The following is an excerpt from the new book, Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM and Apple.
Some leaders think they will “be” someone when they achieve a certain goal—a promotion, additional compensation, or some other desired status. They think they will be happy when they finally obtain or achieve what they want. Many will “practice being unhappy” until they reach the goal, not realizing that being unhappy all along the way toward their promised happiness only creates a pattern of unhappiness. Think about it: How will you achieve your way into happiness if you have been miserable the entire way there?
Others think that the path to happiness, as with the Velveteen Rabbit, lies in “becoming”: when you’ve received so much love that your fur is worn thin. But the model of becoming implies that there is something missing at the outset of our journey. Anything we believe we are lacking makes us unhappy because we are attached to our goals more than to our being. If we can become aware of our being and focus on that instead, we can be happy all along the way toward the goal. This simple shift in perspective changes everything.
What truly matters is how we are on the journey of getting where we want to go.
There are five hallmarks by which we can recognize ourselves and others as being-based leaders. Do you embody this paradigm? Where might you want to modify your current approach?
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Hallmark 1: Self-Inquiring
For being-based leaders, being always precedes doing. Knowing that the actions available to them are informed by their inner state, the leaders engage in regular self-inquiry.
Many leaders believe that their state of being is determined by a mixture of genetics, the environment, and the effects of their experiences. Some believe that “people either have it or they don’t.” They think leaders who spend time processing their emotions are ineffective and slow and will lose to their competitors through some sort of “survival of the fittest.” They view feeling and being as soft skills that don’t merit the investment of any resources.
These doing-oriented leaders want efficient, low-maintenance people for their organizations. They believe that people come to work with brains
that are somehow disconnected from their feelings. This way of thinking can cause them to view employees and colleagues—and even themselves— as objects whose sole purpose is to complete desired tasks.
But how could anyone who is treated like a machine manifest creativity, much less innovate with others?
Though many people believe our personality traits and behaviors are hard-wired and therefore difficult to modify, being-based leaders understand and adjust their behavior through self-examination. They take time to ruminate on open-ended questions like: Is it possible that our state of being can be chosen and is not intrinsic to our personality? Can we modify a state of being or a habit just by becoming aware of it? Do we need intention? Practice? Anything else?
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Hallmark 2: Consciousness and Presence
It is not surprising that leaders feel their hard-won habits and wisdom make them perfectly suited to take on new challenges. These things often bring them professional success, acclaim, and financial reward, confirming that they played by the rules and “won.” But they’re working so hard that they’re missing out on the joy of living. In the process, have they won by creating suffering for themselves and others along the way?
There is a survival advantage in relying on learning from the past. It is much more efficient for our brains to establish habits, so that we don’t use up our capacity for cognitive processing each day on repetitive activities such as driving or washing dishes. But if we aren’t careful, our minds can trick us into making snap judgments about people and situations based on what has happened in the past—and these expectations may prove to be wrong, interfere with social bonding, or block innovation.
Hallmark 3: Awareness of Your Own Energy
The third hallmark is to become aware of your own energy, a vital step toward feeling your way into being. There are words for energy in many Eastern languages. In Sanskrit, it is called prana. In Mandarin Chinese, it is called chi. In the West, our understanding of energy is more rudimentary.
We associate the word with either high or low states of being. We are awake or asleep, excited or tired, present or spaced out—many of our problems with energy stem from our determination to increase it artificially. We seek outside stimulants, such as coffee, cigarettes, or pills. Our need to overwork depletes us further, exacerbating our already depleted stores of energy.
What type of energy are you sharing? Leaders work with and through others. If leaders are aware of their own energy, they can use it to positively influence a conversation. Conversely, if they are unaware of their own energy and its importance, they can potentially spread negative energy to others, hindering their ability to be effective or even having a damaging effect on them. In addition to encouraging ineffectiveness, it invites resistance. It can create a toxic work environment. Energy, good or bad, is contagious.
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Hallmark 4: Intrinsic Connections Between the Physical Body and the Mind
According to Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga and the traditional medicine system of India that includes dietary and lifestyle practices, our bodies are highly intelligent machines that are designed to maintain homeostasis in the right conditions. This includes a healthy lifestyle based on the harmony found within the natural cycles of the earth and body- appropriate nutrition and exercise. When we manage ourselves in such a way, the autonomic mechanisms of balance in our bodies work entirely in the background without effort. We can best enjoy the delights of our bodies in these conditions. We can also use our mind-body connection best when our bodies and lifestyles are in balance.
When we eat too much or consume food that lacks nutritional value, our bodies cannot digest this food properly. The undigested food turns into excess fat and toxins, two sources of inflammation and disease. Healing requires knowledge, discipline, and effort. Losing unhealthy weight may take a long time and requires that we create a different relationship to food and our emotions around eating. When we diet, we are using the excess food energy that was stored in the body previously. Frequently, weight that is lost is later regained. We may think that our excess weight and disease are “who we are.” We may even use medications to alleviate the symptoms without correcting the underlying problems. Sometimes the medical treatments have side effects or complications, thereby compounding the initial problem.
Similarly, “undigested” emotions and traumatic memories can not only be harmful at the time they are experienced, but also later—because they are stored in our minds as well as in our bodies and energy. Traumatic experiences stored in our bodies, just like food, represent the consequences of undigested emotions from the time of occurrence. We may use medications or even nonprescription drugs or alcohol to soothe our distress. These methods can likewise lead to secondary problems of their own.
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Hallmark 5: Being the Witness
Leading requires connection, not isolation. Decisions made when leaders are isolated within their programmed, reactive minds never reflect their best. They are usually made while they are reactive and judgmental and often show that they do not trust others. Relationships with subordinates may be marked by conflict and a lack of creative problem-solving. Leaders will be unable to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and will suffer while blaming those around them for these failures. Such leaders are likely to be attached to the outcomes they create as a reflection of their self-worth. As no outcomes are ever perfect, they can never experience true satisfaction with themselves or others.
A leader who initiates action from a state of preconditioned programming creates confusion all around them. If they are divided from their inner source, they are not present at the moment. Their solutions will actually represent a solution to a problem from the past, not the one at hand. They will use an inner logic accessible only to the leader and visible only through the filters of the past. This type of leader seeks to solve their inner problems without doing their own work, usually with mediocre results.
Conversely, when a leader chooses to transition to witness consciousness, they can appreciate that they were the source of their own problem— and their own solutions. They realize that solving conflict starts first by solving it within yourself, and they no longer look to others to fix their problems. A leader who is aware of their own presence is connected to the power that lies within them.
Decisions made from witness consciousness will be harmonious. In this state, we draw on the brain as the equal of the heart, soul, and spirit, and we experience our entire being as a harmonious instrument. We are finally able to respond in the moment, unbiased by preconditioning. We accept others and inspire trust, and our relationships become peaceful. We inspire others to co-create with us. This generativity allows for rapid adaptation to change and innovation. We find joy in our choices, and our joy will be maintained regardless of outcomes.
To dive deeper, pick up Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM and Apple.