A few years ago I was introduced to and quickly became a member of Soka Gakkai International, a world peace and spirituality lay movement ignited by and based on Nichiren Buddhism. My leadership inspiration is a great man called Daisaku Ikeda, the worldwide leader of SGI. Through his role modelling and inspiring leadership, and from a low base and controversial start in Japan, SGI, over 50 years, he has catalysed a thriving and successful organisation of 12 million people in 192 countries.
I have never met Daisaku Ikeda, and probably never will – he is in his eighties and travels less these days. But through him and countless others who he has inspired, I have been able to crystallise my personal coda of leadership. So I hope this neither an advert for some faith group, nor a homage to a man of proven world class achievement, but a statement of my personal beliefs about what really matters in leadership at all levels and in all situations.
I think it crystallises in five beliefs and practices.
1. Try to make heart to heart contact
In the end, I believe it all comes down to relationships – winning work, inspiring action, building shared goals, parenting; they are all different sides of the many faceted crystal of life. Relationships are based on authenticity. Be it face to face or when I am in front of a group, people are literally and metaphorically looking me in the eye and asking themselves “Do I trust this guy, can I see his belief in what he is saying?” I owe it to them, therefore, to be authentic and congruent in word and deed; with luck and belief in people, I will get back what I give and so will others.
2. Look for the best in people and encourage them to do likewise
In Buddhism we call it looking for the Buddha in other people. People are inspired by others who can see in them what they are often blind to in themselves. Not false positives, but genuine potential, tempered by the blockages, inhibitors and defence mechanisms that life throws up. Not pipedreams, but genuine encouragement to aspiration based on glimpses of what they could be. For me, that requires positivity tempered by honesty – if I can’t share what I see and what my intuition is telling me, how can I expect them to get beyond their often challenging realities.
3. Have the personal courage to live your values
I wish I could say I always have... but I know that when I do, I always have a positive impact, even in adversarial conditions.
4. Recognise that others have to take personal responsibility for growth
Tempting as dependency is for someone who sells professional services, ultimately it is a recipe for comfort and vanity rather than growth. Challenge people to follow their dream, even have a dream, confront their ghosts and challenges. Be there for them, make suggestions and comments. But insist that they take responsibility – it’s their life, their business, their future. If I help, the most successful often remember...
5. Remember that leaders need followers - not sheep but partners in growth
Givers gain in life - so give feedback freely and with authenticity and ask for the same in return. In my life and increasingly that of people I meet in a networked global ecosystem, leadership is a collaborative endeavour and life a series of gigs rather than a rise to the top in a monoculture. And as people go through organisations, quality feedback is in increasingly short supply and often is substituted by a misguided collusion with “leadership” behaviour. Recognising that you need support is the first step to being able to create the heart to heart relationships that are so important to me, and being prepared to prompt mutual feedback is a critical part of that.
I’m still on my journey, and some of these have always been instincts. But the inspiration I have found from my contact with Ikeda’s organisation has enabled me to articulate them loud and proud – hopefully to good effect – in every aspect of my life.