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The Solution to Our Leadership Crisis
By David M. Traversi

We are in a leadership crisis. More accurately, we are in multiple leadership crises. All you have to do is open up the newspaper or click on the television and we are bombarded with evidence of the failure of leadership in just about every arena – the corporate world, government, politics, the military, social movements, religion, nonprofits, even in the family.

In corporate America, where I work as an executive coach and strategic advisor, just look at the number of CEOs failing all along the spectrum, from simply doing a poor job – e.g., missing earning estimates, strategizing poorly or not at all, failing to create a culture of accountability, failing to satisfy customers – to committing crimes or unethical acts – e.g., back-dating stock options, paying themselves exorbitant compensation while shareholders lose money, and trading with insider information.

In small business, many leaders struggle with seemingly infinite, highly complex, rapidly changing issues in areas such as regulation, technology, the Internet, outsourcing and off-shoring, labor, workers compensation, the “greening” of the workplace as well as with product integrity, financial stability, and even natural catastrophes.

Why do our leaders seem to be failing us more now than at any other time in history? Why do leaders seem so mediocre? In a word . . . technology. While not a bad thing – in fact, I happen to believe it is a very good thing, a meaningful part of the human potential – its dimensions must be recognized and addressed. And the reality is that technology has conspired to overwhelm leaders with increasing amounts of increasingly complex data, downloaded at faster and faster rates. As a collective practice, leadership has simply fallen behind the pace of everything else in the world that has been accelerated and complicated by technology. Often leaders are unable to distinguish useful from useless data. Even if they can, they don’t have time to understand what to do with the useful before it quickly becomes useless. They’re trying to “drink out of a fire hose.” As a result, fear, stress, resistance, lapses in integrity, inability to focus, lack of personal responsibility, absence of creativity, and most importantly, a lack of positive results are the hallmarks of leadership today.

Where do leaders turn for answers? Traditional leadership authorities, unfortunately, disappoint. There are a lot of leadership books, and I think I’ve read 95% of them over the past thirty years. What they tend to be, though, are checklists of character traits that an effective leader should have. In other words they tell leaders to be everything from self-defined to inspiring to courageous. And they are checklists of functions that an effective leader should perform. For instance, they should do everything from build a values-based core to form a vision to produce results.

But what is happening is that as our world continues to accelerate and increase in complexity, just knowing what we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do as leaders is not enough. Checklists are not enough. We need to know how to embody the traits that a leader must embody to be effective, and we need to know how to perform the functions that a leader must perform to be effective. Until we learn how, our current leadership crisis will only worsen.

Over the past twenty years of working with thousands of leaders, and leading a number of organizations myself, I’ve identified eight personal drivers – energies that exist within each of us – each of which drives the ability of a person to embody a particular character trait of an effective leader and perform a particular function of an effective leader. The drivers are presence, and I’m speaking about consciousness and mindfulness, openness, clarity of thought, emotion, and behavior, intention, personal responsibility, intuition, creativity, and connected communication.

Presence is really a baseline energy, one that drives all traits and functions of the high-impact leader, and drives the other seven drivers. When you live in the present moment, you understand that everything is connected. Irrelevance is gone. Everything matters, not only in your personal life but in your leadership roles as well. You absorb every bit of life because you are highly focused. You think more clearly and efficiently. You act with more integrity and clarity. You are unburdened by unproductive thoughts of the past or future. You worry less. You fear less. You are infinitely more creative.

As a means of enhancing my presence, I’ve been meditating for about a decade and have experienced first-hand the profound impact that a more conscious existence can have on one’s ability to lead effectively. I know myself better and am more self-defined. I see more, I understand more, I can absorb more data, I am less stressed, I waste less time on meaningless things, I prioritize better, I listen better, I am more empathic, I speak better, I inspire better, I am more focused and organized, I am more creative, I can plan better, I can engage a team better, and I build more responsive organizations. More importantly, I produce more and better results.

Openness is the second key driver of the high-impact leader. Many, if not most of us, have learned through difficult life experiences to resist “what is.” If we once felt pain in response to something, we close ourselves to situations that might involve the same pain. In some cases, this may be a form of self-preservation or protection. However, we often close ourselves off from opportunities because of unrelated pain experienced long ago. And we often fix our beliefs because we fear the unknown. Fears and fixed beliefs, however, are incongruent with a dynamic, rapidly changing world. Resisting “what is” actually causes more pain and drains our energy. Opening to “what is” becomes liberating and energizing. When you’re open, you constantly seek to widen the net for possibilities, and resist nothing. As a leader, openness directly enables you to be forward thinking and curious, and to generate ideas and form a vision.

