To start off the articles for The Mind in Motion in 2022 I thought I would tackle a subject that we all have a relationship with but at the same time, may not really have a clear idea of what it truly means… Leadership.
“Leadership is influence.” – John C. Maxwell
When you think of the idea of leadership, what are the first things that come to your mind?
For me, my default thoughts are of the various company managers I have worked with over the years, as it was their task to “lead” the organizations we worked for. My mind then goes to the various teachers I had in school and college, as it was their job to “lead” us in our education and growth. I also think of my parents and close relatives that had the roles to “lead” the family in growing up to be functional and happy adults.
Parents, teachers, and various managers we have crossed paths with have helped form the unconscious blueprint of what it means to us to be a leader. In some rare cases, we may have experienced glimpses of inspired leadership that we made our own. But in many cases, we observed and often experienced how not to lead and swore to ourselves, “When I am boss, parent or teacher, dam it; I am going to do things differently”.
I am not sure about you, but much of the leadership I experienced in this lifetime is what I would refer to as BOSS style leading. I am the boss and I have authority over you. Do as I say or there will be moderate to severe consequences. From physical punishment (spanking from parents, leather straps in school…yes, we had those), to public shaming, embarrassment, loss of a job/security, and even loss of status or reputation to name a few. This boss-centric authoritarian leadership relied heavily on one thing… FEAR! Do as I say or I will take something important away from you! These situations can often feel like life or death, not bringing out the best in us. Fear is not a healthy mindset to live, grow and thrive from.
I find it hard to admit that much of my life was dominated by fear, and a lot of my important life decisions were heavily influenced by the need to stay safe. Any efforts to break out of this fear-based thinking were quickly rejected as the people I looked to for advice and support were often the very same people that locked in the BOSS/FEAR-based leadership ideas in the first place. Unfortunately, they were raised in the same fear-based world and believe they have figured out how to navigate the threats and pitfalls, lovingly passing on their strategies to me to keep me safe, thus perpetuating the fear cycle.
Luckily all of us have a rebellious side, a little voice in our head that says…let’s do life differently, make our own mark, do the unexpected, blaze our own path. We know deep down there is a better way to do our life separate from the overpowering influence of the leaders we have had thrust upon us.
Sometimes we speak out loud about what that little voice is saying to us revealing our hopes and dreams, but often the safety keepers in our life quickly squash these ideas as “too risky”, “never going to work”, “stupid ideas of a dreamer” “stick to what you know”. They will work hard to convince you that you have too much to lose, and that shamed little voice in your head will retreat into the deep dark spaces in your brain where your hopes and dreams reside. When your world is full of bosses, there is not much room for being a dreamer.
My default strategy to feeling safe was to be valued. I did this by working extremely hard and never saying no to a challenge or an opportunity. All this hard work was rewarded as I climbed the corporate ladder, becoming a director of a large company by the age of 35.
The irony is that the higher I climbed I increasingly felt unsafe. I was no longer just responsible for myself; I now had hundreds of people relying on me for their livelihood. Competition at these high levels of management is fierce with many people often trying to bring you down. Stress leave and turnover at the director level are very common and high, but my unconscious pursuit of safety and security produced just the opposite. I struggled with incredible levels of stress and fear as it often felt like I was one bad decision or missed opportunity away from causing the end of what I had worked so hard to achieve.
I am reminded of a great quote from Stephen Covey. “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” All the hard work and sacrifice landed me as the leader of a large company and although a great accomplishment, being the leader of many people did not create any sense of security. I was mostly just following the unconscious blueprint of success formed by the various leaders in my life and by doing so, making them proud of me. The narrative that was on repeat was to work hard, do what is expected and be safe.
Little did I know, after 10 years as a company director (for two different companies) I was in for a rude awakening. About 12 years ago I was cruising along in my life. My career was solid, I owned a couple of homes and had managed myself into a fairly comfortable life, but something odd happened. Out of the blue, I felt moved to attend the funeral of my old girlfriend’s Mom. This decision turned out to be a life-changing experience.
The funeral ended up being an opportunity to reconnect with someone I had not seen in almost 25 years. Back in 1989, we were in a short relationship, during which we had bravely broken away from our family patterns and moved across the country, at the time, she could pursue an opportunity in management. We were young and had different priorities so we sadly broke up a year later and went our separate ways.
Years later the sad event of her mother’s passing gave us an opportunity to reconnect and get to know each other again. I felt fairly proud of my accomplishments and was eager to share with one of my oldest friends. My story was one of being a young father of three and a hardworking executive. Her story, on the other hand, seemed more like an adventure/fantasy book.
