What Is Leadership?
At its core, leadership is the ability of individuals and groups to transcend their limited circumstances and to actualize their creative potential. It is a fundamental capacity of all human beings, which cuts across disciplines, levels, and differences. Leadership is the ability to see the transient ephemeral nature of thought, to not entertain negative, limited, or personal thought, and to allow higher order thoughts, insight, wisdom, and common sense to occur spontaneously through one. It is seeing past a fixed and limited view of reality, seeing past the content of thought, to the unlimited infinite potential of experience. Leadership is the view from the mountaintop, the mile-high view, which is the basis for strategic decision making, effective listening, bringing out the best in people, teamwork, creativity, responsiveness, economy of means, and high level effectiveness. Leadership is the ability to be responsive simultaneously to multiple circumstances, to inspire self and others to greatness, to be willing not to know and to look to the unknown for what is not yet known, and to get to the heart of the matter and do what makes a difference.
Leadership is based on consciousness, the understanding that what we observe with our senses is thought being brought to life. The degree to which we understand the ephemeral nature of thought, that thought is occurring moment to moment to moment, from the invisible formless which is before thought, and manifesting into form, after the fact of thought, is our level of consciousness or awareness. Consciousness allows the recognition of form, form being the expression of Thought, says Sydney Banks in The Missing Link.
The more deeply any individual or group is aware of the transient nature of thought, the lack of power in the content of thought, and the fact that all of the power is in the invisible formless, before the fact of thought, the higher their level of consciousness and the greater their capacity for leadership. As individuals and groups deepen their consciousness, they attain more and more distance or perspective from the content of their own and others’ thinking, from the content of their experience and circumstances. This distance, mountaintop view, space between thoughts, or lack of reaction to content, allows them to be responsive to circumstances rather than reactive.
When leaders see the value of allowing space in between their thoughts, perspective in their thinking, they can see beyond the circumstances and content of problems and situations, to graceful responses and effortless solutions. They are able to look past their limited memory and analysis, and transcend their own thinking into higher order wisdom and insight. They can then participate in the unfolding reality as it occurs through them.
Understanding thought, consciousness, is like understanding the phenomenon of a mirage of water on a desert road. Nothing effortful has to be done to transcend the experience of water on the road, one doesn’t give up driving and attempt to remove the water, or find an alternate route. The key is in recognizing the nature of a mirage, a thought-created sensory image that has no power in and of itself. As one does not react to the image, and continues driving, the mirage dissolves into the normal road. Recognizing that every experience we each have is thought brought to life by our senses frees us from becoming enmeshed in limited thought, and allows us to look before the formation of thought, to the source of thought, the formless unknown. Creativity and innovation occurs through us as we allow thought to flow through us, and we follow the plan given to us by our insight and wisdom, rather than trying to figure it out and plan based on personal thinking.
As we let any reactive, judgmental or evaluative thinking pass through us, out of a quiet mind free of personal thought comes the answer, which may be action or may be a different perspective. Leadership is unleashing that potential in others. Groups who function with this understanding are able to get past thoughts of fear of failure, fear of what others think about us, our limited thoughts of what our roles should be or shouldn’t be, to function at a high level of teamwork. At the highest level of leadership functioning, a group can reach the one mind that David Bohm speaks about in On Dialogue, where the group thinks as one and transcends any differences.
Leadership comes from seeing that it is not circumstances that need correcting, and it is not an individual’s wrong thinking about a person, thing or condition (content) that needs to be corrected. Consciousness is understanding that thought is an impersonal effect, after that fact of thinking, and has no power in and of itself. The only power thought has is the power that we give it, and the higher our level of awareness, the less power we give thought. Whatever thoughts are on our mind will play out in our individual and group experience.
If we want to change our experience, we need to let go of our current thinking in order to see something new. We need a stance of curiosity, of willingness to give up being right, in order to see what we don’t yet know, in order for a new reality to manifest through us.
The instant that we see that our experience is created moment to moment via thought, and that our feelings are our compass to the quality of our thinking or the level of our consciousness, we can let go of stressful or negative thinking and relax into a good feeling. Knowing that feelings are a direct result of what’s on our mind allows us to use our feelings as a guide to let go of unhealthy thinking. Into the vacuum that’s left by letting go of limited or personal thought flows insight creativity, wisdom and perfect detached action. That’s why, in times of great crisis like war or disaster, when people’s heads clear, they see what needs to be done and act on it. Often survivors of such crisis describe a feeling of connectedness, which transcends the circumstances, which is analogous to the one mind of an aligned group working together.
