I have been struck of late – in awe really – of extraordinary leadership shown by an uncommon breed of leaders I have the privilege of witnessing in my personal life and as a professional coach. Their brand of fierce leadership has inspired me to write about them as a way of understanding and sharing their recipe. I’m talking about educators, civil servants and business leaders I observe everyday, navigating an unprecedented and increasingly complex terrain of inadequate budgets, politics, an increasing prevalence and awareness of mental health issues, or all of the above!
Our world is filled with seemingly endless adversity that may suggest we can’t possibly make a difference. And yet, I notice these fierce leaders are evolving with that complexity, in many ways transcending it to have the impact they are wanting. I applaud them and want to share what I am discovering about their recipe so that the rest of us may follow their lead.
Simple ingredients to a powerful recipe
I first notice these leaders are intentional about where they place their focus of attention. In other words, they all practice really great listening. The kind of listening that seeks to understand: what is needed now, with that individual, by my team, in my organization or in my community? The kind of listening that enables them to see not only what is happening, but also what is trying to happen. Listening that leads to the ability to see and hold multiple perspectives at the same time. Because things are seldom simply black or white.
The second thing I see consistently among these leaders is passion. Passion and clarity of conviction for the very reason these leaders exist to serve. Perhaps this is where the “fierce” descriptor came to me, from the heart and compassion I see in them. Whether it is their cause or the people they serve, the strongest leaders I see are inextricably tethered to what their work is for the sake of. This passion fuels them and helps them dig deep when the going gets tough.
Which leads to perseverance. In our practice, we sometimes call this “stay”. Staying with the cause or principle or even a single conversation is one of the hardest things to do in times of conflict and complexity. Rising above the natural inclination to turn away from adversity in the hour of greatest need takes guts. It is natural to question do I have the fortitude, the resilience? Even to second guess if it’s worth stepping into the messy business of those circumstances. Leaders are faced with a contrasting choice every day: stay and face the complexity by looking at our circumstances through multiple perspectives or take up the urge to avoid, turn away or bolt!
The simple choice that makes all the difference
Perhaps the most important and rare factor I am noticing in the most powerful leaders: their active and intentional practice of substituting trust for fear. Ambrose Redmoon says: courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important. What are these leaders making more important than fear? Their values, their convictions, their beliefs. These courageous leaders lead from their values, self manage and place trust where fear lives. Fear is a tempting commodity to trade in. It may be one of the most courageous things to do, choosing trust over fear.
While these fierce leaders complement this recipe with a host of other admirable traits, I am appreciating that the practices they have in common are relatively simple. It occurs to me that maybe these leaders navigating an increasingly complex world, evolving with it, and even transcending it may be doing so by going back to simple basics. Perhaps simplicity is their single most important ingredient. Simple, maybe. But not necessarily easy. And yet in appreciating the simple, what I see is possible is our ability to follow their formula and create our own version.
As you reflect on this past year, however complex for you, and as you set your intentions for the year ahead, how might you make this recipe your own? What will you need to leave behind and what will you need to add to evolve and transcend your complex world?
Thinking about you, our Fire Inside community and the fierce leaders among you that inspired this note gives me hope in this uncertain and complex time. It inspires me to choose trust over fear about our collective future. What will you choose?