Advice for Those Called to Leadership

In this week’s CBS Money Watch blog post,  I refer to one of the most important aspects of leadership: that people feel a call to it, in the same way people report a sense of calling to the clergy, to teaching, or to helping the less fortunate.  It comes down to a phrase attributed to Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

If you think of leadership and those words resonate with you, here’s what should you do.

First, and most important, surround yourself with people who will not allow your ego to go wild.  Have them read this blog post and give them permission to kick you in the leg (metaphorically) if they see you taken over by your ego.

Second, immediately read (or listen to) the chapter in Tribal Leadership on “the epiphany.”  It’s chapter 7  in the book version , and in the abridged audio version.  (The audiobook is free.)  There is some technical information you need about this common leadership experience, and also some reflection that is necessary.

Despite what bad advice you may have heard, ego is not transcended, overcome, caged, prayed away, or integrated.  It’s not a cancer, and it’s not evil.  It’s part of every adult’s being, and it has a purpose.  Like any other part of ourselves—our intellect, our passions, our deepest yearnings—it can be overfed.  A person whose ego is in charge falls into a pit of blindness, when everyone around them can see they’ve become possessed by their self-obsession, but the person can’t see that.

Third, get in a tribe of people who, like you, are called to leadership, and busy doing good in the world.  Doing good can be running an organization, leading a social movement, or even leading themselves.  For those few executives who are also called to leadership, you might consider applying for a program Mark Taylor and I are going to start next month.

Fourth, focus on your values, not on the goodies that you may have as a result of leading.  Your values are your touchstone, your decision-making guides, and they will not fail you as long as you are true to them.

I wish leadership were not associated with power, money, and fame.  It would make this line of work much easier.  But the point is: leaders are public people, by definition.  If they are in certain parts of the economy, they are well paid.  If that becomes the reason for continuing to lead, you’ve fallen into the pit of blindness.  And, without your sight working, you won’t see what’s happened until it’s too late.

If you are reading this blog, you, like me, have to deal with the blindness that comes with the dark side aspects of leadership. Continue to follow your values and seek the insight of others, and you will continue to thrive as a leader.

Have you heard the call of leadership? If so, I hope that you’ll share your experiences below.

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