I am often asked what I see as being the greatest challenges. I do not like this question. I am not looking for hurdles, but for possibilities and opportunities. Instead of focusing on what separates us, the focus should be on what connects and unites us. We should focus on the possible.
For starters you – as a leader – should define your style and outline a maximum of two or three values that define you and what you stand for. Stand up for something, something you are enthusiastic about. Carry this vision to the people with your full power. We need people with passionate, honest and positive visions. If you show spirit, employees and citizens will be more likely to forgive your mistakes.
We are all shaped by our environment, origin and past. Nothing is more important than being self-critical; questioning our point of view and our opinions over and over again. ‘Why do I see it this way?’ ‘On what assumptions are my opinions built?’ We all have biases. Find them, take a different perspective and work out why you think the way that you do. Find people with different opinions and try to understand their point of view. Free yourself from dogmas and your own biases.
Respect people with less authority
I have met many people who earn far too much in relation to what they have achieved. The sad thing is that they often behave accordingly and take themselves way too seriously.
How do you deal with the young person at the checkin counter in the hotel or the waitress in the restaurant if something doesn’t go your way? When you are standing in the priority line at the airport, you don’t have to act like an asshole if you can’t get straight through or if you find someone from economy in front of you.
These character traits are often replicated in managers when dealing with their employees. My basic tenet is clear: I am not interested in your doctoral and professional degrees, titles and roles, annual income or ego. I am interested in how you deal with people with the least authority. I don’t want to live in a world where ‘being nice’ is a sign of weakness, when that’s exactly what good leadership should be about.
It’s all luck. Yes, there’s certainly a lot of hard work involved, but at the end of the day your life is a cosmic lottery of coincidences; that you were born (at all), what you have experienced, how your body is put together and so on. A series of unbelievable coincidences, both small and large. Don’t forget that when subject and ego take over – and when you think you are the one creative genius and believe you have mastery over something called free will. It is not so: life is a coincidence. Appreciate that and share that happiness with the people around you.
Do not focus on happiness
It’s not about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about being less unhappy. Happiness is a by-product. Keep yourself busy and aim to make other people happy and allow your happiness to find you. The Dalai Lama once said very aptly, ‘If it were possible to become free of negative emotions by risk-free insertion of an electrode, I would be the first patient – without compromising intelligence and critical mind.’ Technology makes many things possible, but we should be careful with it and ask ourselves what we really want.
The great ‘American dream’ does not work everywhere
Cartesian individualism, as practised in the USA, is not a universal model. We can only really enjoy lasting individual freedom if we invest in the common good. Many aphorisms, such as, ‘A team is only as strong as its weakest link,’ are repeated by experts. Even more important is the appreciation of normality. Create participatory cultures, promote togetherness and focus on your input. If you follow these steps, you will also end up with good output. An extraordinary year or an extraordinary life will happen by itself if you learn to appreciate the wonders of the ordinary.
Be a teacher – share your knowledge
Lifelong learning and curiosity are the keys to success. Being a teacher will not only increase knowledge within your company, but also allows you to learn yourself. Experience-based learning is the basis for lasting personal development and change.
Deep squats for the brain and thinking hours
Good physical health is essential to cope with stress and should be the focus for managers in the twenty-first century. However, don’t forget to practise deep squats for the brain. At least one hour of thinking per week (or, better yet, every day) should be a fixture in your diary, a regular appointment, just like your visit to the gym.
Due to the rapid development of technology we are turning more and more into digital reaction junkies. The only way to break out of that is to set aside thinking time. Stay healthy for your hundred-year journey – your hardware must work – but rediscover the art of thinking. The symbiosis of heart and mind is essential.
The project is the boss
The idea of the ‘boss’ has had its day. Management today is shifting to algorithms, technology and smart tools. The project is now in charge. We are only as successful as the project is performing. Leadership is not only at the top, it is everywhere in teams and companies today. We just have to free this leader. Future leadership will be about shedding tears in moments of sadness, breaking into smiles and experiencing the joy of acquiring new knowledge or skills. It will be about the small and ordinary things that bring us to life.
It should be about the joy of tasting the fresh snow, the wonders of the polar clouds and the lights shining in the old wooden houses where families play a board game together. It should be about remembering that the little things are actually the big things and make all the difference. It should be about appreciating the ordinary and dealing with the people around you. In a world without a defined agenda or over-arching purpose, it is OK not to take yourself so seriously.
Written by leading authority on philosophy in business Anders Indset as part of Philosophy@Work: Reflections from the world’s leading business thinkers, published by Unbound on 18 August 2022.