women in an open, wholesome way, and that led to healthy relationships.

The ability to identify my core needs, the distress associated with them not being met, and discharging the built up energy, has enabled me to autonomously direct my own healing process. I have become my own healing detective, able to find a symptom that indicates a blockage in my own flow of life, and track back to the source and resolve it.

Far more than focusing on and healing past hurts, Co-counselling supports and encourages actively creating positive futures. Validations are core to the practice, tapping into the positive truths we hold about ourselves, and expressing them, perhaps reversing what may be a lifetime of self-criticism. Action planning is used to map out next steps. Celebration magnifies the positive experience of success and acknowledgement. These are founded on authentic connection with self, and not on the fabricated distress of a lifetime of pain. Learning the skills and practices of Co-counselling is liberating and enlarging, and enables you to write a new script for your life. I have for mine.

More than at any time in my life, I am now living the life I always wanted. I am married to the woman of my dreams. I have written the book I had known was in me. I am increasingly working in the way I have always dreamed of. I am manifesting my purpose and vision more fully than ever before, and I know that more is to come as I continue to open to myself and allow my essence to emerge with greater freedom and passion.

I have learned that how I feel is not hard-coded. I can change my experience, my attitudes, beliefs, patterns of behaviour, and even how I feel. I am captain of my ship, navigator of my life, and that I have proven I can withstand storms with a certainty that comes from knowing and loving myself. And Co-counselling has assisted me to achieve this.

If you are struggling with self-limiting beliefs, burdened by pain that seems unrelenting and overwhelming, are deafened by your own internal voice of criticism, or want to shape a better future, I encourage you to add Co-counselling to your toolset. It is personal and portable, can go with you wherever you choose to travel. It will assist you to feel and experience life more fully, so that whatever you believe and want to create can become a reality. It will bring you into community with others who are interested in creating a better planet by creating better selves, themselves, and then living their purpose more fully.

What Crap Do You Create For Yourself?

A pile of crap
A pile of crap

The clearest indicator of our own limiting patterns of behaviour are those that arise when we are in a good space. It is always interesting when life serves up a plate that enables us to see our own deficiencies with clarity. I had a great experience of this recently. The summary is ‘When everything in life is excellent and turmoil arises from within me, I created that turmoil’.

I have had periods of my life where I experienced everything as a problem. At one particularly dark stage I trusted no one, including myself, was permanently anxious to the point of severe physical pain in my body, had no concept of what I could or ought to do, and carried a bag of blame, guilt and shame with me. If I could have photographed my inner world, it would have been dark, tumultuous and ugly. I experienced everything that happened around me or to me a serious threat. I sought certainty and control, and found surprises deeply unsettling. I was highly reactive and self-esteem was at an all-time low. I was unable to respond positively to opportunities and was quite miserable.

In such a state it is particularly difficult to extricate oneself from the crap. It is also very easy, and symptomatic of the state, to believe ‘lots of crap is happening to me’. Beginning to believe you can make a positive difference, and finding support from others can be a significant aid and is a key to reclaiming yourself from the darkness.

Life has changed for me since those days, and while the past couple of years have had some challenges in ways I have never experienced, I have been largely able to act with congruence to my belief that I get to choose how I respond and behave in a situation, and that I can create a better outcome as a consequence. Now I find myself in a space where most everything is improving over where I was a year ago, and I have plenty of reasons to be happy, full of joy, content, pleased to be alive.

In this setting it has been interesting to see the negative patterns that I still have. In fact in this space it is easier to see them. For example, my relationship with my wife is better than I have ever experienced a relationship before in my life. Recently I awoke with a feeling of anxiety that some accident might happen that would end my happiness. Wow! What a moment that was. I could immediately identify it as a thought pattern I have had before, such as in the early, black period of my life mentioned above. I also knew that if I allowed the sensation to fester within me I could get consumed by negativity, a little like an alcoholic having a drink might re-engage with a pattern they are attempting to leave behind. On this occasion, I shared the fear directly with my wife, expressed that as happy as I am some part of me fears the happiness being taken from me, me losing her. I was entirely clear that I was the source of that piece of negativity. I was able to treat the scared, hurting part of me that surfaced this pain with respect and love, and without judgement place a light on it, and let it be seen. In this way I was able to fully own my negative pattern and clear it, and reclaim my capacity to live more fully. It became a  self-healing moment that strengthened my capacity to receive whatever I create for myself and work with it for a lasting, positive outcome. I had generated my own crap, and I had also been able to resolve it positively.

How do you treat yourself when you notice something you are doing that doesn’t really work for you? Are you able to love yourself through the moment, or do you add judgement and criticism to it and make the situation even worse?

Stirring the Pot

I was chatting with my wife Juanita after she returned from a psychodrama training session. She had enjoyed playing the role of a dog. The dog loved their owner, but felt peaceful as it stayed outside the dramas occurring around it. I remember when I learned for myself that I habitually took an idea and stirred it up in my own mind. This had the effect of making my mind very busy, gave the false impression I was doing something useful, and it destroyed any possibility of peace. I realised that even when I could be peaceful I would habitually stir things up to keep my mind busy. Sometimes it felt like I was being dragged by a herd of wild horses, and they were in charge of my life.

Wild and untamed horses
Wild and untamed horses

This is the mechanism used when you worry, the endless and repetitive process of pouring over “what if” scenarios in a mind numbingly unproductive manner. The mind is busy but no new information is introduced. It eases when the mind gets bored with the process, though in true worry the mind moves on to a different topic, even if only subtly so. It is colloquial to say “I feel worried”. However, worry is a state of mind, a mental process, not a feeling. Feelings that underpin worry include scared, anxious, petrified and any number of other expressions of fear. And beneath all of that is a question the mind is attempting to answer. Similar processes occur with grief as the mind seeks to locate meaning from amidst the hurt. An element of relief occurs when some new and satisfying way of framing the pain is identified.

I learned I could step out of those processes, worry and grief, and bring myself some space and peace. The mind will still want to find its way out of the state, but introducing space, and watching the process from the outside, can provide a powerful way for reigning in the untamed mental energy. It can help if the question the mind seeks to answer can be identified. Often the driving question has absolutely no merit. Or from the sideline, and in a loving way, you make the observation to your mind that it is caught in a another fruitless pattern, and invite it to stop. Meditation is a useful tool for developing the capacity to observe the mind without buying into its story.

Another side to this is being able to recognise when someone else is working from a place of worry, grief or other form of mental drama, and making your own conscious choice to not participate. That does not mean you cannot support and assist them. In such moments you are able to retain your peace and objectivity, and often introduce a clarity that flees from the scene if you engage and join in with the other person’s process. As a project manager I have had a number of occasions where team members have told me that my calmness enabled them to feel calm, otherwise they would have been panicking and unable to work with the significant issue that needed resolution.

Find your way out of the places of fruitless ruminating. Tame your mind and learn to create more spaciousness and peace for yourself. Master the ability to not join others in their unproductive urgency. Learn to truly be the master navigator of your life. Become the loving, non-judgemental dog that loves and accepts without contributing to or joining the unnecessary drama. Allow your mind to settle, and peace to distil. Tame the wild horses that run wild through your mental space. It is a fantastic leadership capacity because from such a place you’re better placed to gather facts and objectively assess the situation and what it needs, and hold the space against unnecessary and often manufactured urgency. Someone else may be playing a drama. Someone else may be anxious and worked up. You choose what you engage with as an autonomous and self-responsible being!