The ABC of leadership

As a leader, you have to be visible.

One cannot be a leader on one’s own. To be a leader is to be recognized as one.

And to be recognized as a leader, one has to Be, to Do and to Relate.


This is the second post on leadership, about ‘doing’ leadership.

Leadership can be learned. It is a series of skills which, practiced over time, becomes ‘natural’… as neuroscience indicates, habit-forming. The time and effort invested to learn to lead and to lead often go unrecognized unless we truly see.

How does a leader lead?

  1. Acquire knowledge and improve

A leader aspires and is seen to be aspirational. Bearing the qualities set out in the first post about being in leadership, a leader seeks knowledge. Leaders are humble and ever prepare to admit that we do not have all the answers, that we are researching or obtaining more information, and that we are open to new idea and propositions.

Leaders will be those who seek continuous personal growth, encourage authentic interpersonal relationships, to contemplate product and ways of working beyond what is known.

  1. Bring safety and inspire

Leaders are those who create a safe space within work groups or organisations to allow for creativity to emerge and risk-taking to occur. Creative ventures can fail and this alone will be terrifying for anyone working in an environment that is not tolerant of this. Unless one knows that her job will not be jeopardised for voicing a creative new idea, for trialling an innovative process, for being herself while doing so, nothing will be proffered and all will remain the same.

By being visible in making mistakes, in admitting to mistakes, a leader demonstrates the acceptance of make mistakes, to have gotten it ‘wrong’. A leader will speak of the learning to be had and how to overcome thus signifying the will to continue the good work.

  1. Challenge and support

Leaders see the people around us – people with real emotions, with personal aspirations, hopes and joys, people who face personal trials and challenges. Most importantly, leaders see the strengths, resources and skills of those with whom we work.

With empathy and understanding, leaders challenge and support our colleagues to growth, to aspire, to improve, to be better at what they do and how they contribute to the workplace.

  1. Decide and act

Little can be achieved without our deciding to step into it. Our attention and intention to go into a space of improvement, development and innovation are critical to our leadership abilities. We take risks, we stand convicted of our decisions and we act.

The mark of a leader is one of astute discernment, borne from constant practice of intellectual, emotional and spiritual intelligence; and of incisive unwavering action.

  1. Engage and communicate

Leadership is not without its turbulence… the buzz, I call it, is what informs us. The buzz could be from our personal excitement, nerves… yes, leaders are human after all; or the resistance from within the organization; or an instinctive warning. Listen, evaluate and learn. Positive and negative buzz have lessons to teach.

Leaders engage with emotions and feelings, our own and of those around us. And instead of being a cauldron of emotions or feelings, we communicate them in a constructive way, by asking questions and listening to the answers, without judgement and prior expectations. Leaders have real conversations.

  1. Focus on vision

It is also through conversations that leaders uphold visions. It is easy with everyday humdrum of routine, unavoidable passivity and pessimism to distract us from our vision.

Leaders maintain vision and see how something fits into that vision, not welded to rigidity, instead are prepared to be reflexive.


Leadership requires generosity of spirit, dynamic adaptability and grounded vision, all of which are within our grasps, if we commit to it. Yes, leadership can be learned, as every element of what I have indicated above can be learned.


© Transfigure Therapy 2016

Finding balance


Time is no longer the arbiter for what is ‘work’ and what is ‘family’ or ‘leisure’. The demand, and the rationale, for flexible work practice is on the rise.

Peter Hirst, Associate Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management states,

“Employers need to address these burdens not by seeing how time at work can be more enjoyable, but by identifying the ways that work requirements make life less manageable …”

and recommends the creation of support infrastruture as key, which includes prioritising inter-office communication.

“…it’s important to consider life outside the office walls and recognize that professionals with healthy and happy personal lives come to work with productive, positive attitudes.”

For more, see Hirst’s article on Entrepreneur.

Innovation requires introspection and empathy


An article by Alain de Botton speaks of the need for us to be introspective and empathic in order to release our business creativity leading to innovation.

Introspection – because until we reflect on what we need or want or desire, ‘new’ creations cannot come alive. He quoted Emerson who wrote, ‘[I]n the minds of geniuses we find, once more, our own neglected thoughts.’

