The inner work of leadership is the beginning of all change, be it at the personal, the professional, or the organizational levels. It starts with reflection, but over time it goes much deeper. For in the reflection and re-evaluation process, one must come to understand that there is a letting go that must take place. It is in the letting go of the “old way”, namely old habits and mindsets that did not work or will not work, in order to find new ways of thinking, working, and living. As William Bridges noted so many years ago, “every beginning starts with an ending.” For us as leaders, if we seek change and new beginnings, then we must be open to ending old ways. We also must recognize that there is a link between letting go and finding new ways of working. This is the beginning of a new beginning.
As part of this ending and finding process, we must recognize that the purpose of change is about more than setting new goals and making new plans although this is one element of the process. The purpose of change, as noted by James Belasco and Ralph Stayer decades ago, is to create a plan that is owned and understood by those who have to execute it. And one of those people who has to own and understand it includes the leader. One misunderstanding that so many leaders have is that everyone else needs to change, but they get to stay the same. This has never been the case in work or in life.
Next, many leaders think that leadership is about commitment or empowerment, and I grant that these are important in the process. But if one commits to doing the true inner work of change and if one owns and understand the magnitude of this level of work, they have to realize that it begins with integrity. Martha Beck writes in her book, The Way of Integrity: Finding The Path To Your True Self (The Open Field/A Penguin Life Book, 2021) that “the word integrity … comes from the Latin word integer, which simply means “intact”…. To be in integrity is to be one thing, whole and undivided.” This level of oneness reflects a complete alignment of body, mind, heart, and spirit. This understanding and commitment to oneness or full alignment, which ever word you choose, is not an event. It is a disciplined and on-going process. It reflects a commitment to an on-going effort to become a person of integrity and over time to stay being a person of integrity. Once a leader comprehends this choice, they will realize that the development of oneness is also part of the foundation for successful change.
There also is another element to the inner work of leadership which has a direct connection to successful change, namely the role of silence. Many leaders on a day to day basis are caught in a cycle of hyper-vigilant reactivity. They are constantly on their phones, iPads, or laptops responding to e-mails or reading the latest news. This addiction to screens and the subsequent responding to ever-pressing inputs prevents a leader from taking the time to step back, reflect, and concentrate. The inner work of leadership is deep work and uninterrupted silence is a critical part of the process. For when we give ourselves permission to be still in the midst of uninterrupted silence, we find that our lives are filled up and defined by so much noise, i.e. non urgent and non-important activities and information. It is in the silence and subsequent stillness that we discover again the importance of oneness and alignment. We can then reprioritize our focus and our perspective. We can discover new ways of thinking, working, and living. In short, we find the wisdom to make better choices, and this truly is where the new beginning starts. As George Fox wrote in 1653, “… mind the oneness, and that which keeps you in the oneness.” From my perspective, this is the inner work of leadership and the foundation for all successful change.
Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change
Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257