I grew up in a fairly traditional religious family. We took life pretty seriously—not in the sense of being morose or pessimistic; I had a very happy and positive childhood—but more in the sense of always wanting to do your best, to try to get and give the best out of life and not just float along.
photo courtesy of shutter stock.com/Dirk Ercken
The downside was that I developed this subtle and not so subtle belief that failure was bad, obedience was good; failure was weakness, success was strength; failure was to be avoided at all costs, success (or “obedience” in our religious circles) was to be pursued religiously.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen that I’m not alone in wrestling with this belief.
I was visiting with a leader I had respected from a distance for some time. As we talked, he kept looking at his watch and glancing around at other people. He would grunt a few responses and then glance down at his watch or look around again, making eye contact with someone walking by or nodding his head in acknowledgement to them.
It didn’t take me long to realize this person was not engaged at all with me. It felt not just disappointing but deeply off-putting–like I didn’t count or wasn’t important enough to him to pay targeted attention to.
Needless to say, my respect for him plummeted.
This situation illustrates what is fast being seen among leadership experts as the most important quality of effective leaders.
What does it take to be a great leader in an era when the winds of global and local change are blowing in gale force, where the world is so interconnected that when you make a decision someone on the other side of the world is affected?
Leadership has never been easy. There have always been challenges. But these days, the difficulties seem to be uniquely immense. Which means leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not just about competence and intelligence.
So what else is desperately needed?
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are arguably the most powerful stories ever told in the world.
Why? Because what we say about our selves impacts every part of ourselves–how we show up in the world, how we feel, what we think, the context surrounding experiences, how we experience things, the quality of those experiences–pretty much everything we do.
You and I become the sum total of our personal narratives.
Remember comedienne Lily Tomlin’s famous line? “The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
Does your life ever feel like that these days?
We certainly live in a world that seems to be increasing in pace and responsibility. Feels nonstop at times, doesn’t it? We’re juggling multiple demands at home and at the office. We’re trying to do all of them with excellence. It feels like people are wanting more and more from us and we’re getting further behind. Our energy sags. Our productivity lags. Our joy drains. Our bodies rebel. And we’re tempted to feel like victims to forces beyond our control.
I was sitting at my desk and noticed a large fly buzzing around my office. Annoying me, actually. But I moved from frustration to empathy as I watched him zoom into the window again and again and again. It was as though he thought he could get outside through the pane of glass if he just kept trying.
So he did keep trying. Again and again and again. Same results every time. Buzz, buzz, buzz, bam! buzz, buzz, buzz, bam! By now, I would’ve had a serious concussion. But he just kept on slamming himself into the glass window. Same results.