The Dilemmas of Leadership – Pt 3

In my last post, I was deliberating about the need for a leader to be mindful about one’s own thoughts and feelings. The practice of mindfulness helps increase one’s self-awareness, and the more one is self-aware, the easier it becomes to be mindful. So mindfulness meditation technique is definitely a key methodology or tool to increase self-awareness. This helps us notice our innate presumptions, biases and preferences. We notice what thoughts we don’t mind dwelling on, and what thoughts we tend to move away from. (Of course, as you practice mindfulness meditation, we learn to let go of resistance as well as attachment and just observe as a 3rd person but as we essentially become acutely aware of our feelings).

So what determines the things we tend to get drawn towards and those that we tend to avoid? The answer is not straightforward. Our emotions are the functions of a plethora of things that leave an impact on our mind (and brain). Our memories are a key element of this mixture – past events, how they made us feel – were we rewarded when we stood up for someone or ourselves? Or were we admonished or harmed for that act? Was sincerity rewarded or punished? Was lying necessary to save one self from abuse? Was the thrill of circumventing authority giving us a psychological high? How does what we do, make us feel? These aspects essentially carve our belief systems and values. Do I believe that hard work is rewarding? Do I believe that being sincere always allows one to win in this world? Is it enough that one puts in hard work and does his/her best to succeed OR is there something called a chance? There are no easy and straight forward answers. And therefore, as a leader, when one has to lead a team, it is important that the direction the team takes during moments of confusion, is informed by appropriate values. And a key contributor to those value systems are a leader’s own beliefs. The core values that one sets for his/her team or company is immensely informed by everyone’s values but even more so by that of the person at the helm of the organization or the team.

Then how is one to choose their values? Do we have a choice at all? Or are we supposed to draw on the social and moral elements dictated to us from times immemorial? Interestingly enough, the questions of what values a leader must embody has been dealt at length ever since man learnt how to codify thoughts through symbols/writing. Epics have been written, ballads sung and stories narrated that detail the values the hero embodied while also those that his/her adversary represented. Ultimately, we know that the hero (and therefore the values he/she represented) wins and that’s the direction everyone should follow. But as the society evolves, it has also looked up to different personalities as its redeemer. Just look at how monarchy is treated these days! So is it enough to simply pick our values from what has been handed down to us or as a leader, should an individual attempt to objectively identify the values that will reinforce affirming feelings within everyone? Affirming happiness, affirming interpersonal relationships, affirming joy and collaboration seems to be the need of the present day! It may not have been so several decades ago! Under different circumstances, say for the allied forces during World War 2, affirming strength, affirming obedience, affirming sacrifice, was more critical! I feel it is essential, that a leader has to continuously reflect on the values being represented individually as well as collectively. Values that are blindly adhered to, can become dogmas – they become static and therefore begin to rot. Continuous reflection of our individual and collective values helps keep the social flow fresh and empowers one and all.

This essentially means that as a leader, one must practice to step out of the hardline stance of one’s belief system and be adaptable. I must however caution here, that things are not black and white! I am not saying that I am condoning becoming a turncoat based on convenience. There were many businesses in USA which clandestinely supported Hitler because it made more economic sense despite knowing the atrocities being committed by him! My stance is that as social systems evolve to address individual and collective well being, a leader must also correspondingly reflect on the values represented by the team or the organization. Becoming a hardliner and sacrificing individual and collective wellbeing defeats the very value system that was meant to help the society thrive! So as a leader, one must continuously and objectively evaluate the values by observing the individual and collective advancement – personally, professionally, socially and spiritually!

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