Whole Life Leadership

October 24, 2016

The work of Thriving Edge is built on a philosophy called Whole Life Leadership. Whole Life Leadership is an enlightened approach to success that values people and their fulfillment. It honors the whole person across all realms of life and seeks to bring alignment and harmony between personal needs and wishes, family, work, and social involvement. It is a perspective for integrating personal leadership in one’s own life, family leadership, and leadership within any team, group, or organization.

Instead of defining success only through external goals like numbers, awards, and achievements, Whole Life Leadership considers internal goals, too. And it does so not in a cynical manner, dangling internal goals like meaning and satisfaction in a manipulative way merely as a reward for reaching external goals.

Whole Life Leadership understands internal goals are the most important to people. It also understands that people often feel nudged or even pressured to accept someone else’s definition of success based on external achievements and rewards. In this philosophy, each person defines success on their own terms based on what they deeply value and on what will give them the opportunity to use their strengths to express and honor those values.

Whole Life Leadership values internal goals and is committed to the belief that people who are experiencing meaningful inner rewards that create fulfillment in their lives will be more successful in achieving external goals they value, for themselves and for any type of team they work with. Notice the relationship. It’s not that achieving external goals will generally create more fulfillment. It’s that knowing how to create meaning and experience fulfillment enhances a person’s ability to achieve success pursuing external goals.

We don’t create meaning and enjoyment chasing external success. We create them by committing to inner success. And that generates the motivation, creativity, agility, and resilience to accomplish challenging external goals.

Implicit in this model of Whole Life Leadership is the view of each person as a leader throughout life, from young childhood through the elderly years, as well as across life in various roles and settings. Leadership is approached through a developmental lens, acknowledging that strengths, skills, and other abilities related to leadership are relevant at all ages and can be nurtured over time. This developmental lens also acknowledges that wisdom and character, key qualities of high-performing leaders, are being cultivated throughout life.

Understanding this provides parents with a framework for considering the development of their children’s wisdom and character as they design their family culture and intentionally build engaged, supportive relationships with their children that promotes autonomy. The same approach applies to schools and organizations that work with children and adolescents, pointing to ways to promote a culture that encourages the development of wisdom and character through engaged, mentorship based relationships.

Whole Life Leadership expands the view of who is a leader and what leadership entails. In this philosophy, the “leader without followers” is in the same general role as the head of an enormous organization. The “leader without followers” category includes a person starting a small part-time business on their own, the artist creating or performing artistic works, and the graduate student in charge of a challenging project such as a masters thesis or doctoral dissertation. It also includes a person’s relationship to their own career, since they are responsible for guiding it to reach their desired goals.

If you’re wondering how a person directing their own project or guiding the direction of their own life fits in the same category of Whole Life Leader as a person responsible for leading a huge organization, it’s because of the overlap of many of the categories of what leadership entails. Leadership includes many functions, and not all of them will be required or expressed in everyone leadership role. In this philosophy of leadership, there are multiple qualities and abilities we can develop to become more effective and engaged leaders. I call them Leadership Agilities. What follows won’t be a comprehensive review of these agilities, but a good overview to make the concept clear.

In enlightened models of organizational leadership, there is a lot of focus on the role of leader as helping put the right people in the right roles and then supporting those people as they find the way to do their best work. There is a related concept of facilitating the development of cohesive, high-functioning teams. And there is the understanding that a leader can most deeply affect engagement, performance, and outcome by promoting a culture within the organization that values certain qualities and brings people together. There are Leadership Agilities related to leading in this way.

In some leadership roles it is expected that the leader will be a high performer in the area they lead. In others it’s not required. A high level of ability and expertise in the work being led is a Leadership Agility that is not necessary in all leadership roles. A Chief Medical Officer is expected to be a respected and capable physician. The CEO of a healthcare organization may not need that expertise. The Chief Financial Officer needs to be a high performer in terms of understanding accounting, finance, and the flow of money, but can do so in a company that produces products where they have no expertise.

Even the Chief Executive Officer may not be a high performer in the kind of work the company does. When Alan Mulally took the helm at Ford Motor Company, he had a background leading a manufacturing business but in a different industry, aerospace. He was not the role model for designing or manufacturing automobiles and could not provide his employees with specific tips. However, as a highly performing leader, he knew how to guide them to connect with resources and come up with solutions in ways they hadn’t been able to do on their own.

The key quality of leadership is the ability to develop a vision of how something can be created or improved and then design the path to bring that vision to life. Whether the leader is the no-followers type who is doing all or most of the work, doing part of the work with a supportive team, or the head of a huge organization where others are doing the primary work of the business, the leader needs to have a clear vision of the better future the work is creating.

And the leader needs to understand what it takes to create that future and be able to guide the work to completion. A Whole Life Leader does this with great consideration and respect for the other people involved and even the resources being used, because their expanded vision helps them see the impact of the work on the future well-being of the people doing the work — including themselves. Developing and holding a clear and compelling vision to guide work with respect for all the people involved is a fundamental Leadership Agility.

Another Leadership Agility is being able to communicate that vision to others in a way that inspires them to ally with the vision and commit to working to make it real. For the leader of an organization, these skills require communicating to a variety of people in a variety of roles, so they can be more demanding and require more evolved communication skills. But even for the small business owner or personal project leader, it is necessary to be able to communicate the vision to people who are in support roles. Any time the work of other people is required to bring the leader’s vision to life, sharing the vision in a compelling way is essential.

Whole Life Leaders design work that is not harsh or overly demanding or draining. Their vision for a better future has plenty of room for a vision of a healthy, engaged, and holistically well current situation for people doing the work to create that future. Their leadership is in service of their vision, and their vision is in service of the betterment of the world, including the betterment of those they lead, so it shows great respect for their well-being across all areas of their lives.

This is just a taste of the spectrum of Leadership Agilities presented in an overview of the philosophy of Whole Life Leadership. There’s plenty more to come! You’ll find Leadership Agilities and Whole Life Leadership integrated into this blog, into Thriving Edge News, and into the workbooks and programs I create.

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