Mapping the Spirit of Leadership

This blog explores the spirit of leadership — that is, what is the heart and soul of great leadership? How do we make sense of leadership failures and successes, expectations and disappointments? All of us, leaders and followers, are caught in a web of myths, challenges, visionary goals and contradictions that we must face with all our skills, gifts and character.

The leadership field has many voices, many perspectives, many opinions — and although I’m exploring from the point of view of leading with spirit and integrity, my topics range from current events to training trends and political controversy.¬† From Gabby Douglas to Joss Whedon to Malala Yousefzai and the presidential debates, I’ve been sniffing through the news to try to map some of the trends and challenges of leadership we face today.

Everyone seems to be talking about leadership (or lack of it) lately. We do our best to define good leadership, and everyone seems to have a story about a powerful leader who changed the world, or changed us. We’re hungry for great leadership, and it’s hard to define, hard to sustain, and even harder to do.

I don’t believe we need to define it to understand it — there’s no leadership in the dictionary, because leadership changes to fit the needs of a situation, not the needs of our definition hungry minds.

What we really need is a way to map the transforming, shifting, flexible face of leadership today. That’s why I started this blog — to comment on the patterns, stories and trends in leadership news.

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We’re in a crisis of leadership now, and maybe the biggest problem is that we’re having trouble creating sustainable solutions. From my perspective, the barrier between effective leadership in theory and practice is that we’re having a hard time bridging the gap between mind and spirit, identity and action. We’re good at saying what we want, even good at knowing what needs to happen, but leading effectively involves knowing ourselves and knowing how to learn.

That’s why I reach towards principles and practices across cultures, into the stories, relationships and practices that help build workable long-term solutions to our challenges, or fragment possibilities into new problems. This blog covers a lot of leadership territory, but in general, I’m interested in leaders and leadership practices valuing community, justice and transformation.

My experience studying traditional Hawaiian culture has taught me to look at these three values as part of leadership in aloha. The ancient principles of aloha have been named in many ways in leadership theory and organizational culture practices. But stories about the successes and failures of community, justice and transformation are at the heart of aloha spirit.

But whatever we call it, wherever we find it, values-based leadership understands the importance of relationships and integrity as a foundation of sustainable change. We’re in a period of great transformation, and we need to look everywhere — in our own countries and many others, in different organizations and sub-cultures, in traditions ancient and modern, and above all, in the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who we might become.

Ultimately, this blog explores a broad spectrum of leadership contexts, from cartoons and pop culture to politics and organizational change. There’s a lot to talk about, and more questions than answers. But if we can look for solutions with aloha, hopefully we can move three steps forward for every step back, learning our way through the changes we can’t avoid, and opening up the possibilities for good leaders to do what they do best: light up the world.

5 comments

  1. we dont see too many leaders around us these days… its tougher now! with a global audience..

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    1. Yes, and we need so many kinds of leaders, big and small, famous and humble, servants and warriors. I often ask myself, writing about leadership so much, how I am bringing this knowledge into my own life, my teaching and writing and coaching! I try to find small ways to lead with compassion and creativity. This week, my leadership work is about sharing quiet time with friends, many of whom are suffering with economic and personal struggles. I’m trying to lead by listening, a practice I often celebrate. But I find, with leadership, practice is the key word. It’s a way of being, not a role I play. One of my teachers once said, it’s simple but not easy! Thanks for following!

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      1. You are right, there are many types of leaders, from family level to world level. Every good leader should carry compassion in his or her heart, like blood.

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      2. What a wonderful metaphor — compassion moving through the heart like blood, because then it moves through the body driven by the beats of the heart. In many traditions, the heart is considered the site of the true mind of every human. Perhaps that metaphor can open up our thinking about leadership, in daily life, as well.

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  2. I personally believe that you cant guide someone unless you hold that person in your heart with love or compassion.

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