The Five Hallmarks of Inspiring Leadership

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The following is an excerpt from the new book, Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles for Transforming Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM, and Apple.

Some leaders think they will “be” someone when they achieve a certain goal: a promotion, additional compensation, or some other desired status. They believe that they will be happy when they finally get or achieve what they want. Many will “practice being unhappy” until they reach the goal, not realizing that being unhappy along the way to the promised happiness only creates a pattern of unhappiness. Think about it: How are you going to work your way to happiness if you’ve been miserable the whole way?

Others think that the path to happiness, like the velvet rabbit, lies in “becoming”: when you’ve received so much love that your skin wears off. But the model of becoming implies that there is something missing at the beginning of our journey. Everything we think we lack makes us unhappy because we are tied to our goals rather than our being. If we can become aware of our being and focus on it, we can be happy all the way to the goal. This simple change of perspective changes everything.

What really matters is how we are on the way to getting where we want to go.

There are five hallmarks by which we can recognize ourselves and others as grounded leaders. Do you embody this paradigm? Where might you want to modify your current approach?

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Seal 1: Self-Inquiry

For being-based leaders, being always precedes doing. Knowing that the actions available to them are informed by their inner state, leaders engage in regular self-enquiry.

Many leaders believe that their state of being is determined by a mixture of genetics, environment and the effects of their experiences. Some believe that “people either have it or they don’t.” They believe that leaders who spend time processing their emotions are ineffective and slow and will lose to their competitors through some kind of “survival of the fittest.” They view feeling and being as soft skills that do not merit the investment of any resources.

These do-orientated leaders want efficient, low-maintenance people for their organizations. They believe that people come to work with brains

who are somehow disconnected from their feelings. This way of thinking can cause them to see employees and colleagues, and even themselves, as objects whose sole purpose is to complete desired tasks.

But how could someone who is treated like a machine manifest creativity, let alone innovate with others?

While many people believe that our personality traits and behaviors are hard-wired and therefore difficult to change, leaders rely on understanding and adjusting their behavior through self-examination. They take time to ruminate on open questions such as: Is it possible that our state of being can be chosen and is not intrinsic to our personality? Can we change a state of being or a habit just by becoming aware of it? Do we need intention? To practice? Something else?

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Seal 2: Awareness and Presence

It’s no wonder that leaders feel that their hard-won habits and wisdom make them perfectly suited to new challenges. These things often bring them professional success, accolades and financial rewards, confirming that they played by the rules and “won”. But they are working so hard that they are losing the joy of living. In the process, have they won by creating suffering for themselves and others along the way?

There is a survival advantage in relying on learning from the past. It’s much more efficient for our brains to establish habits, so that we don’t exhaust our cognitive processing capacity every day on repetitive activities like driving or washing dishes. But if we’re not careful, our minds can trick us into making snap judgments about people and situations based on what’s happened in the past, and those expectations can turn out to be wrong, interfere with social bonds, or block innovation.

Seal 3: Awareness of your own energy

The third seal is becoming aware of your own energy, a vital step to feeling yourself as a being. There are words for energy in many Eastern languages. In Sanskrit, it is called prana. In Mandarin Chinese, it is called chi. In the West, our understanding of energy is more rudimentary.

We associate the word with high or low states of being. We are awake or asleep, excited or tired, present or spaced out; many of our problems with energy stem from our determination to artificially increase it. We seek external stimulants, such as coffee, cigarettes or pills. Our need to overwork further exhausts us, exacerbating our already depleted energy reserves.

What kind of energy do you share? Leaders work with and through others. If leaders are aware of their own energy, they can use it to positively influence a conversation. Conversely, if they are not aware of their own energy and its importance, they can spread negative energy to others, hindering their ability to be effective or even having a detrimental effect on them. In addition to promoting ineffectiveness, it invites resistance. It can create a toxic work environment. Energy, good or bad, is contagious.

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Seal 4: Intrinsic connections between the physical body and the mind

According to Ayurveda, a sister science to yoga and the traditional Indian system of medicine that includes dietary and lifestyle practices, our bodies are highly intelligent machines designed to maintain homeostasis under the right conditions . This includes a healthy lifestyle based on the harmony found within the natural cycles of the earth and proper nutrition and exercise for the body. When we manage ourselves in this way, our body’s autonomic balancing mechanisms work completely in the background without effort. In these conditions we can better enjoy the delights of our body. We can also make better use of our mind-body connection when our bodies and lifestyles are in balance.

When we eat too much or consume foods that have no nutritional value, our bodies cannot digest these foods properly. Undigested food becomes excess fat and toxins, two sources of inflammation and disease. Healing takes knowledge, discipline and effort. Unhealthy weight loss can take a long time and requires us to create a different relationship with food and our emotions around food. When we diet, we are using the excess energy from food that was previously stored in the body. Often, the weight that is lost is regained later. We may think that our excess weight and illness are “what we are.” We may even use medications to relieve symptoms without correcting the underlying problems. Sometimes medical treatments have side effects or complications, which make the initial problem worse.

Similarly, “undigested” emotions and traumatic memories can be harmful not only at the time they are experienced, but also later because they are stored in our minds as well as our bodies and energy. Traumatic experiences stored in our bodies, like food, represent the consequences of undigested emotions from the moment they occur. We may use medications or even over-the-counter drugs or alcohol to calm our anxiety. These methods can also cause side problems of their own.

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Seal 5: Be the witness

Leading requires connection, not isolation. Decisions made when leaders are isolated within their programmed, reactive minds never reflect the best. They are usually done while being reactive and judgmental and often show that they do not trust others. Relationships with subordinates can be marked by conflict and a lack of creative problem solving. Leaders will not be able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and will suffer as they blame those around them for these failures. These leaders are likely to be attached to the results they create as a reflection of their self-esteem. Because no outcome is perfect, they can never experience true satisfaction with themselves or others.

A leader who initiates action from a state of preconditioned programming creates confusion around him. If they are divided from their inner source, they are not present in this moment. Their solutions will actually represent a solution to a problem of the past, not the problem at hand. They will use an internal logic accessible only to the leader and visible only through the filters of the past. This type of leader seeks to solve their inner problems without doing their own work, usually with mediocre results.

Conversely, when a leader chooses to make the transition to witness consciousness, they can appreciate that they were the source of their own problem and their own solutions. They realize that resolving conflict first begins with resolving it within yourself, and no longer look to others to solve their problems. A leader who is aware of his own presence is connected to the power within him.

Decisions made from the conscience of the witnesses will be harmonious. In this state, we use the brain as the equal of the heart, soul, and spirit, and experience our whole being as a harmonious instrument. Finally, we are able to respond in the moment, unbiased by preconditioning. We accept others and inspire trust, and our relationships become peaceful. We inspire others to co-create with us. This generativity allows rapid adaptation to change and innovation. We find joy in our choices and our joy will remain regardless of the results.

To learn more, take Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles for Transforming Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM, and Apple.

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