Leadership : Unleash Your Natural Leader
Veronica is an inspiring coach, author, speaker and seminar leader, and the Founder of Inner Thinking. She works regularly with Chief Executives, Board Directors and Senior Managers from a wide range of industries and specialises in personal leadership and leadership in the workplace. Her vision is for individuals to realise their worth, to unleash their own natural leadership and have the courage and freedom to be who they are as they live to their full potential… and for organisations to be thriving workplaces where people love to come to work and have time for both work and play.
Originally a chartered accountant and functional head of various department in investment banking, Veronica also holds an MBA and is an Associate Certified Meta-Coach (ACMC), a graduate of both Corporate Coach University International and Coach University, and a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is also a Master Practitioner in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), and a Kolbe® Certified Consultant.
This article was first published in AMED's Organisations & People journal, Vol 12 No 2 (May 2005). Check out our AMED Organisations & People section for more details.
It used to be that leadership meant the person with the position and the title, leading from the front. It also used to be that leadership was a case of ‘Follow me!’ Not any more. Today, the most powerful leadership is to be found at any level. Today, it is about being able to discern how best to guide others to take the lead and still retain leadership.
And that is the challenge for leaders of today – to be able to let go of control, to allow leadership to surface and for the lead to be taken by others, and yet remain in control with one’s finger still on the pulse; to be able to respond rapidly and yet be at the forefront of change; to have sufficient structure to facilitate a sense of certainty and security, and yet have ample confidence and trust to be relaxed about the chaos of innovation, creativity and learning.
Leadership today is about balance... not between two elements, but a blend of the best of both. It is about flexing... and finding your own natural blend of leadership.
The Natural Leader
Have you ever watched a young child – whether they are on their own, at play or in a group? Have you ever noticed how easy, relaxed and natural they are, simply going with the flow in one moment, and then asserting their will in the next, only to go with the flow again just a moment afterwards? Then they’re curious and creative, and next they’re pausing to learn... always eager to get on with things, and then at other times, standing back to watch.
And have you ever stopped to think about nature? Notice how gentle nature can be, and then how powerful and strong; how it is agile and flexible, able to change from one moment to the next. Notice too how there is a “right time” for everything – new beginnings in spring, blossoming in the summer, harvesting in the autumn and then resting in the winter. Then there is the path of least resistance – how the stream follows the contours of the earth, taking the easiest route, yet creating deep lasting change to those contours over time.
For both the young child and nature, there is little stressing or straining.
Yes, there is effort. And yes, for the child, there can be frustration. But all the time, they are simply being their natural selves.
And this is the essence of being a Natural Leader.
The Natural Leader understands that it is firstly about self and personal responsibility
The first step to unleashing the Natural Leader is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, you can’t make deliberate conscious choices and change.
If you were to describe yourself, what would you say? Notice … is it mostly about:
- who you are or what you do?
- what you’re good at or what you’re not good at?
- your positive aspects or negative?
- your strengths or your weaknesses?
The Natural Leader has a self-assuredness and a strong sense of self. They know what they’re good at and they recognise their value. At the same time, they’re okay with their imperfections, and they choose to not focus on them. They know what they stand for; yet they are open to other people’s opinions and change their thinking as appropriate. They are comfortable with disagreement, and they trust their own judgement and ability.
Their thoughts, feeling and actions are in alignment with one another. They have an inner sense of pride, and yet they display humility. In nurturing a generosity of spirit with themselves, they extend the same generosity towards others. They see the best in themselves, and hold the same torch for others.
They exhibit a healthy confidence that enables them to show up and speak up, and to respect, allow and encourage others to do the same. They no longer feel that they have to prove themselves. They fully realise their worth, and they lead, just by being the person they are, while always inspiring and allowing others to do the same.
Imagine an organisation filled with natural leaders like these, who come together and stay together because they respect one another and choose to work together… while each bringing out the best in the other.
But many people have lost touch with their natural leadership. While they are often high-achievers, they are usually acutely aware of their lesser points, often not even truly recognising their innate strengths other than at an intellectual level. They often operate in a mode of unconscious fear – fear of making mistakes and getting things wrong, or the fear of blame. While this fear can drive the individual and cause them to uphold high standards, it is also highly stressful and can cause a defensiveness and fear of new ideas and change.
Yet, innovativeness, creativity, risk-taking, flexibility and change are pre-requisites in today’s economy, providing organisations with competitive edge.