Empathy – because until we are able to imagine and appreciate someone else’ need or want or desire, innovation is unlikely to be successful.

We come to these through being mindful.

Meditation to improve performance and reduce absenteeism?


The New York Times reports that in 2007 a school school based in a troubled neighbourhood in San Francisco implemented a transcendental meditation program among its high school students. “Over the next three years, Visitacion Valley’s suspensions dropped by 79 percent, attendance rose to 98 percent, and students’ grade point averages rose each year.”

And a 2015 review of the program which as adopted by several other schools “showed benefits across parameters including reduced stress, increased emotional intelligence, reduced suspensions, increased attendance and increased academic performance”.

These effects of meditation are well-documented and scientifically proven. So what are we waiting for? Implement one at your workplace!

Being a visible leader

As a leader, you have to be visible.

One cannot be a leader on one’s own. To be a leader is to be recognized as one.

And to be recognized as a leader, one has to Be, to Do and to Relate. This post is the first of three posts on the leader within us.

Living in a world focused on productivity and efficiency, I want to speak about being in a space where the essence of our self matters as much as, if not more than, what we do and what we achieve.

What does a leader embody?

1. Be human
Leaders are first and foremost, human beings with the human need to make meaning and find purpose in life. To make meaning of our professional life requires us to be aware of who we are and why we are here, to know our raison d’être and the values which inform each of them. Take time to ponder and reflect on these. There is a time and place for stillness, quiet and solitude. Practice it.

2. Be courageous
Leaders have courage to envision a future where we can make a difference, a future where we can be of service and on a journey that is uniquely ours. We cannot ‘get’ courage, it is gained through experience. The more we practice courage, the more we feel courageous and the more we are. So say ‘yes’ to being ‘volunteered’ to present the team’s outcomes, put your hand up to organize the staff retreat, speak up for what you believe in. Every step, no matter its size, counts.

3. Be committed
Leaders are committed to the journey we have envisioned, and see with clarity the destination ahead. We are also adaptable to the challenges occurring at any moment on that journey. We are open to the possibilities that present themselves and thus responsive to the events occurring sometimes beyond our control. Do what you love. And if what you do isn’t all that you love, find within what you do, the one aspect, that gem which gives your heart a skip, that brings a smile to your face. There is always one.

4. Be curious
Leaders have a desire for life-long learning. By this, I don’t mean the next formal qualification. It is about being curious of our world, being attentive to the changes. Leaders are curious about everything and all the time. We want to know why something is so, why something must be so, how one thing can be something else, how to get something to work… And through our learning, we can sensibly anticipate what is coming. The next time someone provides you with information, adopt a curious posture, almost child-like, and ask ‘why’ and ‘how’. Go beyond the surface, probe and seek to understand.

5. Be humble
Leaders are not afraid to admit their mistakes, to take responsibility for their words and acts. Leaders are open to new, different and better ideas and solutions. Ultimately it is not about whose is better but rather about reaching our goal. Ego battles have no place in a leader’s repertoire. When you next feel threatened, when your heart constricts and your stomach is in knots, when you just want to say ‘no’, don’t. Stop and consider if it is about your ego or do you have a valid reason for those sensations.

6. Be vulnerable
To be a leader is to be in a vulnerable state. I say this because to be human is to be open to all that life throws at us, to be courageous necessarily means we will sometimes fail, by being committed we may be confronted with betrayal, being curious can lead us to paths we ought not to have taken, to be humble may expose us to ridicule and derision. Yet it is only through our vulnerability that we can experience our greatest courage, that we make authentic connections. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there is no better or truer alternative.

7. Be mindful
Perhaps because of all the ‘be’ above, it would serve leaders well to be mindful. We need to develop a focused awareness on the present moment, to attend to what we do or say and how we carry our role, to be empathic and compassionate to those with whom we work, to model self-compassion and self-care when they are required.

Being a leader is thus about travelling deep within our self to realise that which is us, to be unafraid to show who we truly are and in that, to be vulnerable in our strength.
It is only when we know our self that we can know others, and this is crucial to being a leader.
Leaders don’t have all the answers. We don’t need to. We are the glue that holds the team together, the gentle force that progresses the goal, the presence that facilitates growth and achievement.


© Transfigure Therapy 2016