Tough Times Call For Enlightened Leadership
©Peter ten Hoopen, 2009
Published on South-Africa based Human Capital Review and ETD Online

These times make tough demands on our leadership skills, both in the political sphere and in the business arena, particularly on this continent. For that reason, the first thing anyone wishing to be truly successful should undertake today, is to improve his or her leadership skills - beginning where it counts most, with self-leadership.
         Few people are actually leading themselves consciously. Which is a shame, because those who do tend to be most successful, in whatever field the are in. Some individuals of course just get lucky and make a success of themselves by 'accident', but most of us have to rely on sheer application of our talents, and making the most of it. So there is a powerful business case for making it a top priority.
         Now there is something all artists are keenly aware of, and that we can learn from as leaders: talents grow through practice, and practice only. Inspiration is wonderful but if you do not reinforce it by concretisation, it will dissipate and leave you wondering why your life did not turn out so great as you thought it might, given your obvious endowments. And here we can stay with artists for another illustration: unique cases apart, only with proper managent will talent blossom into a sustaining capacity to evoke wonder, to move hearts, to inspire others and make them wish to follow.
         This of course that is what leadership is all about: inducing others to follow. In general this means that you have to stand for something well defined that can be adored, longed for, or simply seen as advantageous in general. You have to show clarity of purpose and you have to practice what you preach. (At least to a fair extent. No one is perfect.) This means that you will achieve your full leadership potential only by conscious, assiduous, and brutally honest self-leadership. Starting with questions about your true purpose in life, what keeps you from achieving it, what sustains you, and what inspires you. None of this is very hard to achieve if you are conscious of your abilities in the various realms of activity you engage in, and of the way you expend your vital energy. But in most business schools students are not taught to be conscious of these things. In Africa perhaps even less than in other parts of the developed world.

From Can-Do to 'Reflection in Action'
In all the African countries where I have done research and given workshops, I found a very strong can-do culture. Recently I worked with a group of senior African managers, several of them South-African, on issues like diversity, leadership and self-management. One coaching section focused strongly on self-reflection. With questions like: 'What defines your leadership style? Rate on a scale of 1 tot 10: Energy, Gut-feeling, Willpower, Love, Integrity, Intuition, Connection?'
        After an hour or so of reflection on these and similar themes, one participant, a powerfully built engineer who spoke little, but was listened to intently by the others whenever he did, said, naturally assuming the stance of one who speaks for all: 'You know Peter, this is very interesting. But this is very new to us. We never think about these things. We just do what needs to be done.' There was no evaluation is his words, no praise or condemnation, just a statement of fact. Most of the others agreed. But they also agreed that they would love to be where the could spend time reflecting on these issues. Fortunately, time is on their side...
         This continent is still to a large extent need-driven, so many people have limited freedom to be their full selves. But Africa as a whole, and South-Africa in particular, is rapidly developing a new managerial class with good to excellent education, honed by the school of hard knocks represented by the challenges involved in building a career in the respective developing countries. This means that more and more Africans are now becoming acutely of their opportunities, and keen to achieve their full potential - either in their own countries or elsewhere, most often in the setting of government, a multinational company or a non-governmental organisation. This places them in direct contact (and sometimes in competition) with managers and leaders from many different countries. Some of these will be managers who have had more time to reflect, and have had the luxury to make choices based on their values and preferences. This increased interaction on an international, where not global level, will strengthen the cry, that I have heard all over this continent, for more transparancy, more authenticity, more integrity, and higher quality leadership.
         This means, and I say this in full respect for the participants I just mentioned, that the leadership style of 'we just do what needs to be done' is slowly on its way out, along with other old ways of the continent. For those in the vanguard of change, this means that the time for self-reflection is now. Not as a stage, but from now on as an integral aspect of the continued development of the personality, and an integral part of daily working life - what I call 'Reflection in Action' (RIA).
         RIA involves continuous questioning of one's long term motives and short term drivers: "Who am I and what am I doing? What is my role in the organisation, and what is the organisation's role in the world?' For those in leadership positions: "How do my actions impact the lives of others? How do my choices affect the world?" And for all again: "What do I ultimately do with my life force?

Understanding starts with differention To understand such issues, to get a clear picture of who you are and what your net effect is, it helps to have a clear idea of your inner energy economy. And obtaining this clear idea begins by asking questions. Where is the focus of my energy expenditure: On acquisition of material wealth, the bottom line? On building relationships? On seeing to it that my will is done? On giving care to others? On communication? On self-reflection and intuition? On universal connectedness and sustainability? As exercises I use simple sets of statements such as those above, and those below. Please rate on a scale of 1 to 10.

 I care about the world  
  I care about following my intuition  
 I care about living by my values  
 I care about giving love  
 I care about my will being done  
 I care about building relationships  
 I care about making money  

Once you have completed this little exercise, thoughtfully and conscientiously, without trying to make yourself look good by some standard you may internally apply, you have created a basic profile of your leadership style along the lines of the 'Chakras of Leadership', the system for the differentiation of aspects of leadership introduced in The Enlightened Leader. This system, based on the ancient Indian Yoga philosophy, maps the areas where your life energy is focused, from the most basic (similar to Maslow's 'Survival' level) to the most idealistic.
         It helps you to get a deeper understanding of the type of leader you currently are. And where there is imbalance, seen in the gaps that show up between the ideal and the real, there is a clear indication of the areas you need to work on. As prework for my coaching sessions I use the Chakra Test at, which makes you take a number of tests such as the one above all rolled into one, and gives a clear graphical representation of the amount of energy you expend at what level, and to what extent that that energy expenditure appears to be positive or negatively charged. The system is well explained on the website, including chapters on each of the seven energy levels, and what they entail in the field of leadership. The free test has already been taken by thousands, so comparing your own scores with the average gives a certain benchmark. Not that the benchmark is ideal (again, nobody is perfect), but it helps to see in which areas you are ahead, and which you should first start to work on.
         The test should ideally be used in a coaching context. But not everyone can afford a personal coach. Thefore many will have to resort self-coaching. Turn yourself into a self-coach by reading up on self-management, by writing out your object, strategy and tactics - and ideally also by meditation or another form of detached contemplation.

The right attitude at the right time
Now a time of global crisis may not seem the right time to urge reflection - leave alone contemplation - on managers already harried by their superiors to achieve higher short term performance. But the opposite is true. In reality such a call is highly timely. Tough times have a tendency to keep the men from the boys, the women from the girls. The immature are pummeled by the course of events, and hurry on to some hoped for but unforeseen improvement. The more evolved see it as a moment to take a deep breath, and think about what really matters. Survival, for sure, but beyond that the realisation of one's full potential - never to be lost sight of. Because if you do not keep an eye on your goal you are unlikely to get there.
         Reflection in Action combines this continent's natural can-do ability with ancient wisdom, something it truly needs, and South-Africa perhaps most of all. To combine these essentials you have to ask yourself: What concretely do I have the world to offer? And if you aspire to leadership: What do I offer my followership? What concretely am I going to do for them?
         Find the answers to these simple questions, and you have taken a major step in your leadership development.
         But in all likelihood, a more complete study of your leadership in all its facets should precede the forming and firming of such notions. Try to understand fully what moves you, what you expend your energy on, and whether you feel that this energy is well spent: without extreme emphasis on one particular energy level or another, and in full harmony. The aim of any work on your chakras is not to make you ascend to the highest realm and stay there, but to achieve what I call a healthy energy economy: distruting your energy evenly over the seven levels to attain full spectrum being and full spectrum leadership. If you can achieve this, to a fair extent, you are exactly what this continent needs.