Our schooling and cultural conditioning has taught us to look outside of ourselves for feedback, and to focus on the gaps – what’s missing. What this means is that our sense of identity is often moulded upon what others have said, and so we begin to lose our own true sense of self – a self that is potentially unlimited.
Getting back in touch with that unlimited self means changing our thoughts, beliefs and assumptions – about self, others and the environment in which we operate.
An appreciation of how this works can be gained from understanding the Inner Thinking Path (Diag 1).
Diagram 1: The Inner Thinking Path
When something happens, or someone says something, or we observe something, this provides a stimulus. In milli-seconds, your mind processes that stimulus through a series of internal filters – your internal map of past experiences, what you believe to be true, your personal set of values and your sense of identity. Then in less than a split second, you assign a meaning to that stimulus, based on your internal map.
Depending on the meaning you’ve assigned, different feelings arise. The quality of those feelings then determines the action that you take, which in turn generates your results, and so the cycle continues.
This process happens so quickly and automatically, that most people are not consciously aware of the process.
Let’s take Jane, as an example. She consistently over-achieves in her current role, works a reasonable length of day, loves what she does and feels relatively stress-free. She is valued by her line manager and has just been told by her line manager that she has been put forward for promotion.
Now consider the scenarios shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Contrasting scenarios and potential results arising from the different ways of thinking
Same stimulus, but potentially vastly differing results.
Imagine the compounded effect of such assumptions made over the years, beginning during childhood!
But here’s the thing. We have the ability to control our responses. In between the stimulus and our response, there is a gap. During this gap, we have the freedom and the power to choose our response.
In Jane’s Scenario 2, imagine how her outcomes could turn out differently if she took time to reflect on her inner thinking – her underlying beliefs about herself – and to question their validity. She could then more consciously choose how to re-frame her perspective, so that she would feel more empowered in the light of her pending promotion. It is when we change the lenses through which we view ourselves and/or our world that we are able to achieve breakthrough change. This is one reason why coaching and mentoring are incredibly powerful – because they help people to take a step back and question their assumptions and habitual thinking. In the same way, self-coaching can also bring the same benefit.
And this, is the essence of unleashing the Natural Leader.
Continuing with Scenario 2, even though Jane may well say all the right things, her own manager, Mike, is likely to pick up on her underlying feelings. Mike himself will have his own internal map, and will assign his own meaning to the way that Jane responds. Depending on the level of openness in their communications, Mike may draw the incorrect conclusion that Jane does not value his efforts in putting her forward for promotion. He may even refrain from putting Jane forward in the future. Can you see how misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions can easily arise in this way?
Now, let’s imagine that Mike is a Natural Leader. In taking personal responsibility, he would seek first to understand what is actually happening for Jane, rather than jumping to feeling aggrieved. This opens the opportunity for him to then help Jane to change her old beliefs and assumptions about her own identity and capability, to question…is it true that only stressed people are worthy of being leaders? He can then further help Jane to understand her own uniqueness and strengths and begin to realise them for the value that she brings – not because of her position, but because of who she is.
The Natural Leader Understands About Energy
Think again about the young child. Have you ever wondered how it is that they are continually brimming with energy? They seem to have a constant and never-ending supply!
As adults, one of the key reasons for our having less energy is because of internal conflicts. These internal conflicts or fighting energies show up as stress, and arise from any number of things, such as
- things we are putting up with.
- doing things we don’t enjoy.
- doing work that is not aligned with our natural strengths.
- focusing on something that is not in alignment with what we want (our objectives) – often otherwise known as worry.
- feeling overwhelmed.
- feeling like an imposter because what we say or do as part of our role is out of keeping with our sense of identity, values or beliefs about ourselves.
In a nutshell, these internal conflicts happen when any element of our Inner Thinking Path - what we think, feel and do – and who we are, are out of alignment. (Table 2)
Table 2. The four quadrants within which we operate
Our energy levels are affected by the degree to which the four quadrants in which we operate are in alignment. The more they are, the more positive energy we have. We see this in our every day, when we watch someone demonstrating or talking about a subject that they are passionate about. They can keep at it effortlessly for hours and become more and more animated the more they are embroiled in it. We see this trait in young children too.
In contrast, when we have to do something that we are not good at or don’t want to do, we lose energy. This can often show up as procrastination, taking unnecessary short cuts, or taking an inordinately long time to get the job done.
