“Know Thyself”: An ancient teaching making a comeback in conscious 21st century leaders

Know thyself is an ancient teaching that gets over looked today as everyone suggests who to follow, who to like, and what to consume. Our modern “influencers” are really masked advertisers and marketers trying to get you to buy the latest and greatest whatever that will make your life better.
How do they know what you need? Do they know you?
So many people today are confused about what they truly need and some are starting to realize they don’t need much. I am meeting more and more people who feel this way and are at a crossroads. Some are too fearful to poke their heads out, some are taking small steps and some are making sweeping changes that are turning their lives upside down. And some are making strategic business decisions as a result of having clarity about why they are business and what they want to be able to offer in a unique way to their markets and communities. These changes are happening now with conscious people making decisions from going on this journey of knowing themselves and practicing ancient technologies like listening, empathy and dialogue.
Our Unspoken Challenge of Separation 
We live in a world where we have separated many foundational elements of being a conscious leader from ourselves. How is that being vulnerable, transparent and authentic as a leader is now an agreed upon competency? As a leader, should you not simply be humble and human? How did the characteristics of super heroes in comic books and cartoons translate into ‘superpowers’ that leaders must possess? No one really wants to be saved. Most people simply want to be seen as appreciated.
There is a reason that we are facing one of the lowest periods of distrust and disengagement in our history of business. No program or initiative – no matter how much money and time you throw at it – will fix it. What we need is a new type of leader who takes the time to know thyself and starts with asking questions.  While it is an accepted practice in business to report the data on how low employee disengagement is across organizations, has anyone asked themselves why we keep reporting how disengagement is increasing over the decades? How would we respond if these numbers were tied to financial indicators that shareholders would have access to? The picture would be quite different, don’t you think?
The Mythical Story of Happiness
This obsession so many leaders today have with happiness and pursuing a mythical “good” life is pure nonsense. We are then told that we must pursue happiness, which is most likely to lead us to misery. Just look at the data that is grounded in reality. How can we have lists of the Happiest Companies to Work For and have massive misery with low disengagement scores?
The 20th century leader is a transactional problem solver – they spend their time finding a problem, addressing the challenge, solving the problem and then repeating the process. And too often this takes place in a broken system where organizations spend over 50 per cent of the time solving problems they created themselves – fighting over resources and budgets that demand clarity and simplification.  It’s 2017 and we have an opportunity to bring more 21st century leaders who are consciously finding and creating opportunities.
The Trends You Need to Know 
There are so many trends that are taking place that are not being talked about as more fear is introduced into our societal walls and deep into business. We are taught and conditioned to fear how, for example, robots and artificial intelligence will replace humans, but I personally prefer to have a conversation about what useful activities people can engage in for the future of business. I know, for me, that the dishwasher is a great addition to my life as I can go for a walk while the dishes are being washed by a first generation robot.  Understanding ourselves will become a key differentiator for organizations and businesses that will thrive in the next decades.
People of all ages (not just young people) are seeking more meaning and purpose in their lives. Some are even turning to ancient questions, recognizing that the cultural story currently surrounding them, shaping them, and telling them what is appropriate, is no longer feeding their desires.
Can you know yourself outside of the construct of how you were expected to be when you grew up, and think of it as a journey of becoming your own self? As more people embark on this journey, organizations will struggle with constructs that no longer serve them. The latest trendy programs and initiatives will not be sufficient to attract and retain the best people. Best practices will be just that–practices that were best for one or a few organization but are not sustainable for yours.
You will not be able to pretend that you are someone else. People will want you to be yourself and ask questions that have meaning. You will no longer be able to lead with structure – people will want to know why you are in business and what you stand for. People are joining – or want to be part of – organizations that know why they are in business and are creating new markets because they can. Isn’t it time to create a healthier and saner world of business for all of us that brings people together around a meaningful exchange of value? Isn’t that the basic definition of business–an exchange of value?
Know Thyself
Imagine if you knew yourself deeply – what would your journey look like then?  How would you show up as a conscious 21st century leader pursuing opportunities? What shifts do you need to make? What questions do you need to ask without copying someone else’s seven-step manual?
Here is an exercise I did with a group of high potential global leaders recently. I asked them to look inside themselves and answer these questions individually and collectively. And don’t forget to ask why a lot.  And please add your own unique categories that may not be here. I’m very keen to hear about them and learn from you.
What truly matters to you?
By focusing on what truly matters, you can find your own fulfillment and purpose at work and at home. When we deconstruct the layers of complexity that has been created around us in other people’s definitions of success, we can have much simpler lives that might be much more enjoyable. But first we need to do our own work to determine whether we want to remain stuck as a 20th century leader who fixes problems or a as a conscious 21st century leader who creates opportunities and what our journey could look like as a result.
And some of those opportunities can be uncovered by practicing this ancient technology of deeply Know Thyself and what makes for a beautiful life for you, at work and at home. Finding ways to integrate and becoming whole is key to our journeys as individuals and as organizations.
Ayelet Baron
Ayelet Baron
Ayelet combines lessons learned from more than a decade as a high-tech industry executive with her roots as a researcher, change catalyst and strategic communicator. This rare blend of expertise enables her to assess and advise individuals and organizations that seek to embrace new ways of working. She helps leaders transform and build healthy and resilient organizations. She is also a sought after keynote speaker on collaboration, leadership and building 21st century organizations. Her award winning business book, Our Journey to Corporate Sanity, helps you navigate a new path for business as a conscious 21st century leader.

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