Welcome to The Inward Journey of Leadership, the most important journey of your life. Curiously, while each of us is on this journey, most of us are not especially aware of it, and, as a result, we are not deliberate active learner participants. We are unmindful, often directionless, distracted travelers following the herd. Not only do we fail to stop and smell the roses, we miss out on life’s most important teachings and we fail to discover who we really are (see Why Do We Miss Out on the Inward Journey?).
I have spent my adult life in academic medicine. My day to day work has included operating on and taking care of cancer patients, conducting research, and teaching students and residents. I have had the honor and privilege of serving as a Chair of a Surgery Department, and subsequently as a Vice-President for Health Affairs/Dean of Medicine at two distinguished universities. Like you, I have witnessed a shift in focus from service to reward, from relationships to transactions, not just in health care but across multiple industries including education. This shift has wounded the foundational values our country was built upon, stressed our domestic and international relationships, and damaged our credibility. Simultaneously, it has summoned the very best, and sometimes the very worst, of who we can be as individuals and as a nation.
Most of us are very much aware that the current trajectory of our planet is unsustainable. But our challenges are gut-wrenching, daunting, and sometimes imponderable. So, we tell ourselves that we are not responsible or that there’s nothing much we can do. We let ourselves off the hook by saying that they have been around forever. It’s easy to rationalize things away by saying, “It’s not my problem.” It’s easy to attribute the unworkability of our world to “just the way it is.”
Most people understand leadership as being about a person in charge who leads with charisma and authority. One of the corollaries of this thinking is that if the leader pulls the appropriate strategic levers and pushes the right operational buttons, organizational performance will change, and individual change will follow. This thinking puts the cart before the horse. Sustainable success begins with transforming people first by helping them revise their worldviews and frames of reference, a process that requires the inward journey of leadership. Reinvent yourself, reinvent your organization, reinvent the world.
There is an agonizing cry today for a different kind of world. Most of us sense it as a disquieting cry from afar when it is really a call from deep within. It is an appeal for help, a plea to step up. It is a leadership call because it summons each of us to join hands, move the world forward, and improve the human condition. While this call may get our attention momentarily, perhaps through a touching television documentary on poverty or bigotry, our fleeting concern is overcome by other more pressing priorities: hitting that deadline at work, inking that deal, catching that plane, making that tee time. We shake our heads and tell each other that our world, a world rampant with bigotry, hate, greed, and injustice is in a sad state of affairs. But we do not heed the call.
Unless and until we embark on the inward journey of leadership (see How Do I Get Started on the Inward Journey?), we will lack the wisdom and will to tackle our most vexing challenges. As a result, the future will be little more than a continuation of past. Peter Block wrote, “If there is no transformation inside each of us, all the structural change in the world will have no impact on our institutions.”
To lead more effectively – to constructively change our organizations and our world – we must begin by changing how we think.
Our thinking ultimately influences how we perform. This new way of thinking and leading begins on the inside. When we make this shift, for many of us it will be like leading again for the first time.