Conscious Leaders for the Future: Steven Ebbers' Thoughts On Personal Leadership

The following article is an amended transcript from a recent Webinar on the topic of Conscious Leadership that Nomad Academy's own Steven Ebbers undertook in partnership with Kate Watson and Camila Pestana from On Purpose [A fantastic organisation that work with inspiring professionals and help them get stuck in to become leaders who harness the power of business for good].

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"In deciding what I was going to talk about specifically, I realised that we are living in a time where immediate action is required. Looking specifically at the state of our societies and planet. Therefore I decided that I was going to focus on talking about Leading as opposed to Leadership.

We know, on a theoretical level, what needs to be done but the question is always how?! What can I start doing today? What can I do to create these changes? As a result I decided to draw on my experience as a professional athlete and on my personal experiences of leading groups of young professionals here in Asia and Africa, which is my current job.

Now, the key in all that way are saying here today is hidden in the very first word of the title of this webinar: Conscious.

Conscious comes from the Latin “To know” or “With knowledge” and when you Google its definition it says: aware of and responding to one's surroundings. I’ll tell you why it’s so important to look at what conscious actually means. Because it’s only from this awareness of ourselves and our environment that we are able to change it. It requires knowledge about its current state, seeing what is actually right in front of you to know what it is you like to change. In many ways this relates directly to our webinar partner Kate’s systems model which indicates that there is one place where conscious leadership begins, and that is the Self.

As a result, I’ve derived three lessons from my personal experiences in leading that are incredibly important when you want to lead and impact your environment.

Lesson Number One: Self-Awareness

If you want to lead you have to get as self aware as you possibly can.

This is absolutely vital, because only if you are aware of what it is that you are putting out there, can you actively influence what the other person is receiving and experiencing. Without self awareness it’s impossible to lead, I’ve learned that it’s the absolute starting point of successful leadership. It allows people to relate to you.

Self Awareness is the ability to identify your own feelings and intentions. Knowing what is happening inside of you. Our thoughts, beliefs and emotions guide our behaviours. So to make sure we lead in the best possible way, you need to get as clear as you can be on what is going on inside yourself.

So when it comes to leading and training yourself as a leader there are a couple of questions I try to ask myself constantly to increase my own self awareness as a leader:

Question One : Why am I taking the lead?

This question is about checking my intentions at that specific moment in time.
Am I taking the lead because I am trying to help the other person to the best of my capabilities?

Or….

Am I taking the lead for a need of control?  Am I afraid of not being able to control the situation and am I taking the lead from source of frustration? That “Come on guys, just do this” type of frustration, when you feel like you are losing oversight.

Or are you taking the lead to show your environment what a great “leader” you are, so you can maybe get a promotion? This can be very ego driven, showing you environment who is the boss. Often people will rule by fear and put others down to look better themselves, which will sometimes do the job, but you will only be listened to out of fear so people won’t approach you anymore.

So check your intention. Because only if your intention is to help others, should you actually take the lead.

Question Two: What am I doing that is making my environment respond like this?

This is all about taking extreme ownership of yourself, which is the only thing you can effectively change.

As a leader, people look at you, all the time, more than they probably would look at others. And almost every action you undertake will be seen in the light of you as the leader and will lead to a certain response from your environment, action→ reaction.

So whenever, and this can be applied to a 1:1 and in a group setting, things aren’t going the way you were hoping or you see that people are fearful, find you intimidating, unapproachable or soft or weak or whatever it is, don’t blame your environment, they are simply responding to what they are picking up from you. To give you a short example, I coach half the group [of young professionals that undertake the Nomad Academy program] and these sessions seemed to be going well, they were intimate and personal conversations, besides talking about entrepreneurial things. The workshops I did for the whole group also went well and we predominantly got really good feedback. So all fine, I thought I had a good relationship with the group.

However, after a conversation with my fellow program director, I realised that I had never really had personal conversations with some of the other half of the tribe, the half who I don’t have coaching sessions with. My colleague [Tess who also coaches young professionals with Nomad Academy] told me that she got the impression that some people felt intimidated by me. Initially I just thought “Well, that’s weird,  I am always open for a conversation and I’ve had personal conversations with my coachees, so they are wrong that I am intimidating.” On the other hand, it stung me a little, why didn’t they feel it was safe to talk to me?