The Natural Leader understands this, and is able to gauge their own level of energy as well as that of others around them. They also understand that the concepts of ‘right person’ – the person with the right strengths; and ‘right time’ – the most appropriate time for planning and thinking, and the most appropriate time for action, neither of which are necessarily logical, other than in terms of meeting set deadlines.
For example, in today’s society, almost everyone is continually on the go. Indeed, even when on holiday, many find it hard to unwind. High-achievers continue to need to achieve – working hard at wind-surfing, or skiing or running – forgetting how to relax and be. They also forget that it is possible to ‘achieve’ relaxation! Yet, if you stop to consider your most creative moments. Are they when you are racing around, busy doing? Or are they when you are relaxed, taking a walk or a bath, or just listening to music?
For us to truly harness our creativity and innovativeness, our minds need space, and to be relaxed. Our minds also need a clear focus – laser targeted on the outcomes that we want. When we properly focus, we eliminate the fighting energies and release energy, enabling our minds to process in the background... while at the same time, letting go and trusting to the power of our mind by not getting in its way through continuing to consciously think about it. And isn’t this exactly what effective delegation is?
Once our creative minds have had the opportunity to think things through, we find ideas popping into our heads, almost from nowhere. These are inspired ideas, and now is it the ‘right time’ for action.
The Natural Leader has the confidence to blend this flexibility with appropriate structure, trusting to the ‘right time’. They know, that as in nature, there are certain times when we have more creative energy, other times when we have more reflective energy, and yet other times, when we have more active energy. Then, there is also a time for the replenishing of those energies.
The Natural Leader understands the power of positive emotion
The apparatus through which we can learn to gauge those energies is an innate internal guidance system that we all have – our feelings.
Consider again the example of Jane. In Scenario 1, all of the four elements of body, mind, heart and spirit are in alignment. When all these elements are in alignment, we feel upbeat, positive and full of energy.
However, in Scenario 2, Jane had mixed thoughts. She thought that she was not deserving of the role, and discounted her innate strengths. At the same time, she did want the promotion. What resulted was a communication from her internal guidance system by way of feelings – in this case, feeling bad.
Until recently, the value of emotion has been vastly overlooked. It has only been in recent years that the subject of Emotional Intelligence has come to the fore.
Our feelings are a key element of our feedback mechanism. When our thoughts are focused on the positive, and possibility, they are supportive and empowering of our goals and objectives. We feel positive and have high energy.
In contrast, when our thoughts are focused on what’s wrong and what’s not possible, whether due to perceived external factors or perceived internal limitations, we feel negative emotion... just as Jane does when she thinks that she is not good enough.
The more out of alignment our thoughts, beliefs or assumptions are in relation to what we want (our goals and objectives), the greater the intensity of our feeling bad. And the more in alignment they are, the more upbeat we feel.
This is a key reason why ‘positive thinking’ in itself doesn’t work for many. Positive thoughts on their own without a corresponding positive feeling signals an internal disbelief of the positive thought, and so nothing changes. Instead, it is finding a positive thought to focus on which lifts our feelings to one that it lighter and more uplifted.
That said, it is not that feelings are either good or bad per se; they are simply pieces of feedback for us, which enable us to realise the quality of our inner thinking.
The Natural Leader understands this and appreciates the value of emotion as simply a piece of information. Because the Natural Leader also knows that they have the freedom and the power to choose at all times, they can refocus their thinking or action, and/or re-frame old beliefs and assumptions to bring their energy back into alignment.
The trouble for most of us is that we have been taught that feelings and emotions are not appropriate, particularly in the workplace. As a result, we learn to suppress our feelings, and override any such information that we receive – usually through our bodies.
Think about your most vivid memories, and you will notice that the more intense the experience and the feeling, the more you feel those emotions in your body.
Because many have ‘cut themselves off’ in this way, they have effectively severed important messages from their body, and also, the connection to a key intelligence that many successful leaders rely on – their gut feelings. In addition, because they are so used to over-riding messages from their body, they fail to pay attention to signs of tiredness, ploughing through extended periods without a break. Is it any wonder then that 13.5 million working days are lost each year to stress-related illness?
If we accept that our feelings are a form of feedback from our innate guidance system, then we can usefully harness that feedback to help us get extraordinary results.
Remember, when we have a negative feeling, that is a signal that something is out of alignment in relation to what we are thinking, feeling or doing, and what we stand for or who we are. We feel a lack of energy and enthusiasm, and over time, this can be debilitating to morale and also to health.
