There are numerous theories, models and systems, all developed to empower leaders to be more effective, more motivational and inspirational. The question arises “ how often do we as leaders actually use these theories, or better yet, take our own advice? How do we hold ourselves accountable as a corporate leader, a religious leader or a leader in a family.
Specific codes, principles and rules are talked about yet are too often overlooked by the very people who speak them or even create them. I find that fascinating. What is it that has us ignore or avoid a way of being that actually incorporates the essential truths we speak?
It takes intention, commitment, vigilance and a degree of adventurer to cultivate awareness into that which drives each of us to act or react the way we do. To the degree to which I am committed to live according to my vision, my values and my truth, is the degree to which I’m willing to practice saying no to that impulse to avoid or distract myself from fulfilling my commitment?
Sometimes, it also takes a hell of a lot of work to live by our word “ to say what we mean and mean what we say. It shouldn’t be that hard, should it? What makes it so challenging? Is it that we are just too lazy? Is it that we are unconscious of how our actions are not in alignment with our integrity? Or is it that we don’t get that there are ramifications to being out of integrity with ourselves and with anyone else.
Perhaps there is some part of you that’s afraid that what people will decide about you is actually true; that maybe you are unworthy, unlovable or will never be enough. You could possibly run into your wall of fears of abandonment, betrayal or rejection. Or, you might be flooded with anger at not having things the way you want, but you have them the way you need them to be. It hurts like hell to stay present when you want to run from all of the existential possibility of your humanity. Yet, I believe that’s what we’ve come here to do “ especially as leaders.
In this moment I can feel angst and resistance to stay seated in my chair. I want to ignore my own best advice and react to a situation in which I’ve promised myself I’d get this project done today. But I keep getting triggered by a thought that generates an impulse to do something else “ anything else! Within that instant just prior to being triggered, that almost imperceptible thought set in motion a flood of emotions and behaviors, which has me bypass my wisdom and knowing and go right to reacting the same old way; finding myself later in the day in the same place I swore I wouldn’t be in again.
Character building usually occurs through loss, and loss generally occurs through change. Change anything by just a smidgeon and you’ll begin to experience uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Exercising the muscles of staying with the discomfort, not allowing distractions to get the better of you increases your capacity to make choices in service to your vision and your purpose. You have to be with willing to be with any and all the feeling and emotions that surface when you hear no, say no, or get a big fat NO from the Universe. By doing so, you gain an incredible amount of inner strength and an inner knowing that you are far more capable than you ever imagined.
It comes down to getting clear with your deepest values and inching your way towards living by them more and more consistently. Walking your talk may be the most exquisite expression of leadership you’ll ever demonstrate to yourself and to others.
So, what builds character? To me, it’s the difference between instant childhood gratification “ that part that says "I want it my way and I want it now!" and the ability to see the bigger vision; and for the sake of the bigger vision postpone that instant gain for receiving something much more in alignment with your vision, wisdom and maturity.
Postponement of gratification is one exercise that builds character; deep inquiry into what makes you who you are, is another. Living by your convictions strengthens and empowers you to step into your word, to walk your talk, to say what you mean and mean what you say. When your actions are in alignment with your integrity there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that you are who you say you are.
What’s important enough that you’d be willing to endure such an exercise regime? That question can only be answered by you. Building character will only be done by people who are willing to ground themselves in their deepest commitments and desires, so that when the yelling in their head is so loud they can’t hear anything else, and their body is aching and wanting to avoid the agony of growing pains, they can remember "I’m doing this because . . . ."
What happens for those who stay in the game, even when the game gets tough, is that they meet a core emotion “ a feeling of agony, that in a nutshell hurts physically and emotionally. My experience is that agony isn’t just something to be endured; it’s actually a destination we come to many times in our lives. It’s a place where we have an opportunity to meet ourselves at deeper and deeper levels. Here in the rawness of agony we find aspects of ourselves that have been lost or ignored like dust in a corner. We come to this space to make ourselves whole; we come to right our wrongs and to complete ourselves; we find what out we can be with and what strengths are available to us. These moments of anguish and agony make us vulnerable yet intimate with ourselves. Perhaps in this place called agony we can begin to dialog with ourselves at levels we never knew existed.
True leadership is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage, commitment and compassion. It takes passion and a deep desire to follow one’s destiny, even when easier routes are available.