After thinking about it, it started to dawn on me: I didn’t realise that most of them had only seen me in a group setting and I wasn’t aware enough of how I presented myself, combined that I am not the smallest person, and I can be pretty convincing when giving a workshop. So they had mainly seen me in a pretty dominant way, verbal and non verbal.

Fast forward:

A couple of days later, we went on a meditation retreat with the whole group where we ended with an hour long silent sitting meditation. I realised that I had to actively show a different side of me publicly if I was going to connect with everyone in the tribe.

Afterwards, we had a group discussion about our experiences at the retreat, I decided to share it with the whole group how I would like to connect with everyone one in the tribe, and that my image of dominance or intimidating was not a reflection of my thoughts. Saying this out loud served as an invitation to come and speak to me. From that moment onwards relationships slowly started to change and people felt I was more approachable.

So ask yourself these 2 questions over and over again:

- Why am I taking the lead?

- What am I doing that is making my environment respond like this?

You will increase your self awareness and will slowly see that your environment will start to behave differently as well. That certain dynamics that you thought were set in stone, you know can actually be changed.

We all do this: “Ah he or she is just like that”

Lesson Number Two: Authenticity

As a leader it’s incredibly important you create a safe environment. Only in a safe environment can people thrive and experiment without the fear of being shut down.

A safe environment allows people to develop a growth mindset, fail at things, learn from it and move on as opposed to being punished for failing. Only when they feel safe in your proximity will they know that they can come to you if they have a problem or issue.. One of the easy ways you can make people feel safe is by being consistent in your behaviour and that’s where authenticity comes in. So the easiest, and arguably the only way, to Always be as consistent as possible, is by being as authentic as you can be. And the reason for that is that your authentic self is always with you, right? It’s always there.

So if you are brave enough to always show your authentic self as a leader, you ALWAYS have a central undisputed source on which to base your behaviour. Because it’s impossible to keep up a fake persona over an extended period of time. By being authentic you are leading by example, you create an environment where people feel safe to take off their corporate masks, to show themselves and stop pretending they’ve got it all under control.

Leading in an authentic way is also very scary sometimes.You have to be willing to show a certain vulnerability, show your true self. I experienced this the other day, where something happened that made me pretty angry and frustrated, because I felt like I was under attack. So I asked to have a 1:1 conversation, and I, in my own anger,  was going to tell them exactly all the things that they’d done wrong and XYZ. But as I was getting ready for the conversation I realised that if I were to do that; firstly of all this person wouldn’t get the message because they’d feel under attack just like I did, and secondly that if they were to have another problem in the future they’d never come to me again because I shot them down for raising their issues.

So instead I decided to sit down and I wrote down the following 3 words:

- Upset

- Disappointed

- Painful

With each of these three things, I then also wrote down exactly what it was that had made me feel that way. So as the conversation started, I was able to articulate how I felt and why I felt it. I felt super vulnerable, because it didn’t portray me as “strong” at all. To my great relief, the other person completely accepted what I said, apologised, and we had one of the best conversations I’ve had on this trip, both learning so much more about ourselves and why we did what we did.

So I strongly believe that authenticity is vital, especially in moments when things are at stake.

We’ve talked about increasing your self awareness and the importance of authenticity.The last point I’d like to talk about has personally changed my life and I promise that it will make all the difference in the development of your awareness and the ability to tap into your sense of authenticity.

Lesson Three: Reflection.

I would highly encourage each and everyone here today to develop a reflective practice. And for those of you who already do this daily, you know how much of an impact this can have. Now what do I mean by having a reflective practice. I’m talking about things like Meditation, Mindfulness, journaling, going for long walks on your own, whatever works for you and doing this on a daily basis. Ideally you would combine a number of these activities. Honestly, I’d even go so far as to say: the more the better.

I was reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris for a couple of months, a book in which he spoke to over 200 of the most successful people in all kinds of disciplines. Now I didn’t necessarily get too much out of the book besides the fact that most of these people seem to have 29hr days looking at how long their morning and evening routines take and that I should take cold showers, which I hate….

BUT what WAS interesting is that over 80% of these world class performance had one thing in common which is that they have a daily meditation or mindfulness practice. And I can’t agree more.