Alignment is a form conflict resolution takes when a group is functioning at a high level of consciousness. Listening deeply, and letting go of preconceived ideas and history, a willingness not to know, and a stance of curiosity, allows leaders to develop rapport in a group. Rapport is the basis for agreement and shared understanding. From this base of rapport and agreement, problems and difficult situations are seen as no one’s fault (impersonal), thought-created, ephemeral and mutable; the group can choose not to react to them, try to fix them, or resign themselves to them. Listening deeply without bias or prejudice allows the observation of what is. From the clarity that arises out of unbiased observation, we get new insights, and perfect detached action arises through us.
If we don’t react to what we judge as our own or other’s faulty thinking, we don’t resist it or try to change it, because we know it’s after the fact of thought (content). The space that is created by not reacting will yield a different view of the situation; we will see something new that transcends the situation.
Allowing thoughts to pass through, and attributing no significance to them, not personalizing them, is consciousness. Any thought is after the fact of thought, after the fact of the formless, and it’s content is irrelevant, so that no thinking needs to be done about it. David Bohm describes this as proprioception of thought, seeing the intention to think and choosing not to entertain thought, which allows fresh thought to arise through us, as opposed to getting stuck in the squirrel cage of already thought thought.
Strategic decision making in leadership is a result of consciousness. Imagine a tennis player saying, Why does this ball keep coming at meI just finished hitting it, why do I have to hit it again? As opposed to, Oh, good, another opportunity to hit it better, to improve my accuracy. Now translate that to how individuals and organizations approach problems that keep occurring vs. situations that present themselves for responses.
The ability to listen with the invisible ear to the inaudible word gives leaders the ability to not only respond effectively rather than react, but to participate in the unfolding of a new reality. Listening deeply for the heart of the matter, and then doing what occurs to one out of a quiet mind, is the key to economy of means finding the optimal decisions and minimizing the costs.
Conscious strategic decision making might be called doing nothing, i.e. doing nothing of a personal nature, nothing through personal fear or personal doubt, doing nothing that is purely our will or our desire, but allowing perfect detached action to come through us. This is being leadership, rather than doing leadership. In Wisdom Leadership, S.K. Chakraborty describes rajarshis, king/sages of ancient India who translated the order of the cosmos (rita) into the order of the society. John Heider describes a similar stance of being leadership in The Tao of Leadership, leadership in accordance with natural law. Sydney Banks, again in The Missing Link, says, All humans have the inner ability to synchronize their personal mind with their impersonal mind to bring harmony into their lives.
Joseph Jaworski, in Synchronicity, The Inner Path of Leadership, says, People do in fact create the future through our declarations, our actions, our way of being... The issue of how we can collectively create the future.., how what we see as reality is inseparable from our language [thought] and actions. In the forward to Jaworski’s book, Peter Senge comments, in a deep sense, my capacity as a leader comes from my choice to allow life to unfold through me. This is exactly what consciousness does, in allowing us to transcend limited and personal thinking, to allow the creative process to flow from the unknown through us. Senge says We search for special individuals with leadership potential, rather than developing the leadership potential in everyone... Leadership exists when people are no longer the victims of circumstances, but participate in creating new circumstances... Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable of participating in the unfolding of the world. Ultimately, leadership is about creating new realities... If we were not making such an immense effort to separate ourselves from life, we might actually live life day to day, minute by minute, as a series of predictable miracles.
Consciousness allows leadership to flow through individuals and groups. so that they can truly live their lives in service to life itself.
- Banks, Sydney (1998) The Missing Link, Reflections on Philosophy and Spirit, Edmonton: International Human Relations Consultants, Inc.
- Bohm, David (1996) On Dialogue, London: Routledge
- Chakraborty, S.K. Wisdom Leadership:Leading by the SELF, Journal Of Human Values, Vol 1:2, (1995) pp205-219
- Heider, John (1985) The Tao of Leadership, Atlanta: Humanics Limited
- Jaworski, Joseph (1996) Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler
Marsha Madigan, MD, is an experienced senior level healthcare executive and family physician. Recognized for published research and international presentations, she has well-developed strategic decision-making, executive coaching, and conflict resolution competencies, utilized in internal and independent consulting engagements to industry leaders. Dr. Madigan has a reputation for achieving results utilizing relationship-centered principle-based leadership. For more information, send email: to: [email protected]