The simplest definition of a leader;
the person who breathes deepest in a crisis.
Several years back, my dear friend Michael Grinder explained this to me in his usual uncomplicated fashion. At the time I thought wow, that’s a killer soundbite/tweet but it took a few more years for this to truly sink in; as such is Michael’s teaching — it tends to surface months, sometimes years after the fact. I guess when you’ve been studying the science of education and non-verbals for over four decades, as he has, you’ve got a few Jedi-learning tricks in your kit bag.
Well this week I was reminded of this wisdom, over a house-made organic almond-milk latte at a cafe in Byron Bay. That cup of coffee cost me —outrageously— eight dollars and fifty cents.
Yep, that’s not a typo. Eight-freakin’-buck-fitty!
But it turns out the value was immeasurable. But more on the cost of Byron Bay coffee later…
Y’see even after being exposed to Michael’s well-thought beliefs on leadership, I genuinely still believed the leader was the smartest person in the room. Not IQ smart, but more streetsmart; a combination of emotional and social intelligence. That’s a leader for sure.
Oh, and a leader needed to have hustle. And lots of it. Bustling their way through a day with a voracious energy that swept everything (and everyone) with them. That’s powerful stuff.
And don’t forget certainty. Having an unshakeable belief around ‘the why’. A fiercely held mindset around the purpose of our work and its impact upon the world. How could people not follow someone like that?
Streetsmarts, hustle, certainty. They’re all really important qualities. Heck, you’re probably thinking gawd, I’d like my boss to show me a bit more of them stuffs from time to time!
And I’m still convinced I’m right. But I’m here to tell you, Michael Grinder is more right. Righterer, I suppose. This deep breathing breathing business. It’s the real deal.
And y’know why it’s so damn powerful? It’s not the fact you are breathing deeply; it’s the process you went through to find the calmness to allow you to breathe deeply. That’s the key leadership skill.
Great leaders need much more than streetsmarts, hustle and certainty. They need a healthy sense of detachment; this shouldn’t be confused with not caring —but more being able to objectively reason that things are never as good or as bad as the seem. Thing just are.
Whether it’s labelled Stoicism, Enlightenment or even Mindfulness, the leader who can rationally see any given situation (and importantly the emotions that come with it) as simply being ‘just is’ — well, that’s the magic trick that precedes breathing deep.
Now back to Byron Bay and that coffee. Eight dollars for a f*cking coffee! Can you believe it?
The truth is any outrage I experience is simply mine to own.
The price the cafe sets on their coffee is what it is. It’s written on the recycled artisan paper menu. I can pay it or not. And the coffee doesn’t care less either. It too, just is.
It’s simply the voice in my own head I need to observe be curious about and ultimately, quiet.
Want to find the calm one in your office when everything is an absolute sh*tstorm? That’ll be the one practicing that detachment from the incessant conversation rattling inside their heads. Make no mistake, it’ll still be happening, but they won’t let it drive their decisions and actions.
I hope you’ve seen the message in this post. If you’re frustrated, cheesed off, flummoxed or exasperated by the actions of someone at work…well, that’s all you, not them. Perhaps your place of work is going through a major transformation or restructure (who isn’t?) and tension and uncertainty are high. But the stress you might feel, the anxiety that lives in your gut; well that’s yours to own too.
So if you find yourself busy blaming a particular someone or even the whole world for your ails, then you’ve forgotten that all that stress —it comes from you, not them. And you’re certainly not much of a chance at this deep breathing caper that great leaders demonstrate as a regular practice.