Neuroscientist and Emotional Intelligence author, Robert Cooper, made several trips to Tibet as part of his research on the inner side of leadership. He quotes a wise elder who became a mentor and guide, “It is from the heart.” He touched his palm to his chest. “In Tibet, we call it authentic presence. It means, literally, ‘field of power.’ When we live from here, from the inside, we can talk openly and honestly with each other, and say the things we deeply feel, even when it’s hard to say them. We hold ourselves, and each other, accountable to our best effort in all things. We search for our calling, for the path we are born to take.”

Cooper goes on to reflect on the conclusions of his leadership studies, “In essence, it is a silent sphere of energy that emanates not only from the mind and physical form but from your heart — which conveys moment by moment, the emotional truth of who you really are, deep down, and what you stand for, care about, and believe…. When you live from the depths of the heart, you walk your talk, heed your conscience, and don’t hesitate to take a stand. Your voice rings true and gets heard. It is through emotional depth that we begin, for example, to discover, and commit to, the unique potential which defies our destiny and leads us to the fulfillment of our larger purpose in life.”

Authentic Leadership Isn’t Just What We Do, But Who We Are

Action is the outer expression of leadership. But leadership isn’t just what we do. It’s also something that we are, which then drives what we do. We can teach people leadership actions. We can teach how to influence others, how to lead teams, confront issues, solve problems, and so on.

We can teach leadership doing. But we can’t teach leadership being. That’s an inside job. It’s a journey of personal discovery and learning. We can guide, direct, and support being a leader, but we can’t give anyone a pre-set formula or key actions.

Clarifying Our Core Values

Authentic leaders have a strong sense of self. They are comfortable in their own skin. Strong leaders have high levels of Emotional Intelligence. A cornerstone of EI is self-awareness.

Here are a few tips and techniques you might find useful:

  • Brainstorm a list of everything you value. This might include career, family, learning, achievement, sports, wealth, socializing, inner peace, happiness, status, awards or credentials, autonomy, love, expertise, cuisine, artistic expression, home, making a difference, authenticity, friendships, travel, adventure, spirituality; list everything that is important to you. Cluster all your similar values until you have three to five groups. Put a heading or title on each group. Write a sentence or short paragraph defining each cluster. Examples of cluster headings could be Personal Growth, Achievement, Social Life, Well-Being, Family, or Financial Security. These are your core values. They are at the hub of your being.
  • Look more deeply at your values. Are they truly your beliefs, or are they what other people or institutions have said you should care about? Are they your internal “bone-deep” beliefs or an external “should” value? We often don’t recognize a lifetime of conditioning that has left us with other people’s belief systems. We need to replace any “should” values with our own.
  • Practice meditation or solitude to quiet all your external chatter and listen to your voice within. Where is your heart telling you to go? Your deepest happiness and fulfillment are down that path.
  • Look at your schedule for the next few weeks or months. As you look ahead, are you energized and excited or enervated and stressed? How aligned are your schedule and your values? Do your personal and professional activities match your values in the right proportions, or has life slipped out of balance? Don’t allow today’s urgencies to crowd out what’s important in your life.
  • Contribute to authentic conversations in an authentic workplace. Have courageous conversations to speak the truth as you see it, with diplomacy and tact. Help others (especially your peers and those above you) to address the Moose-on-the-Table.

Grow Thyself: Leverage Your Strengths

“Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting.”
Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment

Central to Positive Psychology, the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character was founded to create a scientifically rigorous classification of character strengths and a way of measuring them.  The VIA (Values In Action) survey is based on 24 universal character strengths defining what’s best about people.

The VIA Survey is the result of a multi-year effort involving 55 noted social scientists. Over 27 million people have taken the free VIA Survey on Character Strengths. The 24-character strengths are clustered into six groups:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge — creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective.
  2. Courage — bravery, persistence, honesty, and zest.
  3. Humanity — love, kindness, and social intelligence.
  4. Justice — teamwork, fairness, and leadership.
  5. Temperance — forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation.
  6. Transcendence — appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality.

Click here to take the free 10-minute survey to gain deeper insights into your greatest strengths.

American author, mythology researcher, and professor, Joseph Campbell, was known for his advice to “follow your bliss.” In his book, The Power of Myth, he writes, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

The deepest and most lasting leadership — and bliss — comes from the inside out. It’s the heart of our being.