I’ve been working on my new company’s vision and mission these last few weeks. No other strategic exercise takes you deeper into unexpected soul searching than this one, right? Funnily enough, I’ve learned that what I’m doing with my life is all about recycling. Recycling leadership worldwide, to be more exact. I’m even more amazed when I remind myself that the greatest trigger of my evolution into a radically new approach to leadership training was a man I met four years ago. Javier was recycling plastic waste into fashion accessories. He was grieving the slow painful death of his first, fifteen-year-old company.
He was both a crazy fool and a brave, awe inspiring genius. He still is, in fact. The day I met him I was stirred by a very deep calling to follow his streak. I too wanted to recycle the world’s trash, even if I didn’t actually manufacture anything tangible like a handbag or a pair of shoes. My trade was coaching. Intangible as they come! After my first executive development firm went belly up in 2009 I told myself I was done with building organizations.
I had tried it, learned a lot about myself, and now I wanted to be free to coach, train, write and create. I no longer wanted to be tied down by a team of people looking to me for direction, organization, motivation, yaddi-yaddi-yaddi-ya… But the future is full of surprises. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” is what they say, isn’t it? So yes, plenty of laughs were heard in Heaven that day. Because here I am, five years later, building away! And so I found myself drawing up power-point slides and drafting mission statements on post-it notes last week to define what it is we’re trying to achieve.
A last minute quick-and-dirty video-pitch for the upcoming TEDxCibeles event, themed “I’mpossible”, jolted me to my end result: We are recycling leadership worldwide. I am recycling!!! I’m cleaning out all the impurities from the limited, polluted interpretations of leadership our modern society puts up with: unlimited thirst for money, expectations of chronic success and corrupt addictions to power. I’m surfacing the primal origins and aboriginal understandings of leadership which were present among our earliest ancestors, and are still practiced by animals in Nature.
Yet when I insist on embracing the wild within ourselves, however, I’m not inventing anything new. I’m simply uncovering the timeless wisdom hidden underneath all our mind trash.
My first fundamental innovation is to democratize leadership: We are all leaders. Leadership is not about a few guys at the top of society. It concerns every human being. No matter your age, your gender, your race or your status in society as you read these lines. Every time you take responsibility for another person’s results, you are acting as a leader. Every parent leads his children. Every daughter leads her sick parents through hospitals. Every friend leads colleagues when driving them home. And because every human being is designed to lead, wherever you go, every other species on the planet will treat you as a leader. Whether you notice or not. My second innovation is to bring the body into executive conversations about leadership: It doesn’t happen in your head. It’s in your body. Your body talks to other bodies in order to decide who is in charge before you have time to come up with something interesting to say.
Your body is still a mammal animal. It is designed by millions of years of evolution to synchronize behavior immediately with other human bodies in order to survive every minute. But the true beauty of my challenging message lies in the third realization I’m about to share with you now: Even if you fully agree with the two ideas I just laid out for you, we are still far away from finding the authentic leader buried inside you. Because this definition of leadership is not something you understand with your head. It’s something you feel with your heart. And learning from the heart is a whole other battle in itself. For years I asked myself how the heck I was going to get executives to understand what I was talking about.
For years I feared I might be a crazy fool myself! Which is why I found myself engaging the invaluable help of our beloved Mother Nature. I discovered that horses, and wild dolphins, and silent treks up beautiful mountains overlooking magnificent canyons and rivers had an irresistible way of pulling up a wilder version of who we are. Nature brings out the powerful wild animal that still is the human body. Huge wild animals and open breath-taking landscapes make us cry, or swallow back our tears. They make us jump with joy, or shudder with fear.
They uncover all the impurities and trash we unknowingly carry in our hearts as they awaken our bodies out of civilized sleep. They train us exactly the same way youngsters were prepared to become adult warriors in tribal rituals all over the world. I’m not inventing anything new. I’m simply reminding us all what leadership used to be like thousands of years ago for humans, and still is for many animals.
Like every ancestral Shaman depicted in awe-inspiring pictures tens of thousands of years ago, the world is a perfect mirror image of what you carry in your heart. All you need to recycle your leadership is to focus on your body and learn its wild language of emotions, instincts and impulses. And if you can’t hear it or can’t understand it, you can always go back into Nature to feel how animals and trees shake you out of your unfeeling comfort zone, back through time to discover your ancestral animal self. All this may sound crazy to you. Trust me.
I’ve been called crazy by so many people so many times that I’m beginning to like it! Javier and I love to fight over who’s craziest of the two. Every week somebody tells me that it can’t be done, that my company is too hard to build. And yet, here I am, drawing comfort from that iconic ad campaign Steve Jobs orchestrated in the late nineties, when he came back to Apple to remind everybody, his own employees included, of what his company had always been about: Here’s to the crazy ones…think different.
You see, for a very, very, very long time, everything about my life was impossible and nothing was possible. In a way that was impossible to explain, let alone understand. So if I’m here writing to you today it’s because I don’t take no for an answer. I never give up. As long as there is a breath of air in my lungs or a beat in my recycled heart, I’m-possible. And so are you.