Published September 16, 2013
Americans are obsessed with doing. We like to be in constant motion even if we don’t always have a clear sense of exactly where we are going. As long as we are moving, we feel productive. But this steady movement is often unnecessary and unproductive, and professor Hitendra Wadhwa from Columbia University, is trying to change this mentality.
He founded the Institute for Personal Leadership to modify the way budding young leaders view leadership. His goal is to “invite people to dissolve boundaries” and learn to practice their core values in all circumstances. He says there is a “hunger in our society for self-awareness” and the practice of introspection can greatly benefit America’s emerging young business leaders.
The business world and pop psychology have long tried to create false boundaries between our inner-selves and our business-selves with the belief that trying to separate the two is somehow healthy, explains Wadhwa. But our experiences, values, emotions and beliefs all act to shape how we think and act across all circumstances. He points out that you just can’t separate your inner-self from your business-self and expect to function in a healthy way.
Wadhwa details five pillars of personal leadership that we should all strive to embrace in order to achieve a more holistic and fulfilling life.
Pillar No.1: Purpose. Great leaders have a hunger for defining their purpose, which in many cases evolves significantly over time. They know who they are, what they want, and they are guided by a strong sense of their own values. They aren’t held back by their ego and have have a willingness to do whatever it takes to make an impact even if it means relinquishing power.
Wadhwa encourages aspiring leaders to ask the following question: Do I have a direction and am I being true to myself and my core values? All too often the direction we are pursuing was set for us and not by us. Family, social pressures, and cultural expectations can all act to point us in directions that may not align with our own sense of purpose. Be sure your purpose is yours.
Pillar No.2: Wisdom. When faced with tough decisions, you need to be able to pull yourself into and away from your emotions and thoughts to have clarity. According to Wadhwa, wisdom is about mindset and the ability to “harness your emotions and thoughts to allow yourself to be at your peak performance at all times” regardless of the circumstances.
When it comes to mindset, we have all formed views of the world that are shaped by our limited experiences. The challenge is being aware of how these limitations influence the way we make decisions. Wadhwa believes we should all be willing to test our own assumptions on a regular basis. He advises we ask ourselves the simple question: Does your mindset serve you well?
Pillar No.3: Self-awareness. One of our greatest challenges in the Western world is that we focus so much on our external identity and not enough on or inner-experience. In order to truly harness your purpose and wisdom, you have to be mindful. It’s important to be able to experience tranquility and peace, particularly in times of turbulence.
Making sound decisions requires extracting oneself from both internal and external distractions. Meditation can help with this, as an entrée to the practice, Wadhwa encourages his students to start with focused breathing exercises with an emphasis on deep breathing and breath awareness.
Pillar No.4: Love. Wadhwa’s not talking about romantic love, but that leaders need the desire to win through others and genuinely take joy in their success. The American business world can be so vicious and cutthroat that managers don’t even realize how counterproductive their behaviors really are because they seem normal in our culture.
Successful mangers must think like coaches and take the mindset of winning through others. When it comes to techniques for practicing this form of love, he recommends starting by giving 100% to the present moment. Seek out ways to find success in the success of others, by immersing yourself in the moment, you will be practicing love.
Pillar No.5: Growth. “We aren’t perfect and always need to be sculpting ourselves,” notes Wadhwa. Most great leaders have had monumental failures, but they persevered. This ability to rebound stems from their willingness to learn and adjust. They view failure as opportunity and always seek to better themselves and their circumstances.
Wadhwa advises that you pay attention to your environment and those around you. You are a product of your surroundings, so be sure to surround yourself with positive influences. At the end of the day, you are the author of your own life.