Positive emotion, however, is contagious. It is also attractive. People are more upbeat, more open, more creative, more innovative, more generous, and more of every other positive element that makes for a great workplace. In addition, when people are in this positive space, they treat others better. Customers who enjoy a better experience, are more likely to tell their friends and this, in turn impacts the bottom line.
So what enables people to feel positive emotion and to be in a positive space? This happens when they are:
- doing something that they enjoy.
- working with their strengths.
- being recognised and appreciated for what they do.
- able to learn from their mistakes.
- having fun in the workplace.
- enjoying a good working relationship with others.
- able to communicate openly and honestly.
- trusted to do good work and able to trust others.
- able to take time and space to rest, relax and to think.
- being well rewarded for what they do.
- fully able to realise their worth.
- achieve extraordinary results.
As you think about this list, are these also what make you feel positive and upbeat?
What’s more, like attracts like. The more you harness the power of positive emotion in each individual, the better they feel, and the better outcomes they generate. This attracts others of similar ilk – whether suppliers, customers or clients, or other employees. The positive spiral catches, and results are compounded.
And the key to unlock this spiral? Start with yourself.
Being a Natural Leader is about who you are. It is about the natural you, before you took on beliefs and assumptions about your environment, and your own identity.
At the very heart of being a Natural Leader is self-appreciation – a realisation of your own worth.
With this comes a self-assuredness and a strong sense of self. You know what you’re good at and you recognise your value. At the same time, you’re okay with your imperfections. They are simply a part of who you are, and you don’t focus on them – why would you? You know what you stand for. You take on board other people’s opinions and change your thinking if it serves you, while being okay with disagreement. You trust your own judgement and your own ability. Your thoughts, feelings and actions are in alignment with one another. Mistakes are never mistakes - simply learning experiences. You no longer feel that you need to prove yourself. And while you feel an inner pride in who you are, you also feel and display humility. In nurturing a generosity of spirit with yourself, you extend the same generosity towards others.
Your healthy confidence enables you to show up and speak up, without fear of looking a fool, because you know that your opinions are just as valid as the next person’s, and you respect, allow and encourage others to do the same. You lead, just by being you, while inspiring and allowing others to do the same.
This is natural leadership.
Imagine an organisation filled with individuals like this; people who come together to work together, by choice, each allowing the other to shine for what they are naturally good at, and all being a natural leader in their own right.
What difference would this make to you, your workplace environment and the results you and your team achieve?
‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’ – Mahatma Gandhi
Tips to Unleash The Natural Leader
Know your innate strengths and use them. Don’t dismiss your strengths as “easy” or “part of your job.” They may certainly be easy (to you) or part of your job, but they are of value, and are your personal assets.
Deliberately choose how you respond. Nothing has any meaning except the meaning that you give it. When you deliberately choose how you respond, you keep control and put yourself in an empowered position to influence your outcomes.
Pay yourself compliments. Stop putting yourself down and look out for ways in which you can compliment yourself – from the simplest things to a job well done. This is positive feedback and helps you to understand your value at a level deeper than intellect. It also develops your leadership ability to value others.
Look for and focus on the positive. Even when things go wrong, look for what is going right. This enables you to perpetuate what’s working and puts you in a more conducive frame of mind for generating creative solutions. Also, holding positive expectations cultivates confidence.
Track your energy levels and pay attention to them. Understand that there is a ‘right time’ for say, writing that report. Rather than try for two hours without much progress, delegate it to your mind, being clear on what outcome you want. Then write that report when you feel more inspired to do so. Also begin to listen to your body. Stop when you’re tired and take a break.
Pay attention to how you feel and find ways to feel good. Your feelings are your innate guidance system. When you’re not feeling good, you’re not in the best place to produce great results. Lighten up and have more fun! By paying attention to how you feel, you can change what you’re doing and/or how you’re thinking to position yourself for increased creativity and inspired action.
Learn how to coach yourself and others. It is through self-awareness and questioning of existing beliefs and assumptions that breakthrough change is achieved. Coaching facilitates this and assists clarity in thinking.
© Veronica Lim and the Association for Management Education and Development (AMED), all rights reserved. Check out our AMED Organisations & People section or view their website for more journal articles www.amed.org.uk
© Veronica Lim and the Association for Management Education and Development (AMED), all rights reserved. Check out our AMED Organisations & People section or view their website for more journal articles www.amed.org.uk