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The Leadership Wheel
Five Steps for Achieving Individual and Organizational Greatness
By C. Clinton Sidle
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2005 C. Clint Sidle
All rights reserved.
THE HEROIC JOURNEY AND THE CREATION OF ENLIGHTENED SOCIETY
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
THE NATURE OF BEING HUMAN
To be human is to become. As human beings, we possess a hungry spirit and an inherent need to find our place in the world and relevance for what we do. This need to become is a process that Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw as the very essence of our evolutionary urge. It is a drive to complete ourselves, to become more whole in a process he called individuation.
This urge to become can be traced to something in our psyche that says we have fallen from grace or lost our original home, and that the only way back is by making ourselves and our world whole. In Western tradition it is expressed in the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden and striving to find a return home. In the East it is seen as the truth of suffering and the quest to overcome ignorance and return to our original nature. It is also at the core of the creation stories throughout the world's indigenous cultures that often reveal a deep, elemental fear of being inadequate and not being enough.
Philosophical and spiritual traditions worldwide say that one of the few things we all possess equally is this deep sense of incompleteness that compels us to search for ever higher forms of understanding and wholeness. This root psychic force explains all our motivations in human endeavor and all our hopes and fears. It has launched wars, crusades, and nation states, as well as art, science, and religion.
Our cultures mold this evolutionary urge to become. In today's busy world, it is often shaped by the economic imperative and manifests itself in daily life as the pursuit of self-interest and the drive to achieve, to succeed, and to advance in our personal endeavors. In business, in sports, in all forms of competition, the driving motivation is to win, to improve, and to become better.
Likewise, the accumulation of wealth, power, and material goods, as well as the drive for position, prestige, and recognition, stem from a desire to become greater than what we fear ourselves to be. Our yearning for romantic connection has created whole industries to support this longing. Yet for many, having more and consuming more does not fill the void. We are still left with an existential angst.
The difficult truth is that this energy to become, this evolutionary life force of ours, when directed primarily toward self-interest, leads to a growing sense of emptiness and a gnawing lack of fulfillment. When we focus on ourselves, we lose the sense of belonging and the sense of connection to others. As a result, keeping up and expanding our personal enterprise easily turns into the paramount goal in our lives, often equating happiness with the consumption of the new and better and allowing speed and consumerism to hijack meaning — leaving us confused. Many of us fail to recognize the situation, and become increasingly stressed, hollow, or disconnected. To quote Shakespeare,
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
In centuries past, the world was slower. People's energies were more grounded in a sense of identity that arose through connections with nature, family, and religion. As artisans, farmers, and merchants, people were connected to their work through personal ownership. Industrialization, technology, and increasing mobility, however, have since combined to rupture these traditional ties and erode the ground where the sense of identity, belonging, and relevance were customarily found. The market has replaced the church and the state as the primary regulator of change and put forth new ways of affirming ourselves through wealth, prestige, and security.
These changes have brought many extraordinary advances in civilization and human life. Yet they also take a toll on our mental and planetary health. Making money has been a tremendous driver of change, but it is how we make money that will count most in the future.
The irony is that the very energy that produces selfish behavior is the same as that which pursues noble causes. When we balance this energy with a pursuit of self-understanding and meaningful endeavor, we find relatedness, and develop a happier, healthier, and more fulfilled life. We see that one of the most satisfying things in life is to serve a purpose beyond ourselves. As Albert Schweitzer once said, "One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve." The ancient Navaho knew this when they spoke of the need to be "selfish but social" — to strive for success, but to do so cooperatively and for the benefit of the whole. Like Adam Smith, they found it important to succeed personally while doing well by all.
Our challenge today, then, is to find ways to transform this energy of becoming from a preoccupation with personal achievement to an aspiration toward greater human fulfillment.
OUR LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITY
Leadership development is an opportunity to address this challenge — it can be made to serve self and help others to grow as human beings. Framed in this way, leadership development becomes a voyage of inner and outer discovery, and it is for everyone, not just the people at the top. It is a way of focusing humanity's evolutionary urge in ways that tap into our deepest human potential, and manifests itself as doing well for ourselves while doing good for our world.
