These days, I am facilitating a leadership workshop for young adults and I am completely immersed in the experience. These bright young people have bowled me over with their thoughtfulness, respect and irreverence. Their questions and concerns are very real and as always have made me introspect too. Today’s post is a result of an interesting discussion with one of my beautiful attendees – the sharp, funny and plain lovable Sushil Chikane. After a long day of “leadership skills” work, Sushil says: The main problem I have with Leadership, being a Leader and such processes is that a Leader is forced to live up to the expectations of other people. More important, he or she always has to “follow” whatever they are “preaching”. While this makes him popular in public, those close to him like family and friends find it hard to like or live with him. Sushil went on to say: For example, look at Gandhi. He was called the Father of the Nation and yet his own children were estranged from him.
Here is what I told Sushil and what I want to share with you too: this is a CHOICE that leaders have to make. And it is a choice that each person, leader or not, can choose to make. The choice of living for one’s own truth or living up to expectations. The only responsibility a leader has is to ensure that he is in harmony with himself. He is being the best and most excellent version of himself – in that sense, the fact that this inspires others is really a by-product. A true Leader sets out to be a Leader – with no expectation that others will also recognize him as one. This is a very subtle and yet powerful distinction – please take a moment to really understand it. A Leader is one who is leader-like whether anyone notices or not – that is how he is, that becomes his nature. It is not a performance.
So I don’t see any conflict in the fact that Gandhi could “father” or lead a nation and yet fail to do the same for his children – that is what makes him human. And if that disappoints the history books and makes poor PR material, so be it!!!! Let me give you a personal anecdote: As a coach, I insist that my clients make fitness a daily routine to be successful leaders. And yet I carry more than a few extra pounds on my body. So, as per Sushil’s concern, this “should” disqualify me from asking that from my clients, right? Or it “should” compel me to reach ideal weight immediately to fit the “image” of a coach. For me, this would mean violating my truth. My truth is that I exercise regularly and I could surely eat better – be more regular and not skip meals. My truth is also that every day I do my best! And every day I make the choices that move me forward – and they are some days that I fail. Wow, guess what? That makes me human too! And I know that my clients see that clearly – they see my “humanness” and respond to it.
In my experience, when you drop the “fear” of being judged less than perfect, you see that actually that “less than perfect” is what makes you real. And then you will attract people who love you, want to be around you, work with you and play with you – without wanting to change you, criticize you, judge you or make you feel bad about yourself.
I invite Sushil and you to really see that Leadership or any kind of growth process does not require perfection. The real requirement is commitment to growth – how can I be the best version of me? And how can I move one step in that direction every moment? That is all. And that is enough.