Concluding this week’s series of posts built around the theme of The Five Wishes and the power of Intention, in today’s post I’ll delve into an idea that I’ll call Right Leadership. Right Leadership is an invention of the moment, intended to capture the idea that the most effective way to lead is through balance: a balance between developing and arriving, between results and relationships, between continuous improvement and acceptance. It bears saying again that, when I talk about leadership, I don’t only mean traditional leadership in the sense of political policy-making or business management; instead I believe that everyone can, and does, lead from any position in life. The question isn’t whether you are a leader; the question is whether you are paying attention.
By using the term Right Leadership, I mean to apply the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path to the idea of leadership. Actually, I had to invent it because, alas, I was wrong about something I wrote in yesterday’s post on the power of intention. At the end of that post I wrote that “right action,” one of the eight aspects of the Noble Path, was about a balance between doing and not doing, or between creating and accepting. Unfortunately, I made that up – I wasn’t really thinking about what I wrote. In fact, “right action” is one of the three tenets of ethical conduct in the Eightfold Path, along with “right speech” and “right livelihood.” ”Right action” in the context of the Path is about the deliberate choice to be morally upright, and turning away from acting in any way that brings harm to oneself or to others. Noble indeed, and an important aspect of being an ethical leader – but nothing to do with balance between doing and not-doing.
Doing an internet search on “right action leadership” turns up an interesting series of references. There is, in fact, a URL for www.rightactionleadership.com, which describes a system for training leaders to focus on effectively “getting results,” and in fact many of the entries turn up variations on that theme. “Take the right actions” and “get results.” Interesting stuff, but in fact only one half of what I believe to be truly effective leadership that flows from leading with intention.
I also came across a website at www.rightleadership.com, and the ideas there appear to come close to what I believe. The author, Harry Stewart Mercer, wrote a book titled Right Leadership: The Most Inspirational Leaders are Invisible Heroes. Intriguing. Mercer writes on the website,
Right Leadership has been written to focus on what the author believes should be the ultimate objective of all leaders, to become invisible.
The purpose of leadership is to support the development of all people that leaders touch or influence in such a way as to ensure alignment between personal values and goals and those of the company or organization. When this alignment is optimized, results are maximized for all stakeholders – customers, shareholders and employees. They are also optimized for family and community (both local and global).
Most intriguing. Unfortunately the links to purchase the book are broken, and there doesn’t appear to have been an edit to the page since 2007 – I’ve written the author and will post a follow up if I learn more.
Be that as it may, my view of Right Leadership would be compatible with what Mercer wrote. Single minded focus on “results” leads to performance that is less than optimal, at least over the long haul. Sustainable results, whether measured by metrics related to financial performance, individual engagement, customer loyalty, or any other standard by which success might be measured for either individuals or corporations, come only when there is a balance between focus on traditional “results” and the much more intangible human factors. The past few years has brought a spate of writing on this subject, some of which is quite enlightening and some of which is simply old-school management dressed up in politically correct language about “developing your people.”
Radical Right Leadership goes beyond a balance between “people” and “business results,” or on the individual level between “personal growth” and “financial security” – Right Leadership as I think of it recognizes that these dimensions are inseparable. There are no results without the human element. But it’s still more. Results do not, contrary to most business models, come from forced action. Nor do they come from pure “letting go” into the knowledge that the universe, or God, will take care of us. Both get us part of the way there, and either are reasonable ways to live, but I believe that it is the balance between the two takes us the rest of the way home.
In other words, results come from intention. As I wrote yesterday transformation comes from intention; form an image and felt sense of where (and how) you want to be, and then decide what you can begin doing to bring that state of being into reality. I could just as easily have said that results come from intention, or that leadership is most powerful when it is done with intention.
An element of this with which I confess I struggle is that once an intent is formed, we have to let go. I hear this from the coach I work with, and it is also a theme of The Five Wishes: once formed and put out into the world, we need to let our intention go and allow it to manifest. There is a way in which this makes sense to me; once I’m clear about what I intend to create, it’s important to trust that it will come into being. Trying to force a new reality into being often ends up with unpleasant consequences, and leads to frustration: “Is it soup yet? Why the heck not? What’s wrong with me/the universe/God …” You get the idea.
On the other hand, envisioning a new reality without making the commitment to act in a way that’s consistent with it degenerates into mere positive thinking. It might feel good, but it won’t produce the result.
The answer, I believe, is Right Leadership. Having formed an intention, balance doing with being; having defined the result, let go of the end product and focus on the process. The trick of leading, whether yourself, a team, a community, or an organization, is to get completely clear about where you want to be, commit to acting in a manner consistent with bringing that intention into being, and then focus on the present moment and trust that the end will come in time. This is the balance between ends and means, destination and travel. The end result is radically more powerful attainment, coupled with a balanced, congruent, and serene way of being in the world.
Find it hard to believe? I do some days. But I keep coming back to this idea that the process matters more than the goal, as the trip matters more than the destination. What do you think?
Les Kertay, The Moments Project
Fearless Friday posts are about the qualities of leadership, at all levels.