This process starts with a look inward. University of Missouri professor Lee Bolman says that truly great leaders, leaders who have made lasting, positive contributions to the world, have a deeply held value system that is grounded in the belief in the basic goodness of human nature, which gives them the charisma, magic, and power to wield great influence. They have led lives of personal inquiry that have enabled them to tap into deeply held beliefs that take them to the source of relevance, security, and identity and provide them with the clarity, commitment, and perseverance necessary to achieve the extraordinary. They have learned to express themselves authentically, according to their own deeply held beliefs, as opposed to trying to prove themselves against someone else's standard. Being consciously grounded in their own inner reality brings them happiness and a sense of abundance that enables them to turn outward, transcending self-interest, to care about, respect, and serve others in ways that inspire trust and confidence.
This process of first looking inward and then turning outward to care for and serve others is exemplified by extraordinary leaders of our time — men and women from many different walks of life. In this chapter and the ones that follow I provide brief portraits of leaders who have tapped their energy of becoming and turned it toward human fulfillment — doing well for themselves while doing good for the world. These high-profile examples draw attention to a type and style of leadership required to bring about positive and lasting change in our world. The message of these examples, however, is for everyone. It is about an attitude toward life and a way of living in the world. We each possess an inherent potential for making a difference, and that can manifest itself in many forms and from any place in organizational life.
* * *
David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue, is one excellent example. In the last 30 years there have been only two sustained airline start-ups; the first was Southwest in the 1970s, and the other is JetBlue. In the face of critics who scoffed at creating a low-cost airline out of New York City, Neeleman launched JetBlue in January of 2000 with a commitment to bringing humanity back to air travel. Offering low fares, friendly service, and a high quality product, JetBlue has since expanded to 30 cities operating 70 Airbus 320s, and become the largest carrier out of New York. JetBlue also boasts the lowest passenger-mile cost and a consistent record of profitability in an industry in which staggering losses are routine. Widely touted for outstanding customer service by industry magazines, JetBlue was the only start-up airline that did not reduce payroll in the aftermath of 9/11.
Low-key, humble, and caring, Neeleman thrives in one of the world's toughest businesses. His inimitable leadership style has brought him wide acclaim and earned him a reputation of unwavering commitment to people and customer service. Neeleman's first priority is take care of your people, because if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers. "If you speak down to people, hold back information, and treat them like they are just employees, you will not be successful." He grooms the people of JetBlue to be servant leaders by supporting others and helping them grow. "It is countless acts of kindness that happen on a day-to-day basis that create the heart and soul" of this company. Modeling this philosophy and keeping it close to heart, he believes, leads to happy customers who come back regularly and spread the word.
Neeleman's leadership style is deeply rooted in a value system that emerged from his faith and his personal reflections in facing adversity. He suffers from attention deficit disorder —"there are positive things with it, creativity and other things. But there is a dark side that you know you are completely disorganized." As a result, he did poorly in school, lacked self-confidence, and had doubts about whether he could make a living. A turning point for him was when, as a young Morman, he served as a missionary in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where he spent days in religious study and spreading the word. He baptized two hundred converts. For the first time in his life he felt that he had accomplished something. He gained confidence, and when "I got back to University of Utah, I got straight As." Intertwined with his faith, he also learned humility. "I spent most of my time with the poor and figured out they were the happiest people ... they saw life in a proper perspective. I really became incapable of thinking I was better than anyone else. That suits me well at JetBlue."
This value system has guided him in building a culture of commitment and service at JetBlue. When prospective staff are interviewed, for instance, they must buy into the company values of safety, caring, integrity, fun, and passion. He wants people who care. He recalls a story of a pilot applicant who called to complain to him about not getting a job. "I have fifteen thousand hours of flight time but didn't get the job." Neeleman asked the interviewer why, and she said, "I asked him, what else have you done besides just sitting and flying an airplane?" He didn't come up with one single example. "That's not someone we want in our company."
