by Kathi Szabo

Many people think Leadership is a skillset that is learned and only used by those in power. They don’t necessarily think of it as something to use unless they are in a position of managing others. Thus there is no focus on strengthening or developing it.

I challenge that thinking and believe Leadership is found in each of us. It is a character strength we all can benefit from when we use it more regularly.

Every human being has the inherent character strength of leadership. It is not only important when we are leading others, but it is just as important to use in order to lead ourselves. To be the Captain of our own ship.

Our ship is our life. As captain, isn’t our goal to live our best life? Are we not striving to find higher levels of happiness?  To find contentment and well-being every day?  Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, might say our best life is when we are flourishing or living in flow.

This leads to the question, what state of being are we in when we are flourishing or at our best?

Aren’t we at our best when we are aware and in the present moment?

Awareness and the Present Moment

When we are present, we are more capable to direct our Self or others. We have clarity on what we are trying to achieve, whether that be baking cookies or finishing a project for our boss.

Being present, we have clarity on the next step needed to reach the end result.  When we are not present, we lack the awareness of what is needed next to achieve our goal, regardless of what that goal may be.

Leadership requires this presence, this awareness.  We cannot lead, whether it be our Self or others, if we are not present and aware.

Mindfulness – the Key to being Present

To increase our levels of awareness and act in the present moment, we learn to be mindful. Mindfulness is taking full accountability for our mindset, how we view the world, and our response to our circumstances.  When we accept that these two things are completely in our control, we let go of blame and of expecting others to solve our issues, make us happy, make us whole. We engage our Captain. We engage Leadership.

The world provides plenty of triggers to make us angry, agitated, and relegate our leadership to others. But it is mindfulness that employs the leadership within us and gives us the resources to process the external world in a different way.

One always has the choice of how to react to any given situation. We can succumb to negative thoughts and behaviors, or we can utilize mindfulness and leadership to reframe and find responses that help us move forward, not keeping us stuck in the same paradigm we are accustomed to. All situations are temporary.  In knowing this, we hold the power to decide the next step. We can choose action that will lessen our stress and negative emotions. We can choose to create the potential for a more preferred circumstance in the future.

Mindfulness paired with Leadership, is letting go of fault and taking full responsibility for our actions, regardless of the situation.  The answer to every problem lies within us in the present moment.

 “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” Dali Lama

Leadership based in Values

In the book, The Leadership Challenge, (J. Kouzwa and B. Posner), the authors begin with the belief that to lead others, and I would add as well as our Self, we must know exactly what we stand for. We must define who we are. When we understand our values, we have clarity on what is most important to us. That clarity then serves as a guide for our actions.

ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) defines values as, “chosen concepts linked with patterns of action that provide a sense of meaning and that can coordinate our behavior over long-time frames.” Essentially is is our personal code of conduct.  Values are the constructs of how we live our lives.  These must be defined in order for us to utilize our leadership.

Values ground and guide our Leadership. Leadership is supported by our mindfulness, our knowing and understanding who we are and what we believe. Mindfulness cultivates our understanding of our purpose, which leads us back to being the Captain of our Ship. It is a continuous circle.

Leadership is a Mindset

Leadership requires having a Beginner’s Mind.  Being open to learning with an understanding that there is always more to learn. It is asking questions, being accepting to change our perspective when more is known.  It’s taking time to find the right path for our Self, rather than quickly making decisions. It is allowing space and admitting we don’t know when we don’t have the answer.

Failure does not exist with a Beginner’s Mind. It is simply when what we expect and what actually occurs are not the same. Engaging our Leadership, we let go of any fear of failure.  Leadership is taking action, being mindful of the outcome without attachment.  If it is an undesired outcome, we learn. But we do not allow thoughts that we failed or that the path we chose was wrong.  We move forward, learning from the circumstance.

Risk taking is made safe by accepting  “mistakes” and “failures” as part of learning.

Leadership requires failure because failure is how we ultimately learn.

A wise man once told me, “when you fail, fail fast.”  This means we are mindful. We notice that the desired outcome is not what is happening and we mindfully change course.  We do not sulk in the unintended outcome. We see it and we move on.

Think of decisions as experiments.  Experiments have no right or wrong outcome.  Instead, we engage our curiosity and see what happens.  The outcome, desired or not, helps us to see the next step forward.

Empowering not Fixing

Leadership is not fixing others.  It is not fixing our Self.  Leadership is empowering our Self and those around us to reach their unlimited potential.

I say unlimited because like the universe which we are all part of, connected with, our potential is limitless.  When we reach what we thought was our limit, we realize there is more beyond.

Within every human is greatness.  Leadership looks for this greatness in our own being and everyone else as well.

Leadership is empowering every being to understand they have unlimited potential.  It is also assisting them in moving forward.  But it is not fixing as there is nothing to fix. Challenges are designed for us to grow. When we “fix” a challenge for someone, we limit their growth.  This is not Leadership.

Empowerment acknowledges our importance in the world as well as the importance of every other individual.  We all desire to feel valued.

We start with our Self and  let go of self-doubt, self-criticism. We believe in our own worth. Once we love our Self, we do the same for those who surround us, acknowledging and valuing their unique gifts and capabilities of what they bring to the world.

Our life is whatever we make it.

Our job, our relationships can be whatever we desire.

We are the Captain.

We all have Leadership within us to steer our ship on course.