People who think they can be truly great leaders without personal transformation are fooling themselves. You cannot inspire others and create the resonant relationships that ignite greatness in your families, organizations, or communities without feeling inspired yourself, and working to be the best person you can be.

It’s Not As Easy As It Sounds

The trouble is that personal transformation is not easy. Facing our own shortcomings is hard work indeed. Honesty with ourselves breeds vulnerability. When we see who we really are and do not like it much, it hurts. Contrary to popular belief, it is not change itself that is so hard; what is hard is being honest with ourselves, looking at ourselves with no filters, seeing ourselves as we really are, and admitting that we need to change. Many of us shy away from this honesty, just to avoid the vulnerability, and yes, the pain that comes with seeing that we are not all that we might have thought, and in fact not all that we want. Self-discovery is really hard work. Maybe that is why so few people do it, and why so few people are really great human beings and great leaders.

Leadership is tough. And even for people who manage the role well, and even during good times, the heavy responsibilities, isolation and looming threats take their toll, day in and day out. Leaders give of themselves almost constantly, often ignoring personal needs and desires — and can soon find themselves in the grips of that special brand of stress that accompanies the job of being the person in charge.

What It Takes To Lead

But one thing we know for sure: becoming a resonant leader does not happen by accident. Great leadership comes as a result of hard work and a bit of luck. It requires discovering one’s noble purpose, living it every day, and being fully aware of ourselves and other people as human beings — mind, body, heart and spirit. As we have tried to show in these pages, great leaders are resonant within themselves and attuned to others.

Resonant leaders live their values, and they truly care about people. They create a sense of hope about the future and excitement about the present, for themselves and for others.

How Do You Know If Someone Is A Resonant Leader?

  • Is the leader inspirational?
  • Does the leader create an overall positive emotional tone that is characterized by hope?
  • Is the leader in touch with others? Does the leader know what is on others’ hearts and minds? Does the leader experience and demonstrate compassion?
  • Is the leader mindful—authentic and in tune with self, others, and the environment?

Great leadership requires attention to creating and sustaining resonance. Great leaders attend to themselves holistically: they are attuned to themselves, body, mind, heart and spirit. They are also in touch with, and attuned to, the people around them, while mindfully attending to the broader environment as well. These leaders are compassionate, with themselves and with others. Mindfulness and compassion enable them to create resonance in their relationships while continually renewing themselves.

But perhaps it is hope, above all else, that may be the first real step on a path of healing and renewal. If we cannot envision a better future, how can we consciously make the choices that will get us there? That magical and life-giving quality called hope is more than just optimism. It is also the result of developing a combination of intellectual flexibility, the ability to read one’s environment and see possibilities, emotional intelligence, and a basic belief in one’s own and others’ power to influence our lives.

It Starts With You

Any kind of personal transformation that ultimately results in you becoming a more resonant leader—and sustaining it—begins with some kind of a challenge to your mindfulness, a growing awareness of your passion, beliefs, duties, and your true calling.

Despite the sacrifice of leadership, you can renew yourself. You can counter the Sacrifice Syndrome to create and sustain resonance. And your resonance will become contagious. People in your families, teams, organizations, communities, and countries will be able to accomplish things that only the human spirit, when inspired and uplifted, can do. So be inspired. Pursue for yourself increased mindfulness, hope and compassion. The people around you will feel the power of your passion, and will be moved by your commitment to sustaining resonance. They will feel the inspirational power of resonance, see possibilities, and aspire to greatness in themselves, personally and professionally.

Excerpted from Resonant Leadership, Harvard Business Review Press, 2005

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Based on extensive research and decades of experience with leaders, How to Be Happy at Work deepens our understanding of what it means to be truly fulfilled and effective at work and provides clear, practical advice and instruction on how to get there―no matter what job you have.

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