Start Your Leadership Journey…Right Where You Are

Bill George

Start-Your-Leadership-Journey-imageMy new book Discover Your True North is about your life. Yes, you, reader — whatever your challenges, your most fundamental influences, the book asks you to think deeply about them. Why? Because above all, authentic leaders know themselves. Over the course of the journey on which Discover Your True North takes you, you’ll come to know yourself more deeply than you did before. You’ll fully examine your life story — starting right where you are.

It’s not easy work. Delving into the treasure trove of your past means recovering both its pearls and its pains, and many people find it difficult to look carefully at those challenging experiences. But as you’ll learn in Chapter 1, examining how you got here is necessary if you want to discover where you’re going. You must do that hard work if you want the most fulfilling, rewarding life you can have, both as a person and as a leader.

So get started.

Affected, Not Defined

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

Martha Washington

Successful leaders have learned a secret: No matter how profoundly the events of your life have affected you, they do not have to define you. You are not a failure because you’ve failed once; you are not unlucky because you grew up in unlucky conditions. Leaders don’t construct their identities around what has happened to them. Instead, they focus on what they’ve decided to do about it.

Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, grew up in poverty watching his father become “broken” from doing hard labor for little money. There was no hope of more opportunity in his household. This history became a source of inspiration to him as he founded Starbucks, where he wanted to create a company culture that could lift people out of the despair his father experienced. Schultz’s challenging childhood didn’t define him — it fueled him to be a great leader. He knew he was much more than the sum of his circumstances.

What Psychologists Say

Modern psychology agrees. In the 1950’s, a new set of psychologists began to differentiate themselves from the pack. At the time, the predominant school of psychology was behaviorist, and upheld the idea that humans are largely shaped by conditioned responses to external stimuli — in other words, defined by what happens to them. Cognitive psychologists, on the other hand, began to argue that how humans think, feel and believe about what happens to them is much more important.

Cognitive psychology includes the notion of schema: frameworks by which humans organize information. These frameworks are at the heart of how we make decisions, form new thoughts and beliefs, and carry out actions in the world. Very often, a person’s schema is shaped by challenging circumstances in ways that limit him or her.

Re-Framing Your Life

You can avoid this trap, but only if you know you’ve fallen into it. You have to identify your schema in order to change it. “The difference with authentic leaders lies in the way they frame their stories.” Leaders are able to analyze their life stories, identify the thoughts or beliefs or feelings that are limiting them, and change accordingly.

What is your schema? What frameworks might be holding you back? Even successful people can still be hampered if they haven’t fully confronted the most challenging aspects of their life stories. Howard Schultz, for instance, created a great company because he finally confronted his bitterness toward his father and learned to feel compassion, instead. Starbucks is known for having healthcare coverage for all employees, including part-time. This value is directly related to Schultz’s insights into his father’s experience, and by building it into the foundation of his company, he has created one of the world’s most prominent brands.

All people have lessons embedded in their life stories, just waiting to be discovered and learned. Like Howard Schultz, yours might lead you in surprising and successful directions — but you have to find them first. So if you’re wondering where to start your journey toward authentic leadership, don’t worry. Just start right where you are. Your own life will lead you in the right direction, if you let it.

Learn more about this topic in Chapter 1: Your Life Story

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