“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.” ~ Warren G. Bennis
There comes a point in every leader’s life where he realizes that “what got me here won’t get me there,” and if you are to finish the race set before you at all, you’ll have to learn a completely new way to do it. All the time-tested strategies and ways of being that got you where you are today no longer work (often inexplicably) and what was once easy and invigorating now sucks your soul so dry there’s nearly nothing left.
You’ve come to a threshold, one that’s both enticing and terrifying. And it’s calling you to cross it. On this side: all that you’ve known, all of your expertise, all of the bluster and verve that has served you well to get you where you need to go. On the other side: nothing but the unknown. Like the ancient maps of the world, you’ve reached the edge of what has been explored. “Beyond this place,” your fears tell you, “there be dragons.”
To step through this threshold requires great courage, perhaps more than you’ve ever had to summon before. Not all leaders are willing to do it. Instead of crossing into the new and uncharted places that leadership is challenging them to go, they dig in where they are and redouble their previous efforts, striving to do the same things they’ve always done but “do them better” or “try harder”…until they ultimately spin out, burned out and exhausted.
This threshold marks the boundary between a leadership of doing and a leadership of being. Before reaching this edge, leaders define and measure their leadership mostly by what they have done, and what they are doing. Leadership is about measurable action, moving the ball down the field. Ultimately, it’s about winning the game. But one day this threshold appears, and you begin to have what seems at first like a radical thought:
What if it isn’t what you are doing, but who you are being, that matters most as a leader? What if that’s what real leadership is ultimately all about?
It isn’t that the way you’ve been doing it is wrong. On the contrary, without all the doing-based leadership you’ve experienced up to now, you would have never reached this point in the journey. But now, you realize, to keep leading forward in a meaningful way, you need to change the game.
You need to learn a new way of leading.
Shifting from doing-based leadership to being-based leadership doesn’t mean you’ll stop taking action or achieving anything real. On the contrary, leaders who make this transition often have far greater impact on the world after the shift than they ever did before. But from this new place where who you are being matters more than what you are doing, new possibilities emerge. For example:
- A new level of intimacy and partnership with God becomes available to you as you let go of old performance-based paradigms and open yourself to being present with God in the here and now.
- New forms of collaboration with other leaders and groups become possible as you discover you no longer have anything to prove.
- You notice a shift in the flow of your life, from aggressive to attractive: What you once needed to go out and conquer is now drawn to come to you.
- You step into a new level of spiritual authority ~ from knight to king, from sister to queen.
- You rediscover the transformative ministry of rest and balance, as ego is no longer a primary driver.
- You develop a deeper and more resilient trust in the provenience of God.
If you are facing this threshold, take heart: You are in great company. All the truly great leaders before you have stared down this same door into the unknown. I love the poet Rilke’s words in “Go to the Limits of Your Longing,” which I think speak in part to the act of crossing this threshold into the unknown lands with God:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.