Clarity is the third driver of the high-impact leader - clarity in thoughts, emotions, and behavior. We have all, at least on occasion, thought, emoted, or acted out of anger, rage, envy, insecurity, guilt, greed, or some other fear-based stimulus. The sad fact is that too many people, and too many leaders, do it too much of the time. They work hard to maintain a healthy, clear persona—the appearance they present to the world—and suppress the unhealthy characteristics of their shadow—the personality and behavior energies that have been repressed from consciousness, usually since childhood. But they allow their shadow traits, such as rage and envy, to undermine their best intentions and drain them of energy. When a leader chooses clarity of thought, emotion, and behavior, he or she chooses to honestly acknowledge his or her shadow traits and use the light of honesty and openness to manage them so they do not undermine their relationships, pursuit of happiness, or, ultimately, effectiveness as a leader. They are empowered to be self-defined and people oriented as well as to build a values-based core and engage a team.

Intention is the fourth driver of the high-impact leader. In every moment, each of us can choose intention or neglect, intention or disempowerment. While many of us constantly say or think “I hope” and “I want” and “I’d like,” few of us sincerely believe we can bring about a desired result. Thus, we often cast our fate to the four winds or to the intentions of others. Last century, Napoleon Hill (1960) found - and documented in Think and Grow Rich, originally published in 1937 - that the active practice of intention was the single-most important determinant of personal and professional success. Nevertheless, I have known very few leaders who actually practice their intention. Few have enough faith, it seems, in the power of intention. Practicing intention, which involves a discipline of expressing it in great detail, regularly visualizing it as a current reality, offering exchange for it, starting a “conspiracy” of people focused on helping you achieve your intention, and, ultimately, detaching from it, significantly helps a leader to be focused and organized as well as to build a plan and produce results.

Personal responsibility is the fifth driver of the high-impact leader. We live in an era where personal responsibility has been replaced by blame and litigation. These actions are fear-based denials of reality, and ultimately they poison interpersonal and work relationships. Personal responsibility is complete ownership of “what is,” as distinguished from openness, which is the unbounded willingness to consider every element of “what is.” Once a leader learns to own “what is” on every front, and create the energy that results when we can say, “I am completely responsible for every positive and negative element that exists in my life,” he or she will see a dramatic improvement in his or her ability to be credible and courageous as well as to build a plan and create accountability.

Intuition is the sixth driver of the high-impact leader. Each of us was gifted with a powerful source of inspiration - a knowing, an intuition - that is embedded in this omniscient energy that binds everything that is. But fear often causes us to abandon too quickly in favor of a “safer” route supported by “facts” or the opinions of others. In doing this, we abdicate the crucial role that active intuition plays in life. The skilled and liberal use of intuition enables a leader’s ability to be self-defined and inspiring as well as to form a vision and build an organizational structure that is highly adaptive to rapidly changing conditions.

Creativity is the seventh driver of the high-impact leader. It is the essential element of innovation, the commercialization of creativity, upon which the survival and ultimate success of organizations depend. Without it, organizations stagnate, decay, and die. But a creative, and ultimately innovative, organization depends upon a creative leader. Fortunately, every person has the potential to be a powerful creative force. The leader who can tap into that creativity and, in the process, generate powerful energy, will be well-equipped to inspire, generate ideas and form a vision.

Connected communication is the eighth driver of the high-impact leader. In the complex, adaptive system in which we live, where everyone is interconnected and relationships are paramount, communication is essential for survival. Once past mere survival, the better you communicate, the better your relationships will be. The better your relationships, the better your life will be. Better communication is a function of increasing the connection in your communication. “Connected communication” is far more than a leadership tool or mechanical practice. It is an intensely powerful energy - a driver - deep within the high-impact leader. On a connected path, the high-impact leader is present, mindful, and completely honest. He or she is clear and concise, acutely empathic, and in complete alignment with “what is.” Everyone around the high-impact leader senses the integrity, the wholeness, of who he or she is and how he or she communicates; others gather strength in his or her presence. The system of connected communication, from clear expression of a purposeful message by an empathic speaker to an empathic listener, fuels the high-impact leader’s ability to be inspiring and supportive as well as to engage a team and create accountability.

In essence, leadership of others begins with leadership of the self. We all know that on an intellectual level. But leaders have actually live it to make any meaningful improvement as leaders. The leadership checklists themselves are not enough. Leaders must identify, access, and develop the energies that drive those checklist items – those character traits and functions of the effective leader. Therein lies the solution to our leadership crises and, ultimately, better conditions for us all.
David M. Traversi, a nationally known executive coach, is the author of The Source of Leadership: Eight Drivers of the High-Impact Leader, released in September 2007, .


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