The Journey to Leadership

Leadership begins inside yourself. That is where we are going to focus our attention. In North America we use the word ‘longing’, which means yearning, an intense feeling or desire for something. Longing is an invitation to move forward, to travel to reach something. In Portugal and Brazil, for example, they use the word ‘saudade’, which means again a vigorous desire for something, but with a special emphasis on the idea of missing something, melancholy here dominates. Saudade is an invitation to search for something inside of yourself. In the first case we are seeking to move somewhere, in the second case we are seeking to fill or fulfill something that is missing. Whichever the case, both words have a magic quality. They project you forward, they urge you to progress towards the future, either in terms of movement or in terms of inner quest. Yet, both words also share the notion of missing something, as if you will never really feel complete and fulfilled without this progression to a new and far away frontier. 

     I call this the melancholy of leaders. It is, in fact, one of the very few common traits you will find even in the most diverse leaders of any time of history. A sort of surge towards an undefined horizon, a need to fulfill something inside, that a leader recognizes so fundamental as to become the meaning of a lifetime. However we should be clear on the meaning of melancholy: in the case of the leader it is not a state of reflective sadness, but it is a state of active and positive ‘restlessness’ that urges you to move forward and pervades you of a feeling of sadness and incompleteness until you have started your journey and move towards your horizon. The leader dedicates each single part of his or her life to this inspiration but, you should know this since the beginning, the leader is not working in a clear and identified direction. An inspired leader is a leader that is seeking a direction yet to understand. 

     Inspiration is what makes the leader and it is an intense desire for action that develops strongly around the longing for something. Inspiration gradually crystallizes into a vision and eventually into a decision.

     Leadership is not for all, true, but the good news is that leadership is not divine, it is something you will find and build within yourself. In the next chapters we will move forward together in this unchartered territory.

     The way to start our journey into leadership is the simplest: take a walk. If you like trees and forests I would suggest to buy yourself a fine pair of outdoor shoes. Leather, fabric, whichever material you like. Put on your new shoes and head out for a long walk through the woods, for instance a full day by yourself. Don’t worry if you have no trees near your place, the point here is nature. Take your time. Listen, smell, touch, look (let’s keep behind taste for the evening when you get back home). You are a part of all this nature. Breathe. Stay focused on nature and free your mind. 

     The very first thing to understand here is you are walking by yourself in unchartered territory. There are no formulas, no instructions, no secret alchemy to become a leader. And there are no rules. Trust me, the more you will understand about leadership and the more you will read about leadership, the more you will realize that there is very little information you need. It’s yourself, only yourself you have to concentrate on. You need to understand this very clearly because that’s where you are heading.

     Leadership begins inside ourselves. Hence, the first thing we need to understand is that in order to see clearly inside ourselves we have to get rid of the superfluous, the background noise. It is of vital importance to understand that we need to leave behind our shoulders the dust of life, the wake of our past experiences and head forward. It’s not an easy task.

     Michelangelo Buonarroti, protagonist of the exceptional Italian High Renaissance period, lived through the late 1400 and the first half of the 1500. Michelangelo was an incredibly versatile artist that produced some of the best artwork of all times along with his contemporary Leonardo da Vinci. Just take a moment to think that the wonderful David sculpture that you see in Florence, probably the most famous of all times, measures 4.34 meters in height and is made out of a single block of white marble. A single block. As for all his works, Michelangelo was renowned for dedicating time to carefully choosing the right block of marble in the small town of Carrara. The reason for dedicating so much time to the choice of the block, is in Michelangelo’s own words: ‘The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material’.

     And this is exactly what we are doing with leadership, we have to chisel away all the superfluous and leave it behind to bring out the essence, our inspiration. What is it that you really want? Where is it that you really want to go in life? Who are you? These are some of the most difficult questions that you can ever ask yourself, just consider that for so many people these questions go unanswered for an entire lifetime. The significant element here is not the answer – because it’s not that leaders have answers that others don’t – the point here is the questions and the inspiration you find in them. The clarity, the ability to clearly see what is life. You need to remove the superfluous and look straight at yourself in the eyes, that is the moment in which you will be able to break the glass of conventions. Behind that glass there is life, in all its unpredictability, in all its mystery, in all its rawness. That is your field of battle, that is the place where you will be fighting for your vision. In this field you will find no instructions, no established practices, no guidelines. You are in the territory of pioneers, a leader fighting for his or her vision. When you begin seeing those unanswered questions before you, that is the moment your inspiration starts, your desire for action begins.

     What is it exactly that we are leaving behind, that we are removing as superfluous? Conformism. All those accepted behaviors and established practices that make the world what it is, that run your life as it is. One thing you should really understand is that the world has nothing to give you. There is no hidden secret to pursue. Don’t fall in the mistake many fall in, to think that somewhere there is a magic splendor in life and that if you keep on searching you will ultimately find it and grab it. It doesn’t work like that. It never worked like that. The magic is inside of you and your inspiration, and it is when you begin to transform that inspiration into action, into change, that the world begins to reward you with all the magic. Find courage, believe in yourself and pursue your own myths. That is exactly the moment in which nature, the universe, begins to gather around you and helps you achieve your inspiration. Its then that you will discover the magic of life.

     Remove accepted behaviors and established practices and you will discover that your mind will almost be born a second time, there are almost unlimited new ways to see what is in front of you and that is the moment in which you begin to transform yourself into a leader, into someone that has a new vision and that sees life for what it is and is conscious of how it works, that wants to bring a change. 

     Leadership is a process that takes you to a new interpretation of the context and a new ability to pursue your vision. Leadership takes you to unconventional understanding and makes you think different.

     When your journey takes you to that clarity of mind where you begin to see the other side of things, and you begin to look inside yourself, not around yourself, for the solutions, then you will discover that leadership is fluid and everchanging. It is not a status, a way of being. It is a constant challenge within yourself to remain free and see clearly.

     But it all begins with that undefined inspiration and that feeling of longing.

     The journey to remove the superfluous and clearly see inside yourself is probably the longest part in the process to leadership. You have to accept that there is more in life than what you see and that ‘more’ is not somewhere in the world, it is precisely inside yourself. You are called to bring that ‘more’ to the world. 

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” 

William Shakespeare – Hamlet

     By the way, the first time you will participate to a high net worth individuals business meeting, – it’s always a business meeting even when it’s not – one of those meetings where you may expect to find one or two authentical leaders, take a look at the shoes. You will be impressed by the enormous, excessive attention given by leaders to shoes. Almost as if they symbolize the effort, the road each leader had to travel inside themselves before reaching the freedom of leadership. They all have a love story with shoes. Don’t go for fancy or too classical shoes, try straightforward and elegant English or American shoes, they have the magic to catch a complacent smile and open doors by themselves for you.