While Leadership has been described as a science, an art form and a talent, there is one skill which is central to leadership in any form: self-mastery.
While the topic of self-mastery has spanned philosophy, psychology and religion, it has never more been more important than the present time since the character and quality of leaders play an increasingly dominant role in shaping people’s lives through the governance of private organizations and governments. As history has shown, the consequences of leaders who lack self-mastery have been devastating.
Self-mastery is not achieved by accident or by chance – it is an outcome that occurs in the process of interacting deliberately and productively with ourselves and the circumstances of our lives.
It all begins with sincerely looking in the mirror, and skillfully using the faculties of your mind – your thoughts and emotions which generate your behavior. As you master your mind, you will draw on your natural abilities to lead others by becoming an honest role model others trust, resect and would truly wish to follow.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you’ll find strength.
~ Marcus Aurelius
How is Self-Mastery Linked to Intelligent Leadership?
Perhaps the most direct connection is the unconscious impressions that bubble up from the mind about whether a leader possesses two essential qualities: trustworthiness and competence. These impressions, which form almost instantly outside the awareness or control of both the observer and the observed, make lasting imprints on the mind. In addition, they, whether right or wrong, become hard to change due to our human tendency toward confirmation bias — the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving excessively less consideration to alternative possibilities.
Let’s look more closely at the concepts of trust and competence.
The ability to trust another is the most important aspect in all human relations and especially in fellowship simply because it is directly connected to our basic survival instincts. Humans become social beings and then communities as a way of fending off potential danger by relying on one another.
Upon meeting someone our brain immediately sizes up the person and evaluates whether this person is a friend or a foe, can they help us rather than hurt us, should we believe them; should we follow them?
These assessments happen so quickly — by some estimates less than three seconds — that is hard to say what information goes into forming them. What we know, however, is that they become the cornerstone of whether we decide to trust someone or not, and trust is the foundation of genuine respect.
Intelligent leadership which creates voluntary admiration and fellowship goes hand in hand with respect; one can not exist without the other.
