Authentic Power: 3 Keys to Aligned Leadership
By Emily Lane
Aligned Leadership is grounded in self-mastery. Functioning at the highest level of authentic power requires both strategic and daily practices of self-connection, as well as the moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness.
Treating self-relationship as a practice and investing time in it gives the individual access to profound internal resources. These are the difference between good leadership and great leadership - resources like energy, grace, courage, inspired thought, creative genius, humility, surrender, compassion, trust, and fortitude.
Without activating that internal flow, making smart, grounded decisions in the midst of high-pressure situations become almost impossible. Over the long-term, without that internal re-fuelling, burnout is inevitable.
So what does it take to develop this self-mastery? What are the practices of self-connection for aligned leaders? Here are three keys to empowering your inner world.
Key 1: Check Your Vision Clarity
Every C.E.O., entrepreneur and business Manager has a plan for where they are going, how they are going to get there, and the evaluation of the results they will achieve. We are masters of the business plan. But do we have a character plan?
Every ship needs a rudder and a truly aligned leader has a clear vision of the qualities they are seeking to cultivate, and the character they wish to embody.
The Aligned Leader asks the question “Who do I wish to become?” and has a clear vision of what that leadership looks like. Can you see your future self as a leader? How do you operate? What culture have you cultivated in the environment around you? Do people trust you? How do you communicate? What qualities do you embody?
It is said that people don’t remember what you say - but they do remember how you made them feel. If your leadership legacy was to be measured not just by the results you got but also by the impact you had on people, what would that look like?
Taking a strategic and intentional approach to long-term character development is a fundamental aspect of self-mastery and a core attribute of an Aligned Leader.
Key 2: Develop Process-Awareness
The practical deliverables of leadership obviously require accountability, measuring results against intended goals, KPI’s against outcomes, etc. Through their career development, leaders naturally master this. Is it possible, however, that we are so focused on goals that we are missing another, equally important fundamental?
The development of the character of an Aligned Leader is not something that can be measured by outcomes or goals. It is a longer-term process of self-discovery and expansion. And it requires great courage, humility, and a willingness to be in continuous self-reflection. Ironically, being steeped in the daily orientation of goals and outcomes can create subtle strands of internal stress when a leader is reflecting on the development of his or her character.
For example, if the intention is to cultivate greater compassion in communicating with others and a leader becomes aware of being regularly impatient with a particular colleague, goal-focus would deem this as a failure. Process-awareness, on the other hand, gives the person some breathing space and creates a different lens of perception through which to view him or herself.
Rather than seeing the situation as a “failure,” it allows the person to see it as a learning opportunity. Knowing who you don’t want to be allows you to know who you do want to be. This simple awareness re-orients the person back to the clarity of their vision for the leader they are seeking to become. Then when the situation re-occurs, they get to practice the new version of themselves, thereby creating new habits, new ways of being. From a process perspective, this is success and creates a healthy, internal “pull” dynamic towards these new, higher ways of being.
Growth happens when we’re challenged. It is not about being perfect - it’s about having compassion when you’re not and returning back to the “true-north” guidance of the vision of the person and leader you wish to become. Process awareness is, therefore, a fundamental skill of aligned leaders.
Key 3: Cultivate the Discipline of Time
Creating a relationship with any person requires investing time with them. This is never truer than in a relationship with oneself. Beyond self-care, this is a question of self-respect and self-love. No leader can begin to serve others if they have not first connected with themselves, replenished their energy, and activated their alignment.
To Start Your Day
This is where the process of becoming an aligned leader moves to the practical reality of daily self-connection practices. To start, “bookending” your day with a minimum of 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening creates a container for self-connection and reflection. If you rise early enough, beginning your day with some “listening and intention time” in the stillness and silence will elicit a powerful experience of connection to self, others and the planet. Meditation is an essential way to fuel your day with clear and open energy and mindset and an absolute must for aligned leaders.
During Your Day
Once your day gets underway, the moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness is the core for anyone seeking self-mastery. Awareness and emotional regulation are keystone skills of aligned leaders. The scientific evidence has proven not just the biological, emotional, and social value of mindfulness, but also the business case with practitioners experiencing reduced stress and increased creativity, focus, and productivity, as well as enhanced adaptability, problem-solving, and empathy for others.
Simple practices to further sustain and refuel your alignment also include five conscious breaths and regular periods outdoors in the fresh air. Dr. Ivy Cheung of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has identified that “Light is the most important synchronizing agent for the brain and the body.” So if you need to re-connect during your lunch break, leave your mobile behind, get out into the sunshine, and get your vitamin D.
To truly break new ground, consider random acts of kindness. You may be surprised at the power of a simple, thoughtful gesture, especially from someone in a leadership position. Science has shown that kindness doesn’t just benefit the receiver; it also empowers the giver. As Dr. David Hamilton points out, “Kindness causes elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, and so we get a natural high, often referred to as ‘Helper’s High.’”
In addition to your own essential well-being, consider the impact on your organization if a culture of giving were to evolve. How much more effectively would teams work together? What impact would it have on engagement and loyalty? If giving is embodied from the top, it will be inspired from within throughout the organization. This includes being generous with your time and being fully present with the person in front of you.
To End Your Day
Returning to your own self-connection in the evening and journaling insights and learnings from the day are very valuable. Creating a gratitude list from your heart is also powerful. Intentionally noting the moments when you embodied your best self - and also when you were far from it - will reinforce awareness of your vision and help you to keep character building.
Choose the practices that resonate most deeply for you, but above all, cultivate the discipline of time to follow through.
In summary, becoming an aligned leader requires self-mastery. 3 Key Practices include the strategic practice of a character plan, the practice of process-awareness, and the daily practices that help cement intentional self-connection.
Change takes time. Yet we know through our understanding of neuroplasticity that with repetition, new habits can be formed. By combining our intention to embody authentic power with our commitment to practicing these three keys, we can become deeper, more aligned leaders.
Emily Lane is a Leadership Mentor, International Speaker, and Retreat Facilitator. Her work provides practical tools and strategies that empower you with mindfulness, alignment, and authentic personal power. Her work has reached leaders and employees from top tier organizations including LinkedIn, IBM, Accenture, the Central Bank, Qualtrics, Google, and Facebook among others. To learn more about Emily and join her at her next Empowered Leadership Webinar, visit her website.