LEADERSHIP, LIGHT, AND NELSON MANDELA

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”      – The Christophers

When Nelson Mandela died a few years ago, many leaders around the globe commented that, “a great light has gone out of the world.” Mandela was called a “guiding light in a world rife in darkness” who transformed his country and inspired so many people around the globe.

Nelson Mandela taught us that what leaders do is bring light to the world. Leaders inspire others, not through their position, but through the brightness of their presence. During the dark times of our lives we are reminded to have the clarity and the courage to bring light to those we love and serve. Lighting the world of darkness is a vital aspect of leadership.

As a leader, how can you bring ‘enlightenment’ to the world? How can your presence impact and inspire others more fully? Below is some of what I learned from studying the life of Nelson Mandela, the remarkable leader who inspired the world by being who he was.

  1. Embrace Adversity. Great leaders, leaders with strong character, find a special attractiveness in difficulty since it is only by coming to grips with adversity that you can realize your potential. Leaders who are open to learn, especially in the midst of adversity, are inspiring. Nelson Mandela had many teachers in his life, but the greatest of them all was the dark years of Robben Island. “Prison,” he once said, “taught me self-control, discipline, and focus – the things I consider to be essential to leadership – and it taught me how to be a full human being.” Rather than destroying him, prison matured him, made him a better person, and molded him into the leader he became.
  2. Courage. Courage inspires. But Nelson Mandala taught, through his actions and his life, that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing fear and learning to overcome it.
  3. Integrity. We admired Nelson Mandela, in no small part, because of his integrity – the integrated way he led his life. His leadership, and others who emulate this quality of moral authority, inspires others through self-leadership. Self-leadership involves introspective journeys. This inward journey is not always easy. Consider the admission attributed to Mandela: “My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.”
  4. Forgiveness. After twenty-seven years of being unjustly imprisoned, resentment and bitterness would surely be an understandable response. But instead, Nelson Mandela took the courageous road of forgiveness. It is easy to forgive someone for something done inadvertently, but how do you let go of the past when an enemy has intentionally done you serious harm? Mandela found a way, and in that way, he earned both respect and credibility by choosing reconciliation over retribution.
  5. Service. You cannot lead others if you can’t lead yourself. But you also can’t lead others if you use power chiefly to serve yourself and your ego. Leadership is not about you. It’s about those you love and serve: your family, your community, your colleagues, your customers, your country. Great leaders see beyond themselves. They are compelled to transcend themselves and serve a purpose greater than self-interest.
  6. Civility. Not enough can be said for the simple, yet powerful effect of consideration and respect for ourselves and others. Leaders have an opportunity – and responsibility – to bring civility to their life and work through simple acts of kindness: a smile of support, a word of encouragement, or a sincere expression of gratitude. Civility can be practiced anywhere at any time: to a colleague, a family member, or a store clerk. Civility, including good manners, calmness in the midst of madness, and poise under pressure, is a common-sense leadership approach that is not so common these days.
  7. Renewal. The early years of prison for Nelson Mandela were bleak and trying. The wardens were abusive. The work was back-breaking. The prisoners were permitted only one visitor and one letter every six months. During this time, his oldest son was killed in a car crash. Winnie was in danger. The ANC was in exile. And the apartheid government had consolidated its power. What did Nelson Mandela do to find solace amid all the strife? He planted and cared for a garden. According to Richard Stengel, the author who helped write Mandela’s autobiography, “Nelson’s life was in service to others, and the garden was a respite from the turmoil and storms of the world. In that way, it helped him do his main work. It was not a place of retreat but of renewal.” In the arduous work of leadership, we all need something away from the world that gives us satisfaction and sanctuary, a place apart. “Each of us,” said Mandela, “must find our own garden.” Bringing a light to the world means recharging our minds, refueling our health, and replenishing and renewing our spirits – in the midst of the pressures and demands of the world.

May we each set aside time to reflect upon own unique, authentic ways to rekindle our own inner light and bring that light more brightly to the world that we lead and influence. The world needs, and wants, our gifts.

