In a world dominated by growing complexity and uncertainty we sometimes feel as if we are loosing ground. When life becomes more and more unpredictable, we are forced to find stability within ourselves. We need leaders who understand these challenges on a deeper level and who are able to connect with their own humanness amidst the turmoil. Leading from within becomes an indispensable skill when riding the VUCA-wave. Inner- or self- leadership helps us navigate through choppy waters, while fostering communication, cooperation, and igniting innovation. But what exactly is inner leadership and can it be learned?
Inner leadership is the ability to look at oneself from a meta-perspective and to direct one’s behavior in a self-actualizing way. As a first step, we observe our thoughts and actions without judgement. This point is critical. It simply means to get to know oneself and the patterns driving our behavior. Taking a neutral position to calmly examine what we think and how we act is similar to what we try to achieve in meditation. Meditation is an exercise in mindfulness – the act of being fully present and observing our breath and body. We let thoughts come and go. We refocus on the breath. We do not judge. Reaching a sense of calmness and acceptance is the first step towards self-actualization. Self-observation requires us to pause, seek stillness, and create moments of contemplation.
Once we have observed our thoughts and behaviors we reflect upon them. This is the moment of truth. Now is the time to discern what works and what doesn’t. We become acutely aware of the thoughts that motivate us to take positive action. Simultaneously, we begin to catch reoccurring thoughts and automated behaviors that get in the way of us being content, effective, and successful. Self-reflection requires courage. It means acknowledging who we truly are, what we are running away from or trying to hide, and how we have been undermining our own happiness. Accepting our shadow sides and looking the beast straight in the eyes is a humbling yet empowering experience. Nevertheless, feeling vulnerable is deeply human and connects us all.
Now that we have studied and reflected upon our thoughts and behaviors comes the perhaps most challenging part: turning off autopilot mode and taking deliberate action. The truth is, we can only control our own thoughts and actions. This wisdom has been around for centuries, from Buddha and the Stoics to Viktor Frankl. However, it is one of the most difficult principles to internalize. According to Viktor Frankl, the only true freedom we have is to chose our attitude and how we respond to our circumstances. Hence, by influencing our thoughts, we shape the outcome. Influencing our own actions by consciously stopping hindering thought patterns and redirecting behaviors requires a healthy dose of self-discipline. It is much easier to go down a path of self-sabotage than to take responsibility and conquer one’s weaker self.
Leading by Example
The good news is, this three step process – observation, reflection, and regulation – can be learned and practiced. Each step not only cultivates self-mastery and boosts confidence but also increases empathy towards ourselves and others. Even the slightest change in attitude and/or behavior motivates us to continue improving our inner-leadership capacity. You have the power to influence the outcome of a situation with your attitude. Whether you look at a glass half full or half empty is your choice. Leading by example creates trust and invites the people around you to rise to the occasion. When your attitude and actions inspire others you are creating a human centred work culture that encourages open communication, learning from mistakes, and creative problem solving. In other words, it allows for people and innovation to thrive.
Susanne Kallanian is a business and leadership coach located in Austria. She supports individuals and teams in unlocking their inner leadership potential to become clear with intention and action.
Photo credit: Bob Berwyn