The Journey Towards a Happy and Successful Leader

If you are unhappy in your current work environment or feel that your career is stagnating and doesn’t give you the satisfaction you were looking for, then you are not alone. A recent Gallup 142-country study on the state of the global workplace found that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Of the remaining employees, 63 percent lack motivation and 24 percent indicated that they are unhappy and unproductive at work.

The latter group translates roughly into 1,240 million employees worldwide. Think about this for a moment : over a lifetime, we spend, on average, more than 90,000 hours at work, and for most of us, this seems not the place we want to be.

One of the most likely reasons of your unhappiness is that you are not able to express your real self. Your environment has caught up with you and has forced you into a direction away from who you really are. Since your birth, you will have been influenced by many different people; your parents, your siblings, your friends, your wife, your teachers, your colleagues, your coaches, and many others.

We often say that it takes a village to raise a child. This also means that you will have to endure a village to stay true and connected to yourself. Your uniqueness, the essence of who you really are, expressed through your genetic makeup, will be challenged over and over again. Eventually, this may cause you to drift away from your unique life path and may impact your happiness and satisfaction in life.

Although leadership involves relationships with individuals and groups, your source of effective leadership is always an expression of who you really are.

In September 2007, I walked away from a staff position at a global Fortune 50 company to embark on a new journey. My life had been an adventure characterised by many significant career changes and had taken me all over the world. In the seven years leading up to my departure, my career had gone faster than expected, but I felt that being at the top of my career, didn’t bring the satisfaction and happiness that I had expected.

I kept asking myself the question: “Is this all there is?” As if it was not challenging enough to leave a well paid corporate position, shortly after my departure, I was diagnosed with an aggressive illness and, according to my specialist, had only six months. The following weeks felt like I was pulled into a deep dark space with intense emotions and no way out.

It forced me to reframe the future and embark on a journey to discover the lost connection with the deeper purpose in life. Why are we here? What’s our life’s purpose? What is the reason for our existence? What were we supposed to do? Maybe there was no purpose at all! These were the questions that kept me awake while searching for answers.

It was not until the end of 2008, when studying “Confucianism and Leadership” at Tsinghua University in China, that it slowly dawned on me what I was supposed to do.

The Confucian leadership growth model constitutes a life long process of self cultivation through reflection, awareness and discipline; an endless process in determining and delivering one’s life purpose. This was Eastern wisdom preserved for more than 2,500 years and – with adjustments for context and time – still remarkably relevant today. It aligns and supplements many of the Western leadership concepts, such as ‘authentic leadership’, and the latest discoveries in neurology, psychology and other sciences.

I felt excited and inspired by this awareness breakthrough and it started to shape my decisions going forward. Suddenly, all the pieces of my life fell in place, nothing had been wasted, it had been with me all the time, it was the next logical chapter in the story of my life.

With renewed clarity of my core purpose, I gave birth to a new organisation called ‘NEO Leaders’. NEO Leaders provides a new approach to leadership development. It combines the best leadership insights and practices from East and West and helps people discover, cultivate and accelerate their personal leadership journey.

So what is personal leadership? Thousands of studies have been conducted over the last hundred years to determine the key personality traits, behaviours, styles, activities and other characteristics of great leaders. None of these studies have provided a definitive answer on what it takes to become a great leader.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some personal characteristics that are evident amongst the population of great leaders, but trying to mimic these would not necessarily change your underlying personality. It would merely be a forced, unauthentic performance and people would see through it immediately.

In 2007, Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer published an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership”. After analysing 3,000 pages of transcripts, their team was startled to see that you do not have to be born with specific characteristics or traits of a leader. They concluded that leadership emerges from your life story, it comes from within.

The journey toward personal leadership mastery is not a quick fix or a one-off event, it requires continuous self reflection, self awareness and self discipline.

This aligns and confirms our first premise: leadership works from the inside out. It is an expression of who you really are, an expression of your purpose, goals, values, principles, beliefs, motivations, behaviours, emotions, knowledge and fears. It involves a blend of various disciplines such as psychology, neuroscience, physiology and spirituality.

Our second premise is that personal leadership is a lifelong journey. It is a journey of reflection, awareness, competence development, mastery and discovery, and will lead you along a path toward becoming a more effective leader.

In the upcoming series of monthly articles I contribute here, I will share with you our unique approach and powerful intervention strategies to accelerate your personal leadership journey. I will give you access to a set of powerful tools that help you make this transformational journey.

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Again, this will not be smooth sailing and you may feel uncomfortable from time to time but I encourage you to get on board and join the process. If you aspire to become a successful leader and are interested in self management, personal productivity, creativity and innovation, then I advise you to get on board. As you move along the journey, you will experience increased fulfilment and happiness at work and life.

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