Happiness: A Key To Success – Ten Ways To Live A Happier Life

We’re all interested in making our workplaces more productive and successful. Most people believe that success leads to happiness, but the truth is happiness is the precursor to success, not the result. When you are happier, your success rates increase, according to research done by Shawn Achor at Harvard University. Happy sales people outsell their unhappy colleagues. Students who are happy out-perform their unhappy peers. Happy doctors make more accurate diagnoses than unhappy doctors. Happy people are healthier people. The list goes on and on. The best part is that this isn’t just a motivational speech – it’s science. It’s how our brains work. See: http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/complaining-rewires-your-brain-for-negativity-science-says.html for some fascinating findings.

Here are ten strategies for living a happier life.

  1. Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. If you aren’t happy, don’t expect anyone else to make you happy. I have certainly done my share of blaming others and myself for the way I feel. The trap is giving over my power to what other people say, to what other people do, to the circumstances around me – and becoming a victim. A happy or unhappy life is your own creation. If you remember this, you won’t find fault with anybody or anything, including yourself. You are your own best friend, even as you decide to learn to take responsibility for your happiness.
  2. Decide to be happy. That’s right. Happiness is a choice, a decision. It’s an inside job. You don’t need your external environment or circumstances to be different in order to be happy. I’ve met people who are dealing with cancer or are in the midst of a divorce or financial difficulties, but remain happy. Don’t wait for retirement or a better job or a better house or a better marriage to make you happy. If you aren’t happy now, you won’t be happy in the future. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness comes from within; it is independent of your externals. Happiness is not a destination; it’s method of travel.
  3. Accept unhappiness as a part of life. Where did we ever get the notion that we should happy all the time? One of life’s purposes is to learn and grow, and that won’t happen if life is always easy. “Life is difficult,” wrote Scott Peck. “Once you understand and accept that, then life is no longer difficult.” Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Otherwise you’ll never grow, much less experience a lot of happiness in your life. Happy people aren’t attached to being happy all the time, just like they aren’t attached to the externals in their life to make them happy. They know happiness will return after the inevitable slumps. Extend some grace to yourself when you are unhappy, and you’ll be kinder to others in the process.
  4. Have a purpose that inspires you. What inspires you to get up early, to go the extra mile, to learn the extra skills? How can you be happy without a dream, without hope, or a vision beyond your own self-interest and daily to-do lists? Having a sense of purpose beyond your own self-interest and day-to-day chores gives you a reason to be happy. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? If you can’t answer that question – beyond heading for the bathroom – there’s some work to be done. What’s important is not to blame others for your lack of purpose. Even a simple purpose to make the day better for your colleagues or customers can be a good place to start.
  5. Maintain your self-respect through integrity. Integrity is about living your life in alignment with your values, resulting in the self-respect that sustains happiness. Self-respect emerges from the integrity of keeping promises to yourself and others – being a person that can be counted on. A great way to build self-respect is to hold yourself accountable for consistent disciplines that are aligned with your values. Maintaining consistent habits – such as a regular exercise regime, a consistent spiritual practice, a habit of studying or developing a talent – in the face of the fluctuating demands and emotions of life will help to keep your integrity, and thus your self-respect, in tact. Learning to live a disciplined life – choosing character over comfort – fuels self-respect and subsequent happiness.
  6. Don’t use unhappiness as a motivator. Our society is heavily conditioned not to change until we are unhappy enough. We frighten ourselves out of smoking cigarettes using threats of emphysema and lung cancer. We yell at our kids hoping that if we cause them enough pain they’ll change. You don’t have to cause suffering to yourself or those around you in order to change. You can make changes in your life even when you are choosing to be happy.
  7. Practice service. Happy people are givers, people who give for the sake of giving. Bring a servant heart to your life. Look around and you will find all kinds of ways to make the world a better place. Be a builder, not a destroyer. Be a giver, not a taker. Chose service over self-interest. Bring an abundant mind-set to everything you do. Self-centered people who live in a state of entitlement are not happy people. Dr. Menninger, the renowned psychiatrist, was once asked what he would recommend if someone were having a nervous breakdown. He said he would tell them to leave their house, cross the railroad tracks to find someone in need, and help them.
  8. Act your way into right feelings; don’t feel your way into right actions. Don’t wait for happiness to come to you. Take the right action, and happiness will result. When feeling unhappy, show caring and kindness for someone else. Be cheerful, even if you don’t feel like it. Put in a good days’ work. Take the right action, and the feeling of happiness will follow – eventually.
  9. Hang out with happy people. If you swim in a cesspool it won’t take long before you stink. Get rid of the complainers, the blamers, and the people who pull you down, and start hanging around people who challenge you, inspire you, and are fun to be with. Happy people care about others so it doesn’t take long to feel a part of the happy crowd.
  10. Choose gratitude. If you can’t quite get your head around choosing happiness, start with gratitude. Don’t wait for gratitude in order to be happy. Be grateful now. You can always find a reason to be grateful. Remember the old saying, “I used to complain I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet!”

