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What I really want to say about leadership

The heart of leadership boils down to this: loving yourself and loving other people.

I don’t mean that you should strut around being cocky. Cockiness is very different from loving yourself. Cockiness is reluctance to seeing yourself for who you truly are. Cockiness is the confusion of half-truths and truth. It’s a facade, a mask, a defense mechanism.

I know, because I’ve been there. I used to act like I was rich when I had very little money. I used to tell myself that I was happy when I was apathetic. I used to talk as though I were wildly successful when I had barely done anything. All of those things just made me miserable. They held me back from me.

Loving yourself is far more challenging than being cocky.

It’s more subtle.

It’s about being honest in both word and action with who you are and casting away the white lies you lean on like crutches. This is uncomfortable at first – you created the white lies to act as a numbing agent protecting your ego – but honesty with yourself is critical. Once you truly see yourself, then you can begin to love yourself.

It’s about distinguishing pleasure from happiness and favoring the later. Pleasure is the sugar high of spending money on things besides the necessities, engaging in meaningless sex, consuming too much entertainment, junk food, and alcohol, and taking the easy way out. Happiness is creating a meaningful existence for yourself, taking good care of your mind and body, surrounding yourself with supportive people you respect, finding a bit of balance, and giving back in the ways you can.

Loving yourself is about practicing self-compassion. It’s the balancing act of learning from your mistakes without mentally punishing yourself for them. It’s about accepting that you will never be perfect, but no one else will either. It’s about quieting your inner monologue, the one that’s constantly judging, evaluating and critiquing.

It’s about allowing your passion to overwhelm your fear so that you can leave your comfort zone and chase your dreams.

Loving others is not about being nice only on the surface. Being surface level nice and nothing more is a form of insecurity and apathy.

Loving others is about truly caring. It’s about wanting others to succeed and flourish as much as you want yourself to succeed and flourish.

Loving others is about being kind but being honest. It’s about pointing out the blind spots and offering ways to fix them. It’s about gritting your teeth and having the hard, honest, conversation instead of simply saying what the other person wants to hear. I’m learning this lesson myself. I recently told a close friend that I felt like our relationship was unbalanced. I feared that he may be hurt, offended, mad. Instead, he was touched that I cared enough about the relationship to have a difficult conversation. We’re closer now.

Loving others is about giving them your time and attention without asking for much in return. It’s about turning down the distractions, and truly being present with another. It’s seeking to understand the other person’s perspective without judging, and possibly improving their world a bit.

It’s about being willing to share yourself, to make yourself vulnerable and find that still-point of human connection with your friend, your family, your partner or your team.

None of this is easy. I struggle with it every day. My natural instincts are to judge myself harshly, replay past mistakes again and again and again, favor cockiness over vulnerability, and tell people exactly what they want to hear (instead of what they need to hear). I fight against those urges though, and every single time I do, I’m glad I did.

No one ever promised us that leadership would be easy. It is worth it though. Good leadership is how we build better lives and better lives add up to a better world.

If you’re feeling stuck personally or with your team, pick just one element and work on that for a few weeks. If you can truly learn to love yourself, and if you can learn to love others, you will become unstoppable.

[Note: this article is from the Ignited Leadership monthly newsletter. You can sign up for the monthly newsletter here. If you prefer more frequent tips on leadership, you can subscribe to receive blog updates, which happen several times a week, by signing up with the form in the right hand column of this page]

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