The idea that we spend much of our time defining ourselves by what we do rather than who we are has been around for a while. We call ourselves human beings, but we are more like human doings. We devote so much of our time and energy to doing things – hopefully the right things, but how much focus do we put into being the right thing?
Running a leadership session last week I was reminded of a lovely idea – the idea of having a “to be list” as well as a “to do list”.
Personal authenticity is about knowing ourselves, our selves and being it, without fear or compromise in all situations. Authenticity is, in a sense, being our best self, all of the time. There are three things that make authenticity challenging: Fear, habits and stress.
Fear: The fear of being ridiculed or exposed for something that is core to our being. We often hide these precious parts of our being from others, unless we really trust them. This is a skill learned in school and deployed in any environment which does not feel safe.
Habits: We adopt habits, sometimes through fear or sometimes to fit in, which are not really aligned to our true self. These habits create stress and discomfort, but we do them anyway.
Stress: As Sun Tzu said, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” – unless our authentic values are well ingrained and our habits are aligned with our values and we have the self confidence and self awareness to remain centred, it is very easy to get blown of course when the pressure is on.
One way of remaining authentic is to retreat to a safe environment where stress and fear are minimised. This is what many great authentic leaders have done in the past, from Buddha to Gandhi and even Mandela (not voluntarily).
Today the challenge is not to retreat, today the challenge is to hold our authenticity while in the midst of pressure and stress. To hold our authenticity as a parent and to hold our authenticity as a leader, so that we can make the contribution we need to make.
This is where the idea of a “to be list” is so valuable.
First we can articulate our values, if you have not done so you can start by identifying all of the things that frustrate you, not just the superficial things like “traffic” but the deeper reason behind the frustration; “Why do you find traffic frustrating?”. eg – “I find traffic frustrating because it is unproductive use of time.”
Once you have your list of frustrations, then flip them around to the positive, in the example above the value might be “productiveness”.
Most of our values, especially the ones based on our frustrations, are so innate that we will already be doing them. However there will also be frustrations where our habits or our behaviour under stress grates against our self image. This is where the “to be list” becomes so helpful.
For example, we may find “anger” frustrating, both in ourselves and others and yet we find it hard to avoid when under pressure. The value we might ascribe to this could be “calmness” or “serenity”. So we could put it on our “to be list”.
Just having this list makes a big difference and making it present for us will accelerate the difference, especially if the list is short or we just focus on a few at a time. We can make the list present by putting it on the lock screen of our phone, tablet or computer. Or by making posters and putting them on the fridge around our desk or similar. We can keep them there until the habit is changed and then do the next one(s).
Authentic leadership is about leading as our authentic selves, in alignment with our own values and empowering others to do likewise, whilst also fulfilling all of the other roles of leadership.
Please share your stories and examples here.
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