Last week Steve Jobs, the visionary and creative genius behind Apple, died. Within hours my inbox, Facebook feed, and Twitter account were filled with links to, and quotes from, his 2005 Stanford Commencement address. The central theme was this: live your life fully and honor your unique interests and passions. Your time on earth is finite—get out there and engage with the world!
"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else's life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don’t let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
Jobs's message is one of authenticity: honor yourself, your strengths, your interests, your abilities, and do so without apology or attempt to placate others. I would assert that there is no better quality or characteristic we can bring to the world, to our organizations, to our teams, to our friends and families, than this authenticity.
In fact, I would argue that Jobs not only led from this heart-centered place of authenticity, but that the Apple product line also embodies this quality. You don't need a detailed manual to operate any of Apple's hardware (iPod, iPhone, iPad), because its design is in direct alignment with its function: It is authentic. This pleasurable usability is the often commented upon brilliance of Apple products.
As an authentic leader, a heart-centered leader, there is little need for a detailed owner's manual or how-to directions. It can take practice to identify, and courage to begin to act in alignment with our values, but enabling the heart, the inner voice Jobs describes, as the decision-maker can bring profound results. When the heart is making decisions and leading—watch out. Watch out, because this is the space where truly brilliant things can happen, and those who follow our lead are inspired, engaged, and eager to bring their talents to the table.
I have spent the better part of the last twenty years climbing the highest mountains all over the globe, an unconventional life that invited a lot of envious comments and awe-struck audiences. But eventually I found that climbing for the sake of climbing wasn’t enough for me. My heart wasn't in it. I needed to take my climbing to the next level, and for me that meant what could be seen as comparatively pedestrian: teaching and facilitating leadership development through adventure and the metaphor of adventure. Unfolding this more recent path is following, as Jobs references, my heart and intuition. It is my authentic work: my energy and passion for it are undeniable, and as I work with clients, it is undeniably contagious.
For me this has been the space where I have brought my values and actions in alignment; it is the space of authenticity. Certainly not always the easiest place to be—but THE place to be as leaders, THE place to be to bring our teams and organizations together to achieve great things, and THE place to be to bring our best self forward and have the most significant and positive impact on the world and our communities.
As leaders we have a choice today and every day. We can choose to parse out our tasks and projects as we have historically—perhaps with limited, but sufficient, buy-in from our teams and colleagues. Or, we can identify how our heart, intuition, and inner voice can shape and impact our organizations.
So take a moment to reflect on your role as a leader—are your actions in alignment with your values? How can you bring yourself more fully, more authentically, into the workplace? What perceived roadblocks are you facing that might be removed by speaking, acting, and working from this place of authenticity?
Thankfully, we can start today, we can start immediately. And the best part about it? We don’t need an owner's manual or directions. We only need to stop, listen to our intuition, and honor it by bringing it forward.
Matthew Walker is the principal of Inner Passage, a company that uses adventure to teach leadership development to both individuals and organizations. His most recent book 'Adventure in Everything' examines
how to bring authenticity, inspiration, and purpose into our everyday lives. You can learn more and download the first chapter free at www.adventureineverything.com
[Image: Flickr user Chad Podoski]