Happiness is like a muscle that, for most of us, could use some developing. You can train your brain to be happy just as you can train any muscle to perform a challenging task. It starts with a simple decision that you are going to practice happiness, even when you might feel sorry for yourself. For some of us, this training comes more easily than for others. But stick with it. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

Integrity: Be An Integrated Human Being

In my leadership development programs I teach that if you want to make a positive impact on the world, your most important goal as a leader is to be an integrated human being. Being integrated means living with integrity. Integrity comes from the word integer, which means wholeness, integration, and completeness. Integrity is about integrating your inner life with your outer life. Gandhi said that, “A person can not do right in one department of life whilst they are occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Because life is not compartmentalized, any area in your life where you breach integrity impacts every other area.

Dr. Henry Cloud defines integrity as, “the courage to meet the demands of reality.” He wrote a great book by the same title. Consider some of the ways people “go around” difficulties in front of them, and what the price is, personally and collectively, for these choices:

  • A recent study showed that 82% of the top 10% of academic students in the US said they cheated to get there. 70% of them said they turned in someone else’s work.
  • A group of high school athletes were asked, “If you were given a drug that would guarantee you a gold medal at the next Olympics, knowing it would kill you in five years, would you take it?” 68% said, “Yes.”
  • You spend more than you earn and end up living on credit card debt, trying to prove to yourself or others that you have more money than you actually have.
  • Weight lifters know about compromising the integrity of a lift by “cheating” when lifting a weight by “jerking” it up, appearing that you can actually lift more than you would if it was done properly. This is going “around” the lift rather than “through” it with the intent to make an impression.
  • You pretend to be putting in a full day’s work but are actually occupying a good part of the day surfing the internet.
  • People loose trust and confidence in themselves and seek to regain it through entitlement rather than applying the work required to rebuild themselves.
  • You avoid following through on a promise because it became “hard” to keep.

To master integrity, ask yourself three questions consistently:

  1. Are you being honest with yourself? Are there any areas of your life where you are lying to yourself? Are you struggling with an addiction that you aren’t facing? Do you have an issue with anger or control that is hurting someone else? Are you neglecting an area in your life that is important you? Are you living in alignment with what you say that you value? Self-respect and inner peace flow from a clear spring. If you don’t have honesty with yourself you will find that the relationships you are in – at work and at home – will all be contaminated. You don’t have to be perfect to be honest. But have the courage to take a careful inventory.
  2. Are you being honest with others? I coached an executive that confessed he was having an affair. He thought he was “getting away” with it because nobody knew. Yet every member of his team, on a recent 360 Feedback exercise rated him low in terms of being trustworthy and approachable. Even though people may not be consciously aware of a person’s lack of integrity, they still know. And most importantly, you Breeching integrity leads to distortions in your relationships. Where are the lies in your life? You will inevitably hurt people when you are not honest with them. Are you hurting anyone in your life? Are you hiding the truth from anyone?
  3. Are you keeping your agreements? Corporations and lives across the country are being littered with habitual excuse-makers and blamers. Think carefully before you make an agreement. Be careful to only make agreements that are in alignment with your values and your purpose. Then scrupulously keep the agreements you make, even the small ones. If circumstances prohibit you from fulfilling your promise, let the creditor know as soon as you know, that the commitment is jeopardized. Negotiate, at that point, to minimize damages and re-commit to a new course of action. Do you honor your promises? Do you have a recovery process if you are unable to keep an agreement – while learning from the experience?

Integrity is the essence of everything successful.

