On the plane back to Philadelphia, I reflected on the workshop I’d just conducted with a group of senior women leaders at Microsoft’s Redmond, WA headquarters. I’m struck by a word one of the participants called out in response to the question I’ve asked many corporate audiences recently: “What kind of leadership do we need now?”
“Resilient,” she said. Next week I’ll be in London, teaching Total Leadership at GlaxoSmithKline’s world headquarters, and my purpose there will be to extend the work they’re doing to systematically cultivate resilience in their global workforce. Like a tree that bends but doesn’t break in a strong wind, we need to be resilient in the current business climate.
But here’s the problem: enhancing your resilience requires strengthening yourself and your resolve to pursue what matters most in your life, and most employees and managers today don’t feel they have the freedom to do so. Nor do they think they’ll get support from those above them on the ladder.
As I multitask, listening to music on my headphones, Neil Young comes up on the playlist. I realize that, through the decades, Young — like all great artists and all great leaders — remains vital because he keeps experimenting to satisfy his creative purpose. He doesn’t ignore his muse; he doggedly follows her, “searching,” as he wrote long ago, “for a heart of gold.” As an artist and as a person, he’s unabashedly seeking love, in his work and in the rest of his life. This keeps him vigorous and strong.
You might not believe it, and I can’t say for sure, but I think Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer — and your boss, too — is looking for the same thing. Business leaders who focus on what they love, and love what they focus on, and who insist that others do so too, strengthen themselves and their companies. To remain flexible yet firm, like that tree that won’t break, you’ve got to be toiling, day in day out, for something you believe in, something larger than just you.
What are you searching for? What do you love? Take a moment to imagine your muse and write a note to yourself on where she leads you.