The quality of all of our relationships is directly linked to the relationship we have with ourselves. A strong but true statement, deeply rooted in the truth of life, that everything is interconnected and interdependent.
The modern narrative, however, has become very much about the individual and individual behaviour and little attention is given to the wider ecosystem that the person functions within or how the ecosystem might in fact create the individual.
As leaders, the question we should ask ourselves is: are we willing to drop beneath the surface, to have a deeper, kinder conversation with ourselves?
As a leader how do you relate to yourself?
Whatever issues leaders, CEOs, team leaders or managers experience they all are a direct function of the inner relationship with themselves.
So, as a leader how do you relate to yourself? This is not an often-asked question yet the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves is different from traditional leadership development that often focuses on behaviour change – the outer self.
Exploring our relationship to self bears a huge opportunity for personal and professional growth as well as an understanding of the difference we can make to others and to the wider ecosystem.
As British psychologist Donald Winnicott states in ‘The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment’, ‘As humans, we are always in a relationship and our brains are wired relationally’.
In ‘Eden Project, in search of the magical other’ James Hollis, a Jungian psychoanalyst, says that the best thing we can do for our relationships with others: ‘is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious’. He goes on to say that far from being a selfish activity, ‘the greatest gift to others is our own best self’.
To examine our own life, our attitude to self, our tendencies, patterns, habits of thinking and behaving is a tall task but one that is well worth undertaking. It holds the potential to transform us as leaders provided that we are willing to be humble and take responsibility for ourselves – our difficulties and struggles.
Becoming a conscious, connected and compassionate leader
Leaders who are in a radically compassionate relationship with themselves always benefit the people they work with, their organisation, community, networks and as a result contribute to a global sustainable society that we need so desperately.
So as leaders, the question we should ask ourselves is: are we willing to drop beneath the surface, to have a deeper, kinder conversation with ourselves? Can we begin to look more closely and go deeper into our experience?
When we do, it becomes clear that the root cause of all of our struggles, challenges, conflicts with self and others lie in the quality of the inner relationship – the attitudes we bring to ourselves such as courage, curiosity, humility and compassion or conversely the lack of it.
There are other attitudes of course, but in my view the above are the key attitudes to develop if one wants to grow, mature and experience transformation. This is what will enable the enlargement of self by becoming a conscious, responsive, connected, integrated and compassionate leader.
Four crucial attitudes we need to develop as a leader
We need courage to look at ourselves completely without leaving anything out (qualities and shortcomings alike). Courage requires a sturdy, open, loving, (non-judgemental), kind and compassionate heart.
Curiosity allows us to make sense of situations or people that challenge us versus beating ourselves up or blaming others. Curiosity always comes from an open mind that asks the question: What’s happening here that’s made me react in this way? That’s made me feel angry, fearful, aggrieved, reactive…? What else?
Humility, being humble, is our ability to honestly look at our shortcomings, shadow aspects as well as at the things we value and appreciate about ourselves. Being humble means being able to act in accordance with the needs of the situation, without concern for one’s own importance.
Compassion means ‘feeling with’ – it’s the ability to willingly accept (this is an active act, it’s not passive) one’s own and others suffering and difficulty. Motivation and intention are key to compassion. The motivation and intention to address related suffering without needing to fix ourselves or others.
How to practise these attitudes
Remember a time when you felt courageous, curious, humble and/or compassionate. These attitudes are intrinsic to our human capacity. They are already in us. Sometimes we just need to reignite and reteach ourselves to those qualities.
When you remember a time, fully relive the sense of courage, curiosity, humility or compassion: what does it feel like in the body, what do you think, what do you say, how do you say it, how do you behave?
In addition, think of someone who is a role model to you, a leader that you admire and who embodies and lives these attitudes. It could be a fellow peer, colleague, mentor or public figure.
What do you notice about how they communicate, how they behave, what views might they hold about themselves, others and life?
Set the stop watch on your phone to two minutes and write everything down you admire about them (Avoid slipping into comparing. That’s not the exercise – comparing is despairing).
Begin to practice those qualities daily – one at a time. You could spend a moment at the beginning of the day setting an intention:
Today I will practice courage and face up to my fears and worries and share them with a trusted colleague, peer leader or other
Today I will have an open mind and be curious about my work and the staff members I interact with (and notice my preconceived views, assumptions)
Today I will admit to my shortcomings vs brushing over them
Today I will accept my difficult, shameful or fearful feelings as they are with compassion (it’s human and other people feel like this)
Today I will see my colleagues in their entirety – their qualities and struggles – and listen carefully without fixing or needing to change them
Beginning to practise these attitudes, to radically change the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves reaps huge benefits for self and others. It’s not so much what we pay attention to but how we pay attention to our experience, others and the wider world around us that makes the difference. And the good news is: you can start today, it’s within each person’s capacity.