Character – Achieving Authentic Success

“Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny. It is the light that guides your way.”                                                – Heracleitus

In my lifetime I’ve done a great deal of reflecting on the question, “How do you define success?” Now that I’m entering my sixth decade, I am coming to realize there is success, and then there is, what Fred Kofman (author of Conscious Business) would describe as, “success beyond success.” The first is outer success. The second is authentic or inner success: success beyond success.

If you set a goal (e.g. to win a game, get a promotion, make a certain amount of money) and you achieve that goal, you are successful. This is outer success.

Inner success is something quite different. Inner success is the kind of person you became and the contribution you made to the world in pursuit of your goal. Inner success is independent of whether you actually achieve your goal.

Outer success is what you put in your résumé. Inner success goes in your eulogy. Outer success is fleeting. It lasts only until the next record is broken or the next gold medal is won or the next headlines are written. Inner success on the other hand, is far more sustainable and lasting. Inner success can last a lifetime or longer when it leaves a legacy. Outer success might make you happy, but inner success brings you joy. Inner success is ultimately what fills you up and gives you self-worth, self-respect, and sustained confidence.

In workshops, I often use an exercise where I have participants think of three people they admire. They could be people who have made a positive difference in the world, like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, or people who have made a personal contribution to their life such as a grandmother or teacher. My choices would be my wife, my parents, and Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist.

There’s a second part to the exercise. They are to think of the character traits that make each of their chosen people admirable to them. In my case, I admire Val for her capacity to unconditionally love and accept me with all my flaws, which has helped shape the person I am today. I admire my mother for her wisdom and my father for his compassion, and I admire Viktor Frankl for his courage, resilience, and perseverance. From his harrowing survival story emerged a philosophy of living that is centered on the pursuit of purpose, and of finding meaning amidst deep anguish.

Finally, I ask the workshop participants to compare these fine and admirable traits with the typical success markers in our culture, the kind of character traits featured, say, in People magazine. After using this exercise with literally thousands of people, I have yet to observe anyone choose a person for the character qualities most frequently popularized in magazines and online such as as fame, beauty, power, youth, or wealth. It’s fascinating that, culturally, we gravitate unconsciously to things that ultimately mean so little to us. There is a difference between success that is defined by the world’s standards, and real, inner success that is defined by the strength of our character.

It is fine to have a goal of outer success, but from an inner perspective, the purpose of having that goal is not to achieve the goal. The purpose of a goal of outer success is to inspire yourself to become the kind of person it takes to achieve it. Then, whether you achieve outer success or not, you can still have inner success, or success beyond success. This is authentic success: living your life in accord with your values – in the service of others.

I’ve noticed that the most successful leaders I’ve met in organizations aren’t necessarily pursuing success, yet success comes to them. They aren’t after the next promotion or to get ahead in the organization because they are too busy bringing value and serving the people around them. While they undoubtedly have goals and intentions for their future, their focus is developing and using their strengths and unique talents to bring value to the organization today.

Take a few minutes and be inspired by two female softball players who demonstrate inner success. It speaks to the adults in their lives, their family and the coaches and mentors along the way who instilled a strong sense of character, compassion and a moral compass.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttkBP2XDZvE&sns=em

Mentor Leaders – Lessons From School Teachers

I always love working with teachers. Like every profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers, but I have learned a lot over the years about leadership from having teachers in my leadership development programs. In Oprah’s final show, she introduced and praised her grade four teacher, an early “liberator” who made her feel valued. Think about your own teachers. There are those who just meet the curriculum requirements and help you get into the next grade, while others inspire you, build your character, and mentor you to be a better person, not just a better student. And think about the bosses you’ve had. Some merely help you get your work done, some get in your way, but some change your life. Some help you be a better employee, while others help you be a better person.

How is it that some teachers are merely teachers, but others are leaders, mentors, and life-changers? And how is it that some bosses are merely bosses, while others influence and build your moral fiber, model and teach new attitudes and behaviors, and create a constructive legacy for future generations? It is this distinction that makes a “mentor leader.”

