When You’ve Fallen and You Have to Get Up

I was collaborating with a colleague this week on a session he’s doing with the senior leadership team of his company to identify the critical qualities they need in leaders for the future.

In the process, I came across General Stanley McChrystal’s TED talk on leadership.

It’s great. It could be a model for how to craft a leadership message.

Real Leadership

It starts with a personal story about jumping out of an airplane, landing hard and falling down. It includes self-deprecatory humor, shows vulnerability, gives meaning, connects to the future, and winds back to the beginning with a powerful call to action.

When you fall, says General McChrystal this:

“If you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you out. And if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on need you on your feet.”

It’s a great statement of how leadership is the opposite of victim mentality or being caught up in fear.

  • If we’re thinking like victims, we’re stuck to a self having a problem.
  • If we’re caught up in fear – the very words suggest it – we’re snagged or stopped.
  • The more we worry, protect, or blame, the more we spiral into a dark hole of self-thoughts and bodily tension.
  • These thoughts and tensions make us weak and clumsy.

Even if we want to be authentic and do all the good things leaders are supposed to do, we will get in our own way if we are caught up in self-pity, self-doubt, or self-promotion.

Serving The Larger Picture

On the other hand, the more connected we are to others and to serving a larger picture, the more naturally we stay in the flow of now, the more naturally we move with the rhythm of what’s going on, and the more naturally our self adds its value.

There’s a quality of movement in McChrystal’s advice: so what if you’ve fallen; your people will help you and need you on your feet. Go! We sense this movement from other leadership voices, whether it’s Sheryl Sandberg leaning in or Kevin Cashman’s leading from the inside out.

Leadership moves, gets others moving with it, and creates more movement.

Getting A Move On

In this regard, Zen is great training for leaders and leadership becomes a great practice ground for Zen, as both emphasize penetrating now to the utmost whereupon self disappears and freedom of movement expands.

As Zen master Takuan (1573 – 1645) advised the leading sword master and military advisor of his day, “Don’t let your mind stop.”

“A mind that stops in any one place will not be able to move freely…By not stopping anywhere, it will be of use everywhere…The mind of one who has reached the highest level will not stop even slightly on things.  It is like pushing a gourd on the water’s surface.” (from Fudochi Shimmyo Roku)

The Zen Leader

When I was writing The Zen Leader, it struck me this “flip” from stuckness to movement or, as I called it, from coping to transforming, is where leadership begins (hence, the first chapter and a way to make this flip). Because if we define leadership – in the spirit of Cashman – as authentic self-expression that creates value, one cannot do this from a place of stuckness or coping.

The actions, decisions, or commands we issue from such a place are not authentic, they don’t express the authentic self, and/or they don’t create value for others.

Where have you seen this principle of not getting stuck, or “not stopping the mind” in leadership?  And how have you seen people get unstuck when they’ve landed hard, and are having trouble getting back on their feet?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Ginny Whitelaw

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw, The Zen Leader, is President of Focus Leadership
She helps leaders transform with programs, coaching, FEBI assessment, keynotes
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog |  skype: ginnywhitelaw | +1 410 923 0285

Image Sources: TED.org

Why We Fake Authentic Leadership and How to Stop

Original Fake

Authentic leadership may seem like a no-brainer. But is it this simple?

We probably think:

“Of course we want to BE THIS; we want to FOLLOW THIS; we want NOTHING BUT THIS in leadership.

Easy Peasy

From works like Kevin Cashman’s Leadership from the Inside Out, or Bill George’s, True North, we’ve had excellent ways to talk and think about this critical quality of authenticity.

But have you ever wondered what gets in the way of truly authentic leadership?

Do we wake up one morning and say, “I want to be a fraud?”

Heavens no.  It’s much trickier than that.

Leadership Looking Glass

The Key is Self-Reflection

If I look deeply into my own life, one of the ways I sacrificed authenticity in the past was in service of a personal dream I had for my career. In my case, it was the dream to be an astronaut.

That goal was so important to me, I would present myself in any way I thought would get me closer to it. I lied about my health on my NASA astronaut application. I didn’t mention the allergy to cats.

How authentic is that?  But peel down another layer and why was I doing this?

Because I was afraid the truth would not be good enough.  I was not good enough.  And so I was covering myself in a protective layer of fake.

On Authenticity and Ego

I am not alone.  Indeed, anytime I sniff out inauthentic behavior (…and don’t we smell it instantly…) I now see the ego behind it – pushing its agenda, covering its fears, trying to be something it’s not.

Anytime we try to be something – we’re not.

It’s only when we get out of our own way that a natural, authentic quality can emerge – what I’ve come to call the Zen leader.  Why Zen?  Because Zen is a way to see around the edges of ego – even cut the root of ego – whereas most leadership development and endeavors only make the ego larger and more firmly in charge.

Only as we relinquish what’s small about our self (i.e., our ego and its fears) does the whole, authentic self emerge.

Practical Steps to Authenticity

One practical way we might see this is what Jim Collins calls Level 5 leadership, where one is ambitious, not for oneself, but for the bigger picture, the whole institution.

Getting out of our own way, we are free to serve the whole picture.

One practical way we might approach this big authenticity is by noticing when we get small and self-serving and pausing to ask, “What am I afraid of?”

Fears do their dirtiest work underground and from a distance.

The awareness that sees our fears is not itself afraid, so as soon as we see our fear, it doesn’t get all of us.  And just maybe we can penetrate it, and let it go.

The moment we let go of something that had been making us small – poof – we get larger, like releasing a genie from a bottle.

As we get larger, our net of leadership concerns naturally gets larger.

What have you sensed about inauthentic vs. authentic leaders? When have you caught yourself getting in your own way, and do you see the same pattern I talk about here?  What has helped you get out of your own way and be truly authentic?


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Ginny Whitelaw

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw, The Zen Leader, is President of Focus Leadership
She helps leaders transform with programs, coaching, FEBI assessment, keynotes
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog |  skype: ginnywhitelaw | +1 410 923 0285

Image Sources:  cooldesktopbackgroundsx.com


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