Friday, April 15, 2016

filling your leadership cup

Clay is molded to form a cup 
yet only the space within 
allows the cup to hold water 
- Lao Tzu

One of the privilieges I have is to teach in The Concordia MBA, where I am getting ready to finish the first leadership class in the curriculum: Leadership of Self.  At the end of class this past week, we had a fascinating discussion on the proverb above (taken from the Chinese spiritual classic Tao Te Ching).  As we talked about its meaning, it became clear that leaders often lack the "space" needed to think and otherwords, the "space" to get filled up.  Just as the cup cannot function as a cup until it is filled with water, so one will have a hard time leading unless they can fill their personal leadership cup.

As I considered this idea further, it struck me that there are two items that keep leaders from filling up their cup:

  1. Lack of quiet time to think and dream (which really means they are too busy keeping busy)
  2. Hubris (which really means an unwillingness to allow one's own cup to be filled)
Leaders understand that there is always too much to do - the multiple demands from various constituencies can (and will) keep people in leadership positions busy day in and day out.  The bad news is there are only 24 hours in a day...the good news is that there are only 24 hours in a day (and that holds true for everyone). One of the tasks of leadership is to sort through everything that needs to get done, understand what can get done and what can't get done, and be able to go home at night knowing that there are items left for tomorrow that will (or won't) get done.  This is not an excuse for not executing and following up on responsibilities - it is a reality that leaders must face if they are to function well in their roles.
Because of this inherent busyness, putting time into one's schedule for quiet and solitude is important - just as important as getting that next email out to an important client.  While one's frenetic activity is that which often gets them into the chair of leadership, slowing down so that the cup can be filled is crucial in a leadership position.

As much as people want to talk about building time into one's schedule so that the cup can be filled, of even more concern should be the person whose cup cannot be filled because of their hubris.  This is not about time or scheduling or solitude - this is about an attitude that can easily be found among those who move into leadership roles.  The scary aspect of this is that it often goes unnoticed, both by leaders themselves and those around them.  Hubris plays itself out in so many different fashions that to name it is almost impossible.  If one's leadership cup is already full of themselves, then there is no room for new ideas or thoughts to enter.  

How might a leader detect this?  There are no easy answers here, no checklists I can provide.  Perhaps this is why many leaders hire a coach, or attend regular counseling sessions (the paradox of this is that those who hire a coach and attend regular counseling sessions have already moved beyond hubris).  Often times it takes a tragedy of sorts to bring a person to the self-realization that their hubris is getting in the way of their leadership.  It is my prayer that those who lead can find a way to empty themselves so that their leadership cup can be filled and they will lead in a way that provides meaning to themselves and others.

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