When I was a school principal, years ago, I recall sitting around with my colleagues commiserating about all the external demands we had to contend with. We joked that we could get so much more done “if only we were left alone to do our jobs!” I suspect that sentiment is like a mantra in so many workplaces: leaders feeling their effectiveness is compromised due to various forces beyond their control. While it was fun to lament with colleagues – misery loves company – over the years I began to realize just how self-defeating that perspective is. Even when it is true that outside forces might be working against us, my work with Kim on Balanced Leadership has given me a refreshing insight: when we focus too much on external forces, we are, in effect, voluntarily allowing our power to be taken from us. There is a different approach: look inside yourself for guidance and power. Lead from the inside.
It begins by acknowledging that there are two definitions of power, both with benefits and drawbacks. Power can mean to assert your will even against the will of others. This is your power to response to external forces. The positive side of this form of power is essential to effective leadership – the world of goals, action plans and results. The shadow side of this type of power is the zero sum game mentality it encourages – you either win or lose the power struggle. Other times, you are so intent on asserting your position you lose sight of your capacity to take on or consider other perspectives. When power is applied without discernment it often becomes misplaced and counter-productive.
The second form of power is being all you are capable of being and wanting others to be all they can be. This is the “inside-out” form of power wherein the importance of your relationship with self is acknowledged as fundamental to success. The positive side of this power is equally important in leadership. It’s where meaning, authenticity and belonging are your sources of power. These are the tools that allow creativity , engagement, and strong relationships to flourish. You access them by looking inward and bringing forward your best self, creating the environment for other people to be their best self also.
When a leader’s connection to self is tenuous, it leaves room for shadow elements like gossip and chaos to emerge. Whatever is in our heart will generate itself, and in the absence of a strong connection to self, positive, empowering energies dissipate and toxic, dysfunctional forces emerge. In a very practical sense, whatever leaders hold in their hearts is revealed through their actions.
When we take up our own power by connecting to what we love, we are restoring our connection with self. In archetypal terms, we plug back into our Virgin energy – the power to be all we are capable of being. Starting from that place is a game-changer. We stop seeing ourselves as passive recipients, pushed around by what comes our way. When the starting point is a grounded and joyful sense of self, leaders can respond wisely to what comes their way. They don’t ignore what’s “out there” but don’t react to it either. Using this type of power means we are not defined by external forces, but by our own sense of self. This is a critical aspect of Balanced Leadership.
Think right now about what you are good at, what you enjoy doing at work and make a place for it in your job. Seek out others who are supportive. Create a world where self-expression and mutually respectful working relationships can flourish. Explore new ways to do things, expand your self-knowledge, one baby step at a time. Above all, retain the power of self-connection. Not only will that help you deal with the inevitable external demands, it will empower those around you. Lead from the inside.