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Bringing Appreciation to Leadership

Lori West 07 Nov 2016
There is a crisis in leadership. The recent shenanigans at the top of the UK and US governments demonstrate this (read last week’s blog, which tackles that topic in more depth, by clicking here).

Something that struck me in my reflections is the fact that, as a society, we’re perfectly content to criticise, but we’re not always willing to step up to do something about the leadership crisis. The result is that we are left with people who are willing to put themselves forward for leadership roles, and unfortunately, they’re not always the best people for the job.

You could be forgiven for believing that being a power-hungry, glory-seeking, elitist sociopath is the thing that gets you ahead as a leader. Is this what the modern world is asking of its leaders?

The same is true in business. Corporate environments are rife with the stink of internal politics, preferring to preserve the status quo over promoting genuine innovation, diversity and career fulfilment. The corporate structure mirrors the political structure, and let’s be honest. Whether in politics or in business, we continually see that the system as it stands works for a small minority, though I would argue that it doesn’t really work for them either.

The time has come to make a change.

This aspect of corporate life really hit home with me last week. I am launching a pilot of a new leadership development programme in early 2017. To date, I have piloted the first module, and you’d think that would be enough to launch the programme, but it isn’t. Here’s why.

The programme will turn leadership development on its head.

How do I know? As part of the preparation, I’ve been in discussion with several leadership development experts, seeking feedback on the way forward and securing participants for the pilot. Everyone I've spoken to so far has found it intriguing and innovative, but during one particularly enlightening conversation, I was informed that:
  1. what I've developed is exactly what’s needed to create enlightened, powerful, inspiring leaders
  2. no one is doing what I’m doing.
This person, who has participated in many leadership development programmes over the course of her career, shared a concern about the willingness of people to reveal their challenges openly with colleagues. She felt that the need to “play the game” that comes with corporate politicking might jeopardise people’s ability to disclose their business challenges in front of colleagues.

I, in turn, felt it was a sad indictment of the realities of corporate life, namely that people are trading authenticity and growth for monetary rewards and the perceived security that comes from having a job. It’s a different sort of slavery, one that has you sell your soul in exchange for a monthly pay packet. It’s a game of payoff in which people feel they must choose meeting basic survival needs over emotional, psychological and spiritual satisfaction. For those of you familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, you'll see that most human beings are still existing on the first or second step in the pyramid of self-actualisation.

At certain points in your life, you may choose to live with the payoff, and you can justify it to yourself by arguing that this is the nature of life, that every choice has a payoff and a cost.

Yes, it’s true that there will always be payoffs and costs. It’s the nature of choice. The problem arises when the costs outweigh the payoffs. When that happens, you need to think long and hard about your next steps.

This is exactly where a client was this week. Having worked in his company for several years, he had reached a stage at which merely turning up to crank the handle for a handsome salary had lost its appeal. In his words, he felt “unappreciated.”

This is a time when people often leave the corporate world in search of a more holistic lifestyle. However, you soon discover that your external reality mirrors your internal reality, and that feeling of being unappreciated hounds you despite your having left the corporate world. It’s tempting to blame the environment, and environments can bring out the best and worst in us. If you look a little deeper, you’ll find that the experience includes an invitation, should you choose to accept it. That invitation is for you to discover what it is about you that’s not working.

With this in mind, one of the first questions I asked him to consider was this: in what ways was he demonstrating a lack of appreciation for himself?

It is completely possible that he was being unappreciated, given that he spent nearly 60 hours a week in a highly-politicised business environment, but herein lies the rub. When you expect appreciation to come from external sources, you will inevitably be disappointed. Human beings are, by and large, self-serving, and politically-motivated organisations foster this self-serving attitude.

To expect anyone else to appreciate you, you must appreciate you. When you appreciate you, you command respect from other people and you demand more for yourself. Your mindset and resulting thoughts, emotions and actions change, and the world responds to you differently.

When you don’t appreciate yourself, you become another’s doormat, and as the Belizean proverb goes, “If you make yourself into a doormat, people will wipe their feet on you.”

Interestingly, this client decided to reconnect with himself by revamping his CV. In the process, he changed his attitude from obsequiousness for having a job to the realisation that they were lucky to have him as an employee. Following an additional exercise to determine what he wants and doesn’t want from a place of employment, he realised that there were things about his working environment that were beyond his control. His energy lifted to a place of excitement at getting clear about what he wanted from a working environment, and realising it was possible to have it.

In the meantime, I am interested to see how his change in attitude impacts his current working environment. I have no attachment to him staying with this particular company. I’m more interested in what he stands to learn about himself and his relationship to his environment operating from the space of greater self-appreciation.

If you’re now thinking to yourself, “Geez, I need to appreciate myself more,” here’s an exercise that will help you cultivate self-appreciation right now. Set a timer for 60 seconds. Start the timer as you name out loud one thing that you can honestly appreciate about yourself. Continue finding things for which you can be self-appreciative, and see if you can fill the entire 60 seconds with statements of self-appreciation. If the timer goes off and you’re still on a roll, keep going until you run out of steam. When you complete the exercise, notice and make a note of how you feel. Observe the impact this exercise has on you for the next 10 minutes, one hour and one day.

If you find this exercise difficult, the chances are you’ve got an entrenched unconscious belief or bias that is preventing you from honouring yourself. To release it, seek the guidance of a coach who can help you break free from the constraints and embark upon a life of self-appreciation. It’s important to do the work rather than expect others to do it for you, and a bulk of the work is clearing your mental space of destructive thoughts and beliefs to allow qualities like appreciation to emerge.

Brilliant leaders, by default, appreciate the people they lead, but they are able to extend that appreciation because they have first learned how to appreciate themselves. The same is true for you. You can only do for others what you’re able to do for yourself.

Self-appreciation ignites your inner light. Make a commitment to light yours today. You'll be better able to lead others to a state of self-appreciation as a result.

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