Last Friday we concluded the very first Leadership SPA (Smart Power Academy). We had 33 women leaders that range from VP’s of multibillion-dollar companies to founders of growing businesses. We had senior managers and directors and engineers and lawyers. We had women who are at the top of their careers as well as those who are looking for new starts. But by the end of the 2½ days we had one powerful team of inspired women leaders. They were united by the trust that comes from sharing mutual vulnerabilities and genuine aspirations.
They were united by the common knowledge that women have a different source of power then men and that amplifying that power can change not only their lives and their work but also the world. Yes I would have to say…. it was mind blowing. And that’s what the SPA is really designed to do…blow up old-thinking minds with a new mindset of Smart Power. Smart Power is a potent synthesis of the best parts of hard power (goal setting and accountability) and the best parts of soft power (empathy and teamwork) that enable great things to be achieved.
Our most respected president, Abraham Lincoln was a master of Smart Power. So was Mother Teresa. Smart Power is the tool set virtually every leader has used who has accomplished great things without brute force… often without any external assets or institutional power base. Smart Power begins with the new mental model of how people are inspired, directed, and developed in the pursuit of a common purpose. But just a new way of thinking about leadership is not enough to bring about fast results. And fast results are what we need today.
What’s also needed are very specific science-based leadership behaviors that research has proven to both focus attention and ignite effort. The result is positive innovation. These are innovations that address non-trivial problems. For business leaders it’s what fuels high-growth, high-margin and high-energy brands by creating value that actually has human value. For social leaders it dissolves the false choices most often advanced that pit the common good against personal freedoms…left vs. right. Smart Power is not the leadership of compromise but rather the leadership of optimize. Sounds great, right? It is.
And brain research creates an interesting wrinkle. Women are far more likely to quickly understand and adopt Smart Power as a way of leading because they’re able to deal with complexity and resolve short-term urgencies with long-term success. What inspires me is that women’s brains are more capable of thinking about money and meaning in the same thought. Perhaps that’s why women are hugely more successful at being micro-entrepreneurs around the world than men. Women everywhere tend to go into business or build their careers to serve their families, community and society rather than most chest–beating males who crave success to prove they’re the baddest gorillas in the jungle.
So if women are better wired for leadership in today’s world what is holding them back? Unfortunately it’s their brain design. Women are not only wired for complex leadership they are also designed to help, solve problems, and create harmony. This makes women vulnerable to spending their vital energy helping other people achieve their goals. But that’s not what’s needed. We don’t need high-capacity women like Sheryl Sandberg wasting their time helping Mark Zuckerberg get richer by making Facebook an advertising platform. She’s “leaning in” to the wrong thing. What we know from social science studies about what creates deep life satisfaction is that you will never be happy spending your life achieving other people’s goals. And that leads us to the one thing each one of us must know if we are going to make our difference and enjoy our lives. It is so simple. You must KNOW what your true self desires and say NO to everything else.
The first law of leadership is that you must have a personal vision of a desired future. You must have an agenda. Great leaders do not derive vision from the collective minds of confused people. Great leaders nurture visions that come from the inner reflection of their intrinsic selves. I am not just making it up because it sounds inspiring. We now know from research that daily self-reflection on the long-term difference that you want to make leads you to be crystal-clear on what’s most important to you. That clarity will enable you to see opportunities that were previously invisible. Your vision will also inspire you to learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to bring your vision to reality.
That clarity will also motivate you to seek others who are aligned with your vision to form a dedicated team of people with diverse strengths who will do the impossible. This is exactly the path of Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hannah Jones (Nike), Beth Comstock (GE) and the Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Of course we all know that great leaders have great visions. What’s difficult for women is to give themselves permission and to take the time to nurture their true selves so that they can “hear” what their hearts and minds most desire.
Neuro-science confirms that women are wired for self-doubt and self-editing that makes their confidence leak out of their minds like a bucket with holes in the bottom. Fortunately this leakage can be plugged and clarity and conviction can be gained. What’s required is self-awareness and courage. At the SPA we did a TRUE Self exercise that combines the feedback of others with a simple understanding of your unique design, drives and desires. Liberation begins when you understand that you are perfectly designed to make your difference. This not only elevates how you approach your work but also the work you choose to do. This becomes the basis of ME, Inc., which is your 40-year career. After all, we spend about 100,000 hours of our lives working, sometimes for money other times for meaning, so it makes no sense to waste your talent and sweat.
Of course it’s true, sometimes we have to work for money to make sure the gears of our life don’t grind to a halt. But as I promised all the participants, research confirms that you can change virtually everything in your life in 24 months. So the question is if you do nothing new will a life you’re living two years from now be the life you most desire? Will the work that you’ll be doing be the work your designed to do? Are you willing to invest in yourself enough to change what you need to change and grow in ways you need to grow? To make it simple, the one thing we all need to be both happy and successful is to be clear and calm.
Clear on what our TRUE Self is asking for and calm so that we are not flooded with stress and negative emotions that deplete our power. Throughout the Smart Power Academy we took time to exercise, meditate, reflect, and write about what new models and new mindsets were challenging us to do. We practiced what it means to be both passionate and calm simultaneously. And we formed Genius Circles of mutual support to help sustain the new commitments that were made.
As we reviewed the feedback from all the participants this morning what made the SPA extraordinary was the combination of self-insight and practical, research-based easy-to-do leadership behaviors that turbocharge women’s confidence, amplify their influence, inspire innovation, and drive meaningful results…all without table- banging insistence or a trace of whining. It’s true, all the leadership tips and processes are useful yet we should never forget that leadership blossoms from the soil of our souls. Research overwhelmingly confirms that great leaders, the leaders we most admire are clear and calm.
They KNOW what’s important and say NO to everything else. It’s knowing that creates clarity and saying NO that creates calm. The feedback from the SPA experience was overwhelmingly positive. My team just had a meeting that ended an hour ago. These inspired women are creating a plan to attract a national sponsor and worldwide outreach to teach Smart Power to women and girls around the world.
Hell, we might even teach a few men! If you want to know more, have some ideas or know someone who can help just send us an e-mail. In the meantime… Get CLEAR and be CALM.