The Choice of Leadership: Being vs. Doing

Sabina Quan_Why do you want to be a leader
Le Bal | Rui Palha | Flickr CC

Recently, I was in a coaching conversation with an incredibly, talented leader in the Asia Pacific region. During our discussion, I was curious to know what had contributed to her 16-year leadership success at Cisco. As I listened to her articulate and walk me through her journey, I found something magical. Her responses were at the front and center of why anyone should choose to be a leader. This may seem like an obvious question. But quite often, I see people becoming leaders for different reasons. And they’re not always the right reasons. Here are the 3, amazing lessons she shared with me during our conversation:

Meaningful Growth is When We Grow Together

“…It isn’t enough if I just think of myself and my own growth. My desire has never been to just grow myself. I’ve always been intentional about growing together…”

This should be one of the most obvious motives to earn the privilege of leading. Yet, I still come across leaders who lead because of the power of title. Because of societal or cultural pressure. Due to belief systems that endorse the title of “leader” in a business card. Because any other would just not be good enough.

I cannot do everything by myself

“…I’m not afraid of teaching everyone, everything I know. From team members, peers, and all the stakeholders in my career, I teach them whatever I know because I cannot do everything by myself…”

What really moved me was her courage and purpose. She saw leadership as a world of mutual obligations and responsibilities and the initiative began with her. She was a role model, teacher, and steward of this culture change. What a courageous way to lead! Instead of living in the shadow of insecurity and adopting a scarcity mindset, she chose to lead with an abundance mindset.

Shared Understanding of Excellence 

“…When team members are culturally fit and they’re willing to grow with the team, I will find ways to empower them. If they’re NOT and they don’t have the shared understanding of excellence, they need to find another place where they can succeed…”

She set clear expectations on what’s acceptable and what’s non-negotiable. By investing and developing great talent around her, she became an overt champion of the Leadership of Being. 

Inner Core
Image Editor | Flickr CC

Leadership of Being vs. Doing 

Our discussion reminded me of leadership sessions I have facilitated over the years. Many leadership skills can be taught and developed. And it happens through role-modelling, immersive engagements, coaching, observation, and training. The more leaders practice what they learn, the more fluent they come. And while practice may or may not make them perfect, it helps create permanence. Some leaders are already there and look to sustain those skills. For many others, it is work in progress.

Leadership of Being, on the other hand, quite simply is. It is either present. Or it isn’t. There is no grey here. Your being informs the doing. It is the guiding principle to the alignment of thought, speech, action, and reflection. And no, it doesn’t automatically translate to a symphony of perfections. It doesn’t exclude human frailties or inconsistencies. Instead, it comes from a place of mindfulness and courage. It comes from a willingness to confront, discover, and examine the truths for what they are.

BW Anitha Aswth Portfolio

Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams. 


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