For Neeleman, this commitment to service starts with the question, "Do you matter?" He wants people to know how they can inspire others and make a difference. He challenges everyone to look inward to know who they are and what is important. For him, "the only way of achieving joy and happiness is serving other people." Realizing this was a process for him — a lesson he learned to model over and over again in his career, whether it is rolling up his sleeves to help with loading bags, or limiting his salary to $200,000 so the company wealth can be shared with others. For Neeleman, as it is for each of us, this quest is a journey, an archetypal journey of personal learning and development.
THE HEROIC JOURNEY: DISCOVERING THE INNER SIDE OF GREATNESS
The attempt to harness this evolutionary urge to become and find meaning is what comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell called the Heroic Journey. He saw this journey as a spontaneous production of the psyche and an archetypal process expressed in the myths and traditions throughout our ancient world cultures. It is a universal truth that portrays humanity's search for meaning in a tale of separation, initiation, transformation, and return.
In these myths the hero ventures forth into the unknown, faces miraculous tests and ordeals, wins mighty victories, and returns with the power to bestow boons upon others. Examples in Western culture include Odysseus' struggles on his return from Troy to release his family from bondage, and Percival in his 20-year quest for the Holy Grail to save King Arthur's kingdom. In the East we see King Gesar fighting the spirits of the four directions to pacify and unite his Tibetan kingdom, and Arjuna in the story of the Bhagavad Gita facing his doubts and fears before entering the battlefield to unite the land of India. On this journey, the hero embarks on a transformational experience that brings learning and change.
The Heroic Journey is very relevant to how we frame leadership and live our everyday lives. Leadership is about movement and change, and change begins at a personal level. The root meaning of leadership is "to go first." Every act of leadership is an act of courage. Thus a heroic person is anyone able to face the risks and challenges of change despite fears and uncertainties. For us, it is about mobilizing ourselves to tackle the challenges in our lives. Once we cross the threshold into change we leave our comfort zone and cross into unknown territory. Successfully meeting these challenges requires us to let go of old ways of doing things — relationships, perspectives, even identities — and enter new beginnings.
Heroic people are not always bigger than life — they are normal people like any of us who have struggled with the challenges of life. We all have faced change at some point, taking on the risk and facing the fears that often come with doing something new or different. For some of us, it is going off to college, getting married, traveling abroad, or quitting a job. For others, it is trying to resolve a conflict that we have been avoiding, or taking a stand on an issue we believe in. For still others, it is often just the simple acts of courage involved in facing the recurrent challenges of work and everyday life.
In today's world, this life-forming archetypal energy is often dominated by an outer quest to inflate the ego and fulfill self-interest such as the pursuit of wealth, power, or prestige. In the myths of our ancient traditions, however, the Heroic Journey turns this energy toward an inner quest to awaken the self and all human potential. It is the story in which we break away from our culturally induced projections, limitations, and habitual patterns, enter into the world of the unknown to rediscover lost parts of our selves, learn to experience life more fully, openly, and directly, and return to share what we have learned in order to make our communities better. It is an inward as well as an outward journey. Instead of fulfilling self-interest, the Heroic Journey serves self-discovery, the pursuit of wisdom, and the needs of humanity. To embark on the Journey, then, is to awaken from our slumber and dare to set out to achieve something extraordinary. We learn that even the most ordinary of circumstances can be transformed, when we see them through the light of who we might be.
In addition to the mythological examples above, history is filled with examples of heroic leaders and of greatness achieved through a life examined. Political leaders, saints, and revolutionaries of all kinds have achieved the extraordinary by first knowing who they are and then applying their gifts to the benefit of others. Pericles, for example, was guided by the Greek philosophical tradition in overseeing one of the world's first experiments in democracy. King Ashoka was bound by his Buddhist beliefs in his drive to spread peace and prosperity in ancient India, and Thomas Jefferson was guided by his ideals in writing the Declaration of Independence. Similarly, our extraordinary revolutionaries Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela derived the strength for their causes and the conviction of their beliefs through knowledge of themselves.
This pattern of an inner search resulting in an outer act of service, however, is not limited to the past or the political realm; it manifests in all walks of life — in the arts, in education, and in business. It is wired into our system if we take the opportunity to wake up to it.
Excerpted from The Leadership Wheel by C. Clinton Sidle. Copyright © 2005 C. Clint Sidle. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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