She had started her own business with her husband and had significant success. They moved to Switzerland and learned to speak French fluently. She bought a ski chalet in France, owned a house in Vancouver, and was currently working on another business centered on spiritual growth and healing. During our conversation, I found out we had a mutual admiration and had been influenced by the work of Tony Robbins. In contrast, where I had read his books (a couple of times), she had traveled the world with him for a year as an honored guest.
BOOM… mind blown!
We grew up in the same neighborhood, we had many of the same friends and our parents raised us with very similar values. We were both a bit rebellious when we were young, but she had listened more to her inner voice and followed her hopes and dreams to amazing results. I must say my perspective changed that faithful day, my dreams received a spark of hope, and I was moved to start taking steps toward living a life of my own design.
Finally, someone who honored their inner voice and chased their dreams! I was so inspired by our meeting so that I started to make some BIG moves of my own.
First…I quit my job! I have always wanted to have my own business, but I could never bring myself to leave what I had worked so hard to achieve. But as a giant and courageous move (that looked like insanity to friends and family), I left the security of my steady job and started my own marketing, sales and distribution company. It turned out to be a great decision as 11 years later it is still running strong!
Second…Inspired by my friend’s year with Tony Robbins, I attended Date with Destiny in California. If I was going to start my own business and be successful, I needed a strong foundation and some massive belief changes and value shifts. This was the start of my personal development and spiritual awareness journey that continues to this day. Beyond taking care of my physical health, this commitment to growth is by far the most important key to my success.
Third…I moved back to the West Coast to be closer to my daughters and grandkids. The consulting company I was building could largely be run remotely giving me the freedom to set up my office close to them.
Fourth – I hiked the Tour de Mont Blanc…well most of it. Bucket list adventure hike of a lifetime in the ALPS through three countries. France, Italy, and Switzerland. Unfortunately, I was not fully prepared for the challenge of the hike and called it a day after 9 days, but the point is I tried, and still hold it as a life-altering experience.
All of these changes happened within the first 12 months of the meeting and of the BIG realization, I could lead a life of my own design. Since then, I have kept on leading with my inner voice guiding me and had many more life-altering experiences. The following are a few examples.
Unlucky in love for many years I found the courage to reach out across the world to a friend I had been introduced to a couple of years previous and casually asked her out on a date. We had some logistical and time zone challenges but we persevered as love shone through. She has since moved here and we have been married for three years now. It has been the most courageous and fulfilling decision I have ever made.
I also opened a second company with my wife that focuses on digital marketing and helping new business start-ups. This was a passion project of mine and a perfect fit for the skills and abilities my wife had formed during her career. We are proud to say it is running strong.
In 2021, wanting to send out some positive energy during the pandemic, we founded our inspirational blog company, The Mind in Motion and I stepped more bravely into the role of author and thought leader. I was also blessed to have some amazing and creative friends to contribute their thoughts/ideas and articles on how we can live fulfilling lives fueled by our passions and energetic leadership.
I am here to say that little inner voice, the one that whispers reminders that this is not the life you chose for yourself, never dies. It took many years of me really paying attention to find the knowing that the voice is actually ME at my core, and all the other voices are those of my parents, relatives, teachers, friends, bosses, and society.
At the beginning of this article, I asked, when you think of leadership what comes to mind?
For me, I have discovered that the idea of this word has evolved. From following the unconscious blueprint of leadership taught to me by well-meaning people trying to keep me safe to leadership truly honoring and listening to my inner voice that says “life has more in store for you…go get it…and don’t stop until you do! “
So how do we go from following the blueprints we were instilled with to leading a life of our own design?
The first step is to take some time to gain clarity and get back in touch with honoring your inner voice. Dig deep and rediscover what your big goals and dreams are, what you want to achieve before you leave this planet and what your life legacy will look and feel like.
Once you have a vision of how you would love to lead your life, it’s time to find your courage and start doing some things differently. I do not necessarily suggest quitting your job like I did (risky move) but it is important to start taking small and conscious steps towards the life of your design.
It takes a ton of energy to put these new plans into motion, and when you stumble (and you will) it’s helpful to have a cheering section of Champions to keep you going. Surround yourself with people who are also courageous leaders in their own lives. They will encourage you and help you to get back on track when you feel pulled back towards the old blueprints.
Lastly, feel the empowerment of leading by example. Imagine for a moment the influence you will have on the people you most care about when they see you being led by your inner voice. When you courageously and radically write your own life script, erasing the blueprint written by previous generations, you simultaneously give permission for others to do the same. Just like my friend, to whom I am incredibly grateful, did for me. It just takes only one.
“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” – Maya Angelou