As professionals and leaders, we all reach a point when we wonder if we are doing it all right in today’s tough, cold-hearted corporate world. Leaders world-over have questioned themselves at some point in time – ‘is it a pretense or am I in control of my life?’
Jerry Colonna’s Reboot (2019), takes us inwards, pushing us to reflect on what has shaped us as human beings, what has shaped us as leaders, are we better human beings, etc. Reboot guides us towards a more rooted leadership that has the ability to transform any workplace into a less toxic, more humane, and more forgiving one.
1. Radical Self-Inquiry
Often leaders wonder, ‘What is that one quick-fix that will solve my problems?’
Truthfully, there is never a ‘one quick-fix solution’ for anything. However, one can dive deep into radical self-inquiry to find some answers to the feeling of helplessness and professional anxiety.
Many leaders toughen-up on their way to the top. They bury their vulnerability under a hard exterior in order to be able to run the organization. Their constant focus lies on ‘how’ to do it successfully, and the basic ‘why’ gets lost in the interim. In the bargain, their pent up emotions lash out in the form of irrational and emotional decisions at the workplace.
The way out is to understand one’s own roots. One needs to look at the difficult times they have faced in life, the ones that have shaped their personalities. For example, the author realized that his own professional anxiety stemmed from his childhood experiences with poverty. The feeling of losing everything was a driving factor for him to succeed, but it was also the cause of his anxiety.
Therefore understanding how past experiences have life-long effects on us via self-inquiry is very important.
2. Leadership-Building Crises
In the tenth-century, a Buddhist saint and teacher Milarepa went out of his cave to gather firewood. When he returned, he found it was full of demons. After unsuccessful attempts to shoo them away, he finally taught them Buddhism. They soon became quiet. When they still didn’t leave, he asked the demons, “What are you’re here to teach me?’ Stumped with his questions they all left except one.
Finally, Milarepa put his head in the demon’s mouth and said, ‘Eat me if you wish.’ And then the demon vanished.
This tale of confronting one’s demons shows us that one has to face their demons. These ‘demons’ are a test of character and mettle, and facing them often helps in building valuable leadership skills, making one a better human being.
Warren Bennis called it the crucible moment – the one where extreme pressure enables us to face the toughest situations in life, bringing out our best. Such experiences get us to the other side more confident, more humble, and most importantly as great leaders and humans.
3. The Calm Amidst The Rush
The corporate world is a fast-paced world. No one has the time to take a minute, stop, and practice mindfulness in the rat race to the top. Though keeping the pace is important from a career and ambition perspective, many lose themselves in this rush and often forget that need to pause and take a breather.
A constant fast-paced environment can turn toxic in a matter of minutes. Such toxicity can slowly spread from person to person and end up affecting the entire business structure, where the leap to the moon is only possible by trampling over someone else’s ambitions.
As a leader, it is vital to know when to take a breather and calm down right in midst of the fast-paced corporate life. It is important to sit back and evaluate the need for the rush. And it can be achieved only by practicing mindfulness every day.
4. Broken-Open Hearted Leadership
We have all heard of ‘What goes around comes around’. This couldn’t be truer than it is in the case of lies. Lies always catch up with us in the most unexpected ways and times, teaching us a hard lesson in life.
We have seen severe consequences of lies being told at the top of the corporate ladder. Serious ramifications such as oil spills in oceans, massive job losses, unemployment, bankruptcy, etc. are consequences of deceitful top-level management. The only reason why the world has faced these consequences is that some leader has not had the courage to be truthful.
Today’s time needs a change in how honesty is imbibed right from the onset of careers. Colonna talks about broken-open-hearted warriorship (a broken, scared, and lonely heart is an invaluable guide), a concept where the leaders themselves are strong enough to face the truth and do not leave themselves or their teams vulnerable to lies and deceit. Such a change works best when leaders become the torchbearers of honesty.
5. The Ghosts In The Machine
Software developers use a term ‘the ghosts in the machine’ that refer to bits of dormant out-dated code, from a previous version that despite being defunct can interfere with the newer versions of the code.
Our behaviors function in similar manners. The ghosts in the machines turn out to be irritating and irrational habits, complexes, and fears that make us humans messy, and asymmetrical. Leaders need to have an understanding that everyone, themselves included, will have these ghosts and that they will have to work around them.
For example, the author himself found that his habit of correcting colleagues incessantly often caused professional tensions just as it had its positives. However, the author also realized that this habit was a ghost code wired inside him by seeing his father obsessively correct errors in the newspaper during their times of poverty.
Leaders spend almost all of their way up to the top controlling, planning, and monitoring their moves, and largely their lives. However, the path to success can turn to stifle us with its consistent routine.
The author himself proceeded up the planned path to success, only to find himself at the brink of suicide in the wake of 9/11. However, he turned things around by embarking on a personal travel journey, visiting places, and meditating.
It was an essential step to accepting uncertainty and not knowing. This led him to be able to embrace the potential of the present. He welcomed it at a physical as well as mental level, where he learned to let go of regrets and accept mistakes and move-on, reminiscent of a childhood game of stickball where his friend would yell ‘Do-over’ after a futile debate over a foul or hit.
‘Do-over’ essentially means to move on, move past, forgive, forget, and hit refresh. It means to embark on an uncertain, pathless-path where one is open to change and attentive to the present.
7. Personal Crow, Loyal Soldier, And You
In college, Jerry Colonna took a writing course with poet Marie Ponsot. She gave them a metaphor of a crow sitting on their shoulder cawing, ‘why did you write that?’ or ‘that’s not good enough’. She urged students to ‘shoot the damned crow’.
Colonna perceived the crow as the voice at the back of the head and refused to shoot it. He felt that we should learn to accommodate the crow because the crow reflects our care for our actions in the world and signifies our belief in humanity.
Similarly, he also describes the ‘Loyal Soldier’, a solitary soldier cut off from the regiment, defending a lone island. The soldier maintains his position and focuses on his survival rules. He maintains routines without knowing whether he will ever need them. However, just because the war is on in his mind, he is attentive guarding his base. Colonna likens the soldier to our instincts for self-preservation and embodiment of our survival strategies.
Both, the Personal Crow and the Lonely Soldier help us to be more at ease with ourselves and be more open and courageous.
8. Creating a Conducive Space
A leader needs to create an environment that is highly conducive and comfortable for his/her team to succeed. He/She needs to create an authentic workspace, where the members of the team can be themselves, open up, find personal space for growth, quite similar to comfort that one finds with family members or the acceptance that is seen between partners.
Leaders need to let the team members work individually, yet be able to herd them towards being one cohesive team. They need to be intuitive to understand the undercurrents of the team to be able to create a conducive space. Finally, they should have compassion towards their team members to be able to understand them or make them work well together.
Colonna gives an example of a herd of horses. Amongst the herd, rather than the strongest, most handsome, smartest, or showiest horse, it is the horse that is able to feel the group the best that is chosen as the leader of the herd. This intuitively strong leader is almost always a mare. The mare is best able to calm down other horses and is able to understand the needs of other horses.
A leader has to show similar qualities, where they have to be tuned in to the needs of his team members. Such leadership can steer the team away from toxicity.
Reboot is a unique guide for leaders. It shows the true way of growing as a leader and more importantly as a human being. Jerry also shows that out of all the qualities a leader should imbibe, the ability to steer away from a toxic environment stems by reflecting inwards is the most important. It shows that self-awareness, mindfulness, honesty, and self-critique are qualities that create better leaders.