Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. Bronnie’s blog became so popular she wrote a book “The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying”. The most common regret she encountered from those she cared for was the regret of not having had the courage to live a life that felt true to themselves, having lived the life others had expected of them.
So, what does it mean to live a life true to yourself?
For me, being true to myself means embodying and a way of “being” in the world that is fully aligned to my most cherished values and my greatest gifts. By embodying this way of “being”, I feel inspired and loving. I allow my light to shine brightly.
I love this description of the power and freedom that comes from being true to yourself;
“You must learn to get in touch with the most innermost essence of your being. This true essence is beyond the ego. It is fearless, it is free, it is immune to criticism, it does not fear any challenge.“Deepak Chopra
It is my strong belief that inspired, compassionate, thriving leaders are the nucleus of thriving organisations. Leaders who have done the work to cultivate strong self-awareness, self-compassion and self-leadership create an enormous ripple effect. When leaders thrive, employees thrive, customers thrive …and families and communities thrive.
As a leader, my capacity to remain in touch with a way of being that reflects my essence is fundamental to my ability to thrive and feel inspired.
“Being inspired necessitates the willingness to suspend ego and enter a space where I want to share who I am”.Dr Wayne Dyer
As part of my portfolio of work, I am a Facilitator and Executive Coach with an organisation I have long admired – Thrive Global. I have taken many leaders through the Thrive Global experience and there is one key concept that really stands out to me as the foundational capability of a thriving leader. This is the ability (and the willingness) to do from an intentional way of being.
Doing from an intentional way of being is quite a foreign concept for many people.
We have been conditioned from a very young age to believe that what we do is what is most important and valuable. We focus most of our attention on doing (or having), rather than on being.
The first question we often ask when we meet someone is “what do you do?”. I was reminded of the extent of our conditioning around the importance of doing (versus being) while reading my son the Robert Lopshire book “Put Me In The Zoo”.
Why should they put you in the zoo?
What good are you?
What can you do?
As young children we are rewarded when we do well at school and sport.
Growing up as a straight-A student, my achievements became the primary currency of my value in the world. My hunger to achieve served me well, up until a certain point. It was not until I was in my 30’s and realised that attaching all my worth to my external achievements meant that I felt was living on a roller-coaster ride. When things were going well and my achievements were being recognised, I was on top of the world, but when things were not going well my mood and mindset was doing loop-the-loops. In addition to the unfortunate side-effect of living my life on a roller coaster ride, another side-effect of attaching my self-worth to my “doing” was that my way of being in the world was one of striving and proving myself. Needless to say, proving and striving as a way of being is not sustainable, fairly unattractive and certainly not much fun.
Leaders who are too narrow in their focus on “doing” can sometimes make other people feel like human robots. I have had manager whose sense of self-worth was so strongly tethered to delivery that she was unwilling (or unable) to have the types of conversations that build connections with her peers or direct reports. And of course, when leaders are unable to build connections, people are compliant, but they are most certainly not inspired. Compliant people may deliver what is necessary to “tick the box”, but they are unlikely to harness their full potential to go above and beyond.
We often don’t even have the language to describe the essence of a person or a state of “being-ness”.
Leaders who experience true transformation (whether through a Thrive Global experience, coaching or through other investments in their development) are the leaders who do the work to answer the question “Who do I want to be as a leader?”. Whether they choose to embody “Calm Confidence”, “Graceful Strength”, “Compassionate Directness” or “Playful Creativity” – they are very clear on an intention to anchor their leadership in this powerful and state of being.
Some of my coaching clients use a strong memory as an anchor to their most positively powerful way of being. Once a client, (after a guided exploration of some of the frustrations she was experiencing at work), strongly reconnected with a memory during our exploration of how she would like to feel instead. She said: “I want to get back to feeling the way I felt when I was 7 and I was doing cartwheels on the sun at my friends watermelon farm. I want to rekindle and embody that sense of joy and freedom.”
The leaders who are clear on who they want to be are then able to anchor behavioural changes on this rock-solid foundation. Leaders who focus only on behavioural change without finding the courage to do this deeper work may be building on quicksand.
For example, a leader who decides to meditate for 10 mins every morning but is controlled by a belief (possibly subconsciously) that their value as a leader is tethered to “always being right” may fall short of their goal of thriving and inspiring others. If that leader did the work to recognise impact and limitations created by this belief and to commit to becoming a leader who embodied a different way of being, such as “trusting, empowering and enabling others”, they are far more likely to experience a shift in their leadership.
Of course, it is not always easy to embody a way of being that is aligned to our values. Especially then we are experiencing challenges or when our inner dialogue negatively impacts our mood and mindset. I am the first to admit that I often fall short. In fact, I am probably off-course as often as I am on-course. However, my intention to be a leader (and a partner, parent and friend) who shows up in a way that is kind and compassionate is my north star.
If you choose to embark on this important quest of self-discovery, reading Margaret J. Wheatley’s powerful book “Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity” is a fantastic place to start:
“This book is born of my desire to summon us to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humanness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil. I know it is possible for leaders to use their power and influence, their insight and compassion, to lead people back to an understanding of who we are as human beings, to create conditions for our basic human qualities of generosity, contribution, community and love to be evoked no matter what. (…) I can’t imagine a more important task than to consciously choose who we want to be as a leader for this time. We must understand the time we’re in, focus our energy on what is possible, and willingly step forward to serve the human spirit”.Margaret J. Wheatley
If we have any hope of truly transforming the organisations we are part of, we must find the courage to transform our own leadership. I urge you to reflect on the very simple, yet very important question:
Who do you choose to be as a leader?
I would like to acknowledge Mei Ouw for the compassion, wisdom and guidance she has shown in helping me to navigate the choppy waters of becoming the very best version of me. I love you Mei!