We are all leaders in some capacity. Some people have very clearly defined leadership titles in their work (i.e. manager, director, VP, C-suite roles, etc.), while others’ titles don’t reflect their roles as leaders. Yet, in the world of education and careers, we all have aspects of leadership in our work. This may look like guiding and mentoring people toward specific results, answering questions and supporting people who need help, or simply leading by example.
Education and training to develop leadership skills is a common investment for many organizations focused on growth. By investing in leadership, the hope is that the return on investment (ROI) will trickle down the hierarchy throughout the whole organization. But what is leadership training really teaching you? Is leadership really a skill that can be taught through a generalized process and steps to follow?
I believe that all true leadership must start by first developing the self.
Changing your leadership lens
As a leader, you’re showing up as a human being with the intention of guiding other people toward a specific outcome. How you show up, in your unique humanness, affects your ability to guide others. When you do your own inner work of clearing up negativity and baggage from your past, it allows you to change the lens through which you lead.
You see, we all bring our own unique perceptions and perspectives into our work, and many of these perspectives don’t reflect our actual role or the people we work with. Instead, they’re tied to stories, experiences and beliefs from our past, whether or not they are still serving us today. Doing the inner work of cleaning up your past, seeing yourself for who you truly are and recognizing your own potential allows you to start seeing yourself differently. Then you can begin to see other people and situations differently, too. This is when you can enter a state of conscious leadership, seeing your situation and the people around you from a new perspective and choosing appropriate responses to move forward.
“How you show up, in your unique humanness, affects your ability to guide others.”
As soon as you have an experience, it’s no longer represented as the true experience, but instead as your perception of it. You view it through your own perspective or lens, based on your filters, beliefs, values, judgments, programming, etc. Carl Jung, a father of modern psychology, taught us that what we perceive in others leads us to a greater understanding of ourselves.
One of Jung’s teachings that is profound regarding state of consciousness and advanced leadership is Perception is Projection. This concept explains that what we perceive in other people or situations is a reflection of the self, which we project onto others. This applies to the beauty we see in others, as well as the negativity. Jung would say the people we have the most negative emotions about are clearly a projection of ourselves, and our negative emotions about other people and situations are, in some way, a projection of how we feel about ourselves. However, that very projection is so unconscious that we are not aware of it. Jung wrote, “The information which is most unconscious in us we, by need, must project onto someone around us, people and events around us.”
Shifting to conscious leadership
Embracing a state of conscious leadership requires you to become aware of, and manage, your own projections. Taking a look at your perceptions of other people and situations around you, especially the ones that trigger you in some way and are difficult to let go of, provides the path to becoming aware of these projections. We do this through playing the game of Perception is Projection.
To do this, take a look at a person or situation that is bothering you, describe it in a few words or short phrases, then get really curious and ask yourself “what does this have to do with me?” Once you make the conscious connection between your perception and your projections, you can then choose how to respond from this place of advanced awareness. Your ability to respond is your response-ability. The question we must continuously ask ourselves is “what’s the purpose for this?”
When you see the higher purpose of the situations and people showing up in your life, recognizing that everything is happening for us, not to us, then we can become conscious of new opportunities for learning and growth. You can look at the situation and people involved from a higher perspective and understand that maybe there’s a reason you’re projecting onto that person. Once you get the learning, that projection will change. As Pema Chodron said, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.”
The people you’re leading are mirrors for you. They reflect behaviours, experiences, actions, thought processes, values and/or beliefs for the purpose of helping you evolve and grow. By understanding this, you can look at the people and situations around you, and gain an advanced awareness of how you’re showing up. This allows you to celebrate what’s working well for you, and make change to the areas that aren’t going well. Knowing this, now ask yourself, “How will I go forth and lead from a place of advanced awareness and conscious servitude?
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