So what I’d recommend is that everyone here ask themselves the question: How do I reflect? And start experimenting and stick to it, even if it feels hard in the beginning because it will change how you go about life. By reflecting on a daily basis, it will get way easier to be authentic because you are calmer which means that you will feel more resilient and confident to show yourself. Your awareness will significantly increase because you are processing all the things that happened to you that day and what it made you feel like.

We've covered a lot. So, to quickly summarise, these are the things I’ve learned over the years when it comes to leading.

1: Work on your self awareness as a leader to have better conversations.

To do this you can ask yourself the questions:

Why am I taking the lead? AND What am I doing that is making my environment respond like this?

Take extreme ownership of your own behaviour.

2: Authenticity

To get the best out of people, they need to feel safe. To make people feel safe, your behaviour needs to be consistent and the easiest way to do that is to be authentic. Your authentic self is something that is always there with you, and is something people can always relate to.

The easiest way to be authentic is to work and lead on things that have meaning to you.

Point 3: Have a reflective practice!

Find out how you reflect. In silence by meditating, by writing by journaling, or maybe you are a verbal reflector so get out your voice recorder or get a coach or mentor.

Through reflection you will get to know yourself better, increase your self awareness your EQ and authentic self.

Some thoughts on Self Awareness & EQ.
For those of you not familiar with the basic elements of EQ;

i. Self - Awareness → The ability to identify your feelings and intentions
ii. Self Management → The ability to adjust your thoughts and actions, based on your self awareness
iii. Social Awareness → The ability to pick up on other’s emotions and perspectives

Each of these 3 elements come together in the last part which is Relationship Management: Understanding yourself and others to the point that you can effectively work towards a positive outcome.

Some thoughts on Authenticity.

Now how do authenticity, safely, and predictability interact.

When you are leading a group over an extended period of time, they will see and interact with you at different times and places. So if I take my own situation, I am travelling with these groups of people 3 months at a time, where day see me in the morning, midday and evening, in 1:1 sessions, in socials, at workshops, on the beach, in the mountains, in our spare time etc

As we said before, for people to feel safe there needs to be a certain predictability in your behaviour.

Now, let’s for example, imagine a leader who is not being authentic. Maybe she or he’d put up a certain persona week one or two and will be able to get away with it, but over time, you will not be able to keep up this persona, right? You will at a certain point be caught off guard and behave in a way that is not in line with the person people thought you were.

In a nutshell:

Inauthentic → can’t be consistent in your behaviour because there is no central source of behaviour, inconsistent behaviour → which means people can’t predict your behaviour, taken by surprise, sometimes you are friendly, sometimes you are strict in other words unpredictable → feel unsafe, they don’t know how you will react and therefore will hold back in your proximity.

Inauthentic → inconsistent → unpredictable → unsafe

Some thoughts on Meaning.

Now, I’d like to look at what you can do to be as authentic as possible.

The easiest way to be as authentic as possible, is to engage in things that elicit the strongest feelings inside of you. When you don’t have to delve too deep inside yourself, to talk about what matters to you. And this is why it is so incredibly important that you work on things that actually matter to you.

Things that matter to you so much, that you almost have no other option than to take the lead on it. And the things that tend to matter to us are the things that have meaning to us, the things that have a purpose, things that resonate inside. It’s the reason why companies like On Purpose and Nomad Academy exist in the first place. Because if people engage in things that truly matter to them, they are able to lead and bring others along on their journey.

Some thoughts on Reflection.

By doing this regularly you will train your reflective muscles to get to a point where you can start doing this thing which is called: Reflection in Action.

Where you are able during a conversation, to observe what is going on within the interaction, and pick up on what it is that you are experiencing and what you are picking up on from the other person.

So for example when you have a difficult conversation:

I notice I feel a certain pressure in my chest, I’m not calm, Why is that? Hmm this person is making me feel like this because they need help but are talking around it. It looks like they are afraid. So I say in the moment “What you are talking about, what are you afraid of that could happen?

And suddenly their face changes, they truly feel listened to and seen, and suddenly go something like
“Well actually, yes, I’m super scared because XYZ”

“Ok, and what is it that I can do to help with that” and the conversation suddenly goes into a whole different direction."

- Steven Ebbers

You can watch the full webinar Conscious Leaders for the Future here.


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