Mark Sayers, the Australian theologian and futurist, believes that secularism has stolen our identity. Very few of us know who we truly are. We have lost our identity as individuals, and we have bought into the narrative of the mainstream capitalistic marketing machine. We are told who we are. The reason we are told who we are is that the secular utopian narrative tries to sell us an identity. If we buy into that identity, we can be controlled to buy the lifestyle and produce of the capitalistic, secular, utopian promise.
What is this promise we so eagerly buy into? It is a promise that the good life consists of a wide variety of options and choices, from products to TV series, to services, to whatever you can think of. The best news is that these options are available instantly. Therefore, you need to be careful about how you choose to find the right option for you. Don’t be in a rush to commit too readily; rather keep your options open. It is promoted that a life of low commitment will keep you free from premature commitments. This utopian world has now led to millions suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOBO (fear of better options). Because of all the options and low levels of commitment, individuals do not take responsibility to respond to these options, as it is so overwhelming to choose the perfect option. We end up with our lives in constant limbo.
As leaders, we need to admit that we have lost our identities. The people we lead have identified themselves with this utopian secular dream, and they do not know who they are either. The Servant Leader sees this cultural dynamic playing out and, therefore, deliberately lives by the principle of authenticity.
It is problematic to be authentic if you do not know who you are. Brene Brown, in her book “Daring Greatly,” talks about how difficult it is for people to be who they truly are, and instead, they will choose to become who others want them to be. Brown talks about the difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in happens when we become who others want us to be, to get acceptance. Belonging is different. We belong when we can be who we truly are, and get accepted as is. The Servant Leader lives by the principle of authenticity, assisting their teams in figuring out who they are, and then providing a place for them to belong.
HOW DO WE BEGIN LIVING AUTHENTICALLY?
Servant Leaders live the principle of authenticity by practicing reflection. Reflection is a life-changing practice, and servant leaders know this. Our world is a world on speed. Hurry and rush are a big part of our lives. The only way to escape this is by practicing reflection. Ignatius of Loyola started the Jesuit order within the Catholic Church. He taught a practice or a prayer to his followers in the 1500’s that has changed my life. This practice is called the Examen (pronounced ekˈsaː.men). The Examen is a reflective prayer at the end of your day, which consists of two reflective questions:
- Where in my day today, did I feel alive, did I feel the presence of God?
- Where in my day today, did I feel life being drained out of me, separated from God?
The first question has helped me to reflect on things in my day that I enjoy, that works for me, and so I have learned a lot about my values, my talent, and my passions. I have learned which people I work best with and which aspects of my life truly bring healthy fulfilment. The second question has helped me identify my weaknesses, my bad habits, and my behaviours that hurt my relationships. After reflecting on question two at the end of my day, I know where and to who I need to go and apologise and do some repair work on a specific relationship.
Without these questions, guiding my reflection, I would not have learned as much about myself and how I buy into ideas and things that are truly destructive. Only by taking the time to reflect and answering the Examen questions did I grow in authenticity. The Servant Leader sets a daily time in her/his diary to reflect on their day, actions, and relationships. This practice helps the Servant Leader to become more aware.
The Servant Leader also encourages their followers to get into the practice of reflection. Various studies show the advantages of reflection. Here are a few:
- Better focus at work and at home.
- More intimate relationships.
- Listening improves.
- More productive meetings.
- Improved overall preparedness.
- Better health – lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and stress.
- Better sleep.
- More engaged leadership.
- Higher levels of inspiration.
The advantages are clear and convincing. But why do so many leaders still avoid the practice of reflection?
THE FEAR OF TIME ALONE
Amy Morin has written one of the best-selling books on mental strength. It is called: “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”. One of the Thirteen things Amy refers to in her book is: “Mentally Strong People Do Not Fear Time Alone”. Amy talks about solitude phobia as a major reason why people struggle with anxiety and mental health. Amy lists the following aspects of solitude phobia:
- With spare time, the last thing you consider is time to think.
- Time on your own is boring.
- The TV or music is always on in the background.
- You are uncomfortable with silence.
- Time alone makes you feel lonely.
- As soon as you are alone or waiting, you take out your phone.
- You have never used a journal to write down your thoughts.
Many of us struggle with these points mentioned, and we fill our days with activity, that does not necessarily add value to our days and lives. Listen to these advantages of solitude:
- Research shows that it increases productivity at the office.
- It increases empathy.
- It sparks creativity.
- It is good for mental health.
- It offers restoration.
- It leads to awareness, which allows us to be more authentic.
Servant Leaders make sure that they and their team members make time for reflection. During times of reflection, Servant Leaders become aware of what is truly happening in and around them, which helps them live more authentic lives. How many times have we heard: “This person is so real, so honest, so in touch.” This will be an authentic individual who makes time to reflect in order to develop the awareness necessary for a life of greater consistency. This consistency will lead to a more authentic life, which leads to superior leadership performance.
A SLIGHT CONCERN
Authenticity has become a buzzword for the last decade, and Bill George has done great work in his research on Authentic Leadership. But we have noticed with many of our clients how individuals tend to overshare and communicate in a raw manner, in the name of authenticity. You can imagine that the concept of authenticity can be a double-edged sword. Lisa Rosh states: “Self-disclosure can backfire if it is hastily conceived, poorly timed and inconsistent with organizational norms, hurting your reputation, alienating employees, fostering distrust, and hindering teamwork.” Servant Leaders tend to create a healthy cultural context for people to self-disclose and assists their team members in doing it in such a way that leads to increased trust and team building.
HOW TO BEGIN?
We have found some very practical ways for our clients to grow in authenticity. The first step is usually a set of questions that team members need to answer in a group setting. These questions are tailored in such a way that they start of pretty simple, but as you go down the list, it assists you to reflect on your own life as you answer these questions in the group. These questions also help individuals in the group to share in an appropriate manner, which leads to healthy knowledge of each other in the team.
A next step might be a weekly check-in meeting, where people share a short summary of their week and use the questions of Ignatius of Loyola to share their experiences. Some of our clients have bought their employees journals to write down what they learn as they reflect. They bring these journals to the weekly check-in. This should only last 30 minutes as it is a check-in and not a therapy session.
Finally, Servant Leaders should ask their team members great questions to help them reflect. Some of the top Servant Leaders we work with have the ability to challenge their people with questions that stimulate reflection. Raising awareness is offered as a gift as it sets the team member free to become who they truly are. It is a practice that leads to an authentic life.
Author and Contributor: Hermann Du Plessis – Founder & Director @ TTLI (LinkedIn Bio https://www.linkedin.com/in/hermann-du-plessis-01b17618/)