Restorative Leadership

We lead who we are.

That statement struck me because I knew deep down it was true, but that’s not what I had learned. My leadership journey and training had been all about what I’ve done, not about who I was. I took all the leadership development courses and worked on honing all the skills: casting vision, using influence instead of authority, conflict management, communication, etc.

I worked so hard to follow all the best practices, never missing a step, and still it wasn’t working. I wasn’t sure I was doing it right, it didn’t feel right and I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for. I wasn’t inspiring anyone and I was uninspired. I got so caught up in the books and best practices that I didn’t even realize I had forgotten myself. I was trying to be someone else. I wasn’t listening to what felt natural or right to me, I was just following the formula.

I had a wonderful boss who told me to forget all the books and “be yourself, but be your best self.” Once I started taking his advice and doing my work to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, things started to shift. Instead of pretending to have all the answers, I said I wasn’t sure and needed the team to help. Instead of telling people what we were going to do, I asked them what they needed. Instead of worrying about my own accolades and getting credit, I focused on helping others and lifting others up.

We seem to have forgotten that leading is an expression of self, and the way you lead is who you are. So I ask you…who are you and how are you leading? What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about others? Are you a know-it-all or learn-it-all? Are you self-defensive or self-reflective? Do you have to be in control or are you comfortable in the not knowing? Do you use “me” or “we” most often? Do you “other” people who are not like you (those guys in accounting, those people in marketing, etc.)? Do you think there is one right way to do things or are you open to possibilities? Do you look at situations and people holistically or try to silo (personal and professional, for instance)? Do you use reductionist or expansive techniques (prefer “or” vs. “and”)?

All of us are leaders and all of us have room to learn and grow. A Restorative leader is always working to understand and heal themselves, knowing that the rest will fall into place. We spend so much time with our nose in books and our ears in podcasts. Companies invest millions in leadership best practices around skill building for their leaders. All of these are certainly valuable, but if you don’t know who you are and why you are the way you are, there is no book, podcast or formula that will help you. We need to start by looking inside. Gaining these skills cannot be done through training and it takes courage to do it, but if you want to reach your full potential it is required.

Restorative leaders are those who feel comfortable in their own skin. They are open to other people and other points of view. They are focused on creating connection with those around them, and establishing environments rooted in safety so everyone can show up and be their best. Restorative leaders are comfortable in the not knowing and they work in a spirit of co-creation instead of control. They are clear about expectations, what they want and need and they forgive fast. Restorative leaders encourage those around them and celebrate and support the whole human. They recognize the very blurred lines between our personal and professional selves. They also challenge those they lead to be their best and walk the fine line between grace and truth.

Today we we witness so many leaders operating out of a place of fear, defensiveness and division. They work through authority, threats and control. As I see this I feel compassion and work to get curious. I wonder if they have ever known what it was like to feel safe and to belong as who they really are? What secret self are they hiding? Maybe they are completely unaware of who they are and why they are the way they are. Maybe they have been asleep to the conditioning of their heart and mind.

Leaders, before anything else, are called to do their own work to be their best self. To look inward and be honest so each of us can show up as fully who we are. That takes courage. That takes time and space to reflect: think about how you are thinking and evaluate your actions. It takes the support of someone who cares about you enough to help you see what you cannot. Between our intentions and our actions there is typically a gap that we cannot see. Our friends, family, mentors and coaches can help us get more closely aligned and narrow that gap.

The definition of restoration is “the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition.” When it comes to life, leadership and our work what does that mean? We believe it means returning to wholeness, humanity and love. From this place we can have meaning and metrics. We can increase profits and honor people. We can make money and deliver mission. We can be successful and maintain our well being. This is possible. It starts with you. Have the courage to do the work to reach your full potential!

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