From Hero to Host

Leadership for me has been a journey of self-discovery and trial and error as I found myself unexpectedly becoming the leader of a large, growing and highly innovative business. As a young leader in my 20s and 30s, I definitely adopted the top-down “my way or the highway” style. Telling people what to do came naturally to me, because I was sure I was right, was very fixed in my views, and assumed that if I ran the world things would just be better. My personality naturally drew me to leadership roles because I could get things done faster and better than almost anyone, I never took ‘no’ for an answer, and moved mountains with a bulldozer approach – get out of the way or you will be run over. This style unfortunately completely failed to recognize the value of other’s opinions and the benefit of teaching others to lead rather than doing everything myself.

This “lone-ranger” or “hero” approach allowed me to be extremely successful as the leader of a small business if one measures success purely in financial and growth terms, but much less so if building relationships is a measure of success. Since a hero needs a victim, heroic or lone-ranger leaders force their team members in the victim role in the “hero/victim/villain” drama triangle and keep them from growing to reach their potential. Being a heroic leader is ironically an incredible disservice to the people whom you lead. (For more on the drama triangle, I highly recommend the book “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership” and the video as well.)

“Slowly shifting from a fixed view and the need to be right allowed me to become open and curious, admit where I had been wrong so that new ideas could come in to view, and my own ability to learn and change skyrocketed.”

At this point, I hadn’t studied much about leadership, but set about reading every leadership book I could get my hands on and attended every leadership meeting that I could get to. I knew that as the founder of the organization culture change had to start with me, and as a result of years of sometimes painful looking in the mirror have transformed my leadership style from “hero” to “host”, and see my role now as the conductor of the orchestra, but no longer need to play all the instruments myself.

Only from this new perspective could I see the value in others’ opinions and truly engage the energy and genius of my entire team. Slowly shifting from a fixed view and the need to be right allowed me to become open and curious, admit where I had been wrong so that new ideas could come in to view, and my own ability to learn and change skyrocketed. My role became less about dragging the organization forward but gently leading from behind and empowering others to become their best selves. This entirely changed our culture and affected every relationship, particularly the relationship with our patients. The old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship with the all-knowing expert telling the poor patient what is best for her is another example of the Hero-Victim misperception. Becoming a servant leader also meant becoming a servant doctor, which involved a complete mind-shift towards viewing the patient as an equal participant in the relationship and the one primarily responsible for her own life.

As I became more skilled in mindfulness and recognized its importance in business and performance enhancement, I sought out formal training first at Naropa University’s “Authentic Leadership” program in Colorado, then through the “Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute” in San Francisco (originating at Google) and through the “Conscious Leadership Group”. Now as a certified mindfulness/ self-awareness/emotional intelligence/ meditation teacher I have passed these teachings on to my senior leadership team. Small changes such as putting all our phones in a basket in the middle of the conference table for all meetings, engaging in short mindful listening exercises with our colleagues, and starting all meetings with a mindful minute or check-in about how we are each feeling have resulted in remarkable changes in the engagement and trust within our teams.