What does it take to be a great leader in an era when the winds of global and local change are blowing in gale force, where the world is so interconnected that when you make a decision someone on the other side of the world is affected? Leadership has never been easy. There have always been challenges. But these days, the difficulties seem to be uniquely immense. Which means leadership isn't for the faint of heart. It's not just about competence and intelligence.
So what else is desperately needed?
I've been reading Jean Houston's insightful book, The Wizard of Us: Transformational Lessons From Oz. She takes this mythic story, which has in the last 100 years since publication embedded itself into the very psyche of our culture, and uses the characters as archetypes for our own lives. The lessons she pulls out of this beloved children's story are guides to finding the deeper meaning of our own lives and the collective life of our world in crisis. You need to read this book.
Dorothy's story is a description of her personal rite of passage from childhood through the challenges, pitfalls, and perils of adolescence. In essence, it's about how Dorothy grows up and comes into her own powerful self.
As I read Houston's summary of the stages of Dorothy's adventure, I see direct connections to the journey of effective leadership and leadership development--what it takes to "grow up" into strong, confident, transformational leaders.
Here are four strategies. If you want to be a great leader, you need to pay intentional attention to these principles.
First, Embrace your own world of sufficiency and abundance.
Having been tornadoed from the grey-tinted wasteland of her farm and homestead--a world of scarcity and lack--into a technicolor place of abundance, with gold-crusted yellow-brick roads, Dorothy begins to see her possibilities in a new light. She discovers new potentials and powers both within and outside herself. Her entire paradigm shifts from helplessness and scarcity to self efficacy and abundance.
Great leaders refuse to be limited by a worldview of scarcity. They operate from a place of potential, possibilities, opportunities. They believe that there is always enough to push through the obstacles and thrive. They rely on the sufficiency of their inner and outer resources to confront challenge and achieve their vision.
Great leaders refuse to live in a "wasteland" mentality. Their vision and subsequent actions "re-green" their environment.
Second, Discover the riches and uses of your full intelligence, friendship, and compassion.
Dorothy's existence on the farm homestead was pretty bleak and self-centered. She had nothing that really challenged and inspired her. The only one who paid meaningful attention to her was her little dog Toto...and her fantasies of going somewhere "beyond the rainbow" where her dreams of what life could really be like could come true.
In Oz, everything changed. In this entirely unfamiliar environment, she was forced to see herself in new ways, forced to rely on capabilities and "smarts" she didn't know she possessed. She had to make significant decisions on her own. She had to learn how to trust new people and collaborate with them in order to move forward.
And what facilitated these personal discoveries was the great Road of Trials that actually began with the massive twister which transported her from Kansas to Oz and continued with her challenges in Oz. Trials and adversity became her great teachers. Rather than caving in and giving up, she used the difficulties to call out a new-found courage, compassion, confidence, and tenacity.
Great leaders use all of life's experiences as learning tools for deeper self awareness. Rather than running away from challenges, difficulties, and even failures, they use them as fertilizer for growth and development.
They have an intuitive and experiential knowing that the Road of Trials will actually call out new qualities in themselves that they might not have been aware of before. They believe trials are tools to learn how to keep moving forward strategically rather than getting stuck in mediocrity or status quo or failures. Trials are vehicles to transformation.
Third, Access the genius of working in partnership and compassion.
Thrust into a whole new world, Dorothy's encounter with three separate and quite disparate creatures reveals to her the smarts of collaborating and partnering in order to faithfully fulfill her mission. Life is too challenging to try to make it on your own. She quickly sees that truth. And so together, these Faithful Four overcome seemingly impossible odds.
As she continues on the Oz journey with the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion, she is opened up to new parts of herself that she begins to realize she is longing to express and experience herself. She is the Tin Man in her longing to feel loving connections. She is the Scarecrow seeking her true intelligence. She is the Cowardly Lion looking for courage.
That self realization grows a profound compassion in her toward these three creatures she was so tempted to judge at first.
Great leaders recognize that the most effective way forward is in collaboration and partnerships. What's more, they are tuned in to other people's strengths and bring to themselves those strengths they especially need. They know that the "committed community" can do almost anything.
That willingness to see extreme value and worth in others, that ability to notice complementary strengths, and the genius of inviting those people onto the team as equal partners with much to offer, increases compassion within these leaders toward them and people in general.
Looking at themselves, great leaders recognize that no one is perfect. That most people are doing the best they can with what they've been given. And that brings leaders to a deeper place of compassion.
We all share similar longings and hopes and desires for what we want out of life. We all have wounds and pain points from the past. We all experience triggers that sometimes cause us to act out in unhealthy ways. We are all human.
Great leaders embrace and lead out of these significant truths.
Fourth, Lean upon the sacred potency that lies within and around you.
Dorothy's journey deeper into Oz reveals some remarkable realities about existence in that land. At different times there appear to her Supporters who come to guide her, empower her, help her, and encourage her: Glinda, Toto, the Munchkins, the Wizard of Oz. These are allies who prove to be crucial at significant moments for Dorothy. She begins to rely on their support especially in the midst of obstacles to keep her moving forward.
Dorothy is also given objects that help her, like the silver slippers--three clicks of the heels and you're there.
Great leaders understand that there is more to personal success than what they can do on their own. There is a sense of something bigger than themselves that they tap into and can rely on, whatever their individual religious or spiritual beliefs.
Abraham Lincoln talked about how he accessed this at crucial moments: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
There is an honest humility that great leaders possess. They understand their personal strength and inherent power. And they also understand their personal limitations. So they make the bold choice to rely on Supporters--some call this God, Spirit, Universe, Higher Power. The motivation is the same: "I need more than what I alone possess to see my way through. I acknowledge my dependence and interdependence for my life to work successfully."
There is a sacred potency that God gives to us--our personal essence, the way we're each designed and wired for maximum effectiveness, the presence of Spirit and Community, a deep Love and Peace that come through humility and faith in the Connectedness of All Things, the very Source of life that dwells in us every moment of every day.
Great leaders choose this access.
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