If you’ve been in the workforce at all in the past 30 years, you’ve probably read a book about leadership. It is an important topic, and many earnest authors have written helpful volumes, defining leadership in terms of time management, handling difficult conversations, negotiating a sale, creating long-term strategies, or franchising your way to multi-millionaire status. These authors offer complete, step-by-step systems to achieve your goals, if only you will follow their formula.
But what happens when you don’t follow the formula exactly? Or when the situation dictates that you use part of the formula, but not all or it? Or when your gut tells you to pick and choose between formulas? This is when we have to learn to trust our own instincts and practice something I call Intuitive Leadership. Intuitive Leadership is the only sure-fire method for coming up with a solution that fits your personal style and builds confidence in your leadership skills.
I came to this realization in my late 20s. I have held executive positions since I was 24 years old, starting in junior roles and working my way up to increased responsibility. Despite starting my career with many successes, I was terribly insecure, painfully afraid to fail, and dangerously unsure of my ability to lead. I read every leadership book I could find and took careful notes on every system. Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard and John Maxwell were my constant companions. Eventually, I found myself working so many systems that I would sometimes get the steps and techniques confused from one system to another. When I was in my early 30s and in graduate school, one of my professors pulled me aside and told me I had one of the most unique and effective leadership styles she had ever seen. I was shocked! To me, it wasn’t a style, but a confused conglomeration of other people’s suggestions that got mixed up in my head.
Ta-da! Intuitive Leadership was born. I realized that I was having trouble remembering each of those systems because none of them felt like me. In order to be an effective leader, we must find our own style. The first step in finding that style is believing that we all have the ability to lead. Indeed, we are all born with the tools we need to be natural leaders. Experiences and education help us hone our skills, but there is no system that works for everyone without our own personal adaptations. By using this intuitive sense, we learn to trust ourselves.
Although it is certainly a worthwhile goal to be the kind of leader who leads Fortune 500 companies, governments or multi-million-dollar foundations, effective leadership starts small. We must first learn to build consensus in our families, neighborhoods, and faith communities. Can you lead your toddler to get dressed on time? Or your homeowner’s association to change an outdated rule? How do you navigate a new job or professional environment when all that’s at stake is a few staff members and your own functional team?
Intuitive Leadership is the ability to build upon our own authenticity, vulnerability, and creativity to lead in all situations. Sometimes we know that we are going to be called upon to take a leadership role, and other times it catches us by surprise, but when we build upon these three factors, we are assured leadership success.
When we rely on our authenticity, we are drawing upon our deepest relationship with our self. We are all connected to a source of inner strength and knowledge that we can cultivate. Being our authentic self, ironically, takes work. We must practice self-awareness and self-management so that we understand our needs and desires and act upon them in a way that is not demanding, petulant, or narcissistic.
Vulnerability requires that we build healthy relationships with others. Many of us fear being vulnerable because we equate it with being weak, but nothing is further from the truth. It is only by being vulnerable that we can be authentic. If we never show that we make mistakes, get frustrated or have a bad day, we are not relatable to the people we hope to influence. Leading in the face of adversity is a powerful example.
Exercising creativity is how we find a bigger picture. Sometimes, the most effective way to “win” is to redefine the rules of the game. When we are stuck in a narrow perspective, we are blind to options and opportunities that can be right in front of us. It is by transcending the current conditions, broadening our perspective and opening to see a greater vision that we come up with the inspired ideas that influence people and change situations.
Although we are all born with everything we need to be great leaders, putting it all together in our own unique style still takes practice. We must actively cultivate our relationship with ourselves, our colleagues and our higher vision in order to rely on our Intuitive Leadership. But the practice is definitely worth the result when we remember that we are all born to be leaders. This is why we don’t say that we “live” our lives, but that we “lead” them.