Developing Sustainable Leadership


                          We are all leaders, exercising authority over our own lives every day. At the same time, we are followers, conceding to the authority of the social contract; stopping at the STOP sign. We lead one minute, concede the next; life is not fixed, leadership is not one thing. But to lead others is to lay claim to a special place.

                           Our understanding of leadership is based on what we have been shown. Parents, teachers, spiritual leaders, bosses, positive and negative role models in the larger society, every transaction we have had with a leader, real or imagined affects how we deal with authority now; our own and that of others.

                           As we lead in our daily life, at work and at home, it is our relationship to our self that makes the difference. The way we process our thoughts and feelings determines how we behave.  The way we behave determines how others respond to us. Yet our behavior in a moment may be conditioned by experiences of authority that are extra-conscious, outside of our awareness.

                          Decision-making is the core activity of leadership. One moment demands an instant response, the next calls for reflection. How do we discern the most effective response to the demands of a given moment?

                          To develop our leadership skills is to expand our repertoire of responses under stress. Key to this is to cultivate awareness of the assumptions and beliefs that underpin our thinking, feeling, and acting.

                          Leaders must sustain themselves in complex, stressful situations. But that is not enough. They must engage with and sustain the people they depend on, with whose consent they lead. Stress invokes reactivity, the need to preserve our self, which often means to isolate or revert to an habitual response. But great leaders remain engaged and reflective, regardless of the stressors they encounter.

                           The degree to which we tolerate distress determines where the interface is drawn, between preserving self and contributing to the system that sustains us. This is sustainable leadership in action.

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