On The Leadership Challenge

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“Leadership can be learned. It’s an observable pattern of practices and behaviors and a definable set of skills and abilities.” – James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge

There are various takes on what constitutes “leadership.” And as the above quote points out, we know what leadership looks like when we see it; it is observable.

There are various arguments and ideas about what those observable behaviors might be. Some believe that it is about learning how to strategize; for some, the ability to inspire people with a “big picture” vision; for others, it is about effectively building a team; and yet for others, it is about charisma.

Regardless of what one believes are those crucial leadership practices and behaviors, what is common among them all is that the behaviors are consistent: They are practiced and utilized over and over again until they are second nature. They form a leadership habit on which a leader can rely no matter what the circumstances.

Pick one behavior that you feel might contribute to you realizing your leadership potential. Perhaps, it’s making your priority list in the morning. Or maybe, it’s taking five minutes at the end of your day to reflect on what you were able to accomplish. Regardless of what you choose, aim to do that behavior for 21 consecutive days (that’s how long it takes for a habit to stick). If you forget, then just start over and keep at it until you develop that leadership habit.

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Developing the Habit

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One of the most powerful byproducts of recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain is malleable and that the ability to re-shape the brain has implications for personal growth and the treatment of conditions long-held to be “diseases” or “disorders.” There has been an explosion in research and literature exploring the connection between the brain and contemplative meditation, its connections to performance and effectiveness, and its relationship to positive thinking and happiness.

I predict that the idea that we will look back on as being the one that opened the door to a whole new level in human potential is the concept that the neurons that fire together wire together. In other words, the brain can actually be re-trained and re-conditioned to support new and more positive habits.

What that means for the world of leadership development is exactly the entire premise of this blog: Leadership is not the inborn trait of a lucky few but rather a habit that can be learned, practiced, and cultivated. Put another way, leadership is a habit we can develop. And even more powerfully, the brain can be trained with the leadership habit.

What would your world look like if you developed your leadership habit?

On Gaining Power Through Surrender

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Surrender is a paradox. When we surrender, we actually achieve real and authentic power. How is it possible that we are more powerful in surrendering?

The Buddha discovered that the mind enslaves us in conditioning that is reinforced through the repetition of habits. Jesus was a revolutionary precisely because he represented a break from the rigid and repetitive ways of thinking that dictated his society. Krishna counsels Arjuna on the battlefield that it is in the present moment that we must master our minds, which keep us trapped in the vicious cycle of samsara, of the past repeating itself in our present and future. Two days ago, our Muslim brethren began Ramadan, which involves fasting, a ritual break from those things that keep us apart from God in each and every moment.

We are slaves to our conditioning. Our habits define us. We don’t even realize the ways in which we are gripped by them: Our friend says something, and we already know what they are going to say. We make the same commute in traffic, and next thing we know, we have somehow guided ourselves back home without even remembering how we got there. Our partner says something with a bit of a tone, and the next thing we know, we’re fighting the same argument we’ve fought a hundred times before.

Surrender offers us freedom from this conditioning. It is a recognition that we are trapped in our conditioned ways of thinking, speaking, and doing, and saying, “I know where this is going to take me, and I don’t want to go there anymore. I choose to give up, trusting that I will be led to a place I’ve never been before.”
It is a surrender to every possibility made available by the unknown. It is in this infinitude of possibilities that we derive power, a power that can only be accessed through surrender.

On Welcoming the Unknown

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“In fact the spiritual path can be viewed as one of progressive surrender to uncertainty, for the known is the past, while the unknown is a field of infinite possibilities.”  – David Simon M.D, and Deepak Chopra, M.D., in Freedom from Addiction

As I continue to work on letting go of my addiction pattern as a series of life-diminishing habits, I stand facing the inevitable unknown that lies before someone who has grown too used to my morass. It is the very nature of addiction that we rely on the familiar because it feels safe to us even if it is harmful to us in the end.

The above quote from Dr. Simon and Dr. Chopra of The Chopra Center helps to put the seemingly daunting unknown in perspective. By our own doing, we have gotten ourselves to this point in life. It is of our choosing that we now know … know the short-term comfort and subsequent emptiness left us by indulging sex, alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling, spending, etc. And it is knowing that tells us that we are stuck in the past rather than being in the deliciously present moment.

It is when I don’t know that I can have hope. It is when I don’t know that I can celebrate … because it means that a different future, rather than a familiar, predictable one, is possible.

On Being Alive In This Moment

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This quiet weekend has also meant that I get to be with all of the stuff with which I don’t normally want to deal on a daily basis. For the most part, there is a human propensity to shy away from the stuff that doesn’t feel good. We numb, check out, and distract ourselves with our addictions and compulsive behaviors. And at their heart, one thing to keep in mind is that these habit patterns emerged to protect us from hurt. Yet, somehow, these habit patterns kicked into overdrive and took on a life of their own.

As I continue to practice self-compassion towards myself, especially when gripped by these behaviors, I am reminded that each moment in life presents us with an opportunity to feel more alive. Whereas addictions and compulsions serve to numb or deaden, meditating on the present moment gives us an opportunity to really experience Life in its fullness, both in its joys and in its pain.

How can I be fully alive in THIS moment?

The Freedom of Lent

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Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship to the Christian season of Lent. Those of the pre-Vatican II persuasion rained shame on all of us sinners, making us feel bad for all of our supposed transgressions (Who knew that even thinking sinful thoughts was already sinful?). For those of the liberation theology ilk, the Lenten season became less about what we were going to give up for the next forty days (because how many times could we really give up drinking dark sodas after 3 PM), and more about eliminating those habits, patterns of thought, and behavior that stand between us and God.

As someone who is partial to the New Thought wisdom tradition made famous by The Secret, I’m of the opinion lately that it’s not only about getting closer to God: It’s also about removing the constraints that prevent us from expressing our own divine inheritance. If Jesus’ 40 days in the desert are a demonstration of spiritual law, then it is possible that he was teaching us that fasting is about taking away that which limits our ability to fully express who we are. Be it false beliefs, stories from the past, or the judgment of others, we have things that stand in the way of that greater Self trying to fight its way out.

Lent, therefore, takes on greater significance for me. I get now that it really is about Freedom from self-imposed limitations. It’s about fully expressing who I really am for the entire world….