The underlying premise of the Courage Way is that we all have a trustworthy source of inner wisdom that informs our lives and leadership. It is our identity and integrity, the sum of our shadows and light, our true self. Without knowing our true self, we cannot be an authentic leader.
True self is not defined by your resume, although that may hold some clues. How do you access what literary critic Maria Popova calls “the seismic core of personhood”? For some people, the idea of true self (however named) is already part of their lexicon or religious tradition. That wasn’t the case for a leader named Ed. When he learned to reflect on his leadership path and carve out more time to clear his head, he didn’t describe it as caring for true self or soul, but that he did so was vital to his leadership. He describes the experience as “inner space exploration.”
“There’s so much depth within us. Our brains are like a whole space system, a galaxy in and of themselves. Not just the neural connections and the complexity. There is so much to explore just within ourselves, but we generally don’t do that, and [self-realization] is almost just a happy by-product. That inner exploration is very useful for leading.”
Other leaders agree. One said, “Understanding that every person has an inner teacher radically changed my life. It was powerful to begin viewing each person and myself as creative, resourceful, and whole, and learning to trust and believe in that first.” She sees leadership as helping people find that inner source of power and empowerment.
An education leader explained that she recognizes true self by rereading the journals she’s kept since she was eighteen, where she can see common threads running through her life: “The themes are the same, the dreams are the same, the core of who I am is the same. I may be of a different age, be in a different job, or live in a different place, but my inner teacher is always there with me reminding me (sometimes less gently than others) of who I am, what I stand for, and whether or not I am being true to my essence.”
Some leaders say they can recognize when true self shows up by the way they feel in their body. One woman told me, “It’s like connecting to some source. There’s an energy and a power to it. And peace. Even if it’s scary, it’s so certain. It feels like ‘This is right.’ And it usually happens in public (though sometimes it’s happened in my writing) when there’s some risk involved. That full alignment doesn’t happen all that often. That’s why it’s so amazing when it does. I might feel 75 percent aligned most of the time, but not completely.”
It’s notable that this leader says that true self appears when risk is involved. That is where true self and courage connect. What if courage is the life force that animates you in moments of decision and action? As this book unfolds, keep an eye out for moments of courage and see if you notice how true self is there, too.
I mean the soul simply as shorthand for the seismic core of personhood from which our beliefs, our values, and our actions radiate.
About Shelly L. Francis
Shelly L. Francis has been the marketing and communications director at the Center for Courage & Renewal since mid-2012. Before coming to the Center, Shelly directed trade marketing and publicity for multi-media publisher Sounds True, Inc. Her career has spanned international program management, web design, corporate communications, trade journals, and software manuals.
The common thread throughout her career has been bringing to light best-kept secrets — technology, services, resources, ideas — while bringing people together to facilitate collective impact and good work. Her latest book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage in personal and professional aspects of life.
husband + father + pilot + Leadership Coach | Consultant + startup fan + reader of personal #development, company #culture & leadership books