While there are many leadership practices that amplify one’s impact on others, “mentor leaders” possess three qualities of leadership that exemplify their presence:

1) Leaders who make a difference are authentic. They are human, and humble, and present. They also aren’t perfect or attempt to create an illusion of perfection. To impact others, you can’t be phony. People will see right through it. By being who they are, they create a space where others are inspired to also be authentic. Authentic people love what they do and are open to learning about themselves. They are inspired by a purpose and a passion and as a result, they inspire others.

2) Leaders who make a difference are accountable. They can be counted on and don’t make promises they aren’t prepared to keep. They create a place where blame is viewed as a waste of time. They have high standards, both for themselves and those around them. It’s inspiring to be around people you can count on. You aren’t a leader until someone says you are, and you won’t earn the credibility to influence and be trusted if people can’t count on you.

3) Leaders who make a difference care. They care about their work and they care about the people around them. They understand that leading is largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating or controlling them. Leaders who care measure their success by the trust they build and the value they bring to the lives of others. They are committed to serve. Mentor leaders know that their work is a means to a higher end and put people above products and processes. It’s about changing lives.

Great leadership goes well beyond merely “getting the job done,” and cannot be reduced to technique or position or power. Great leadership inspires others and comes from the strength of one’s identity and integrity – their presence. When teachers possess this presence and inspire it in their students, we are truly fortunate to have them in our lives. The same goes for the leaders in our life and in our work who can help us reach unimaginable potential.

Humanizing Your Organization – The Power Of Caring Stewardship

On a recent errand to the hardware store I was between meetings and impatient, rushed, and abrupt with the cashier. She was trying her best but I was frustrated with having to wait through the long line up, and tense about missing my next appointment. It wasn’t long afterwards that I became uncomfortable with my interaction. I teach others to treat people as human beings, not as objects. But what did I do with this cashier? Just that. With one small mindful decision, I could have had an entirely different transaction. Instead of seeing this young woman as a cashier, with a small act of caring, I could have seen her as a fellow human being with hopes and feelings and a life away from work – perhaps a college student paying her way through school, or someone’s daughter or girlfriend. My response to her would have been gentler, kinder, and more supportive and caring.

I believe that it is these small actions and responses that reap the big results when it comes to creating the cultures where we work and live. In large systems, when people get treated as objects, or numbers, or cogs in a machine, they start acting like objects, and in turn treat others like objects, and you create a vicious, dehumanizing circle of low trust and disrespect, while losing contact with human touch and human potential.

Here are four ways to humanize your organizations and your life:

  • Before interacting with anyone, whether it’s a clerk, direct report, cab driver, boss, customer, or family member, take a moment to see beyond a role or label that reduces them to an object. Instead, try seeing them as a human being with feelings, needs, worries, values, and aspirations. Try this for one day and track the difference it makes in your interactions. Notice how when you change the way you look at people, the people you look at change. It’s about caring.
  • Maintain personal integrity. Self-respect comes from trusting yourself to keep a promise to yourself – even in the face of discomfort, insecurity, and disapproval. The result of greater self-respect is inevitably higher trust – of yourself and others. You can’t treat others with dignity and kindness unless you have it within you. When you are a better person, the world around you is better for it.
  • Create a little more space in your day. Had I taken responsibility to take a few things off my to-do list and arrived at the store with more space in my day, it would have been easier to be more patient and kind with this cashier. We all seem stressed with the demands we take on these days. It is irresponsible to make your lack of planning someone else’s suffering.
  • Bring gratitude to your life. Gratitude transforms coldness into kindness, impatience into peace, self-interest into service, and entitlement into commitment. Gratitude gives you the freedom to grant grace to yourself and others, especially when we are all under pressure. Gratitude changes everything.

When you take ownership for your part of the environment where you work and for your relationships, and thus committing to making the world a better place by your presence, you are what I call the Cultural Stewards. Like leadership, stewardship is not a title or position. It is a presence – a decision. Stewardship is nothing less than deciding to be the trusted guardians of the organization and its people, products, and experiences. Traditionally, stewards were entrusted with the care of the estate while the baron was in absentia, and were thus charged with the health, vitality, and survival of the estate (even the care of the baron’s own family). Stewardship, therefore, is no lightweight title. Taking this kind of ownership – without blame, demands, guilt, or criticism – breathes new life into the environments where you spend your life, and makes those places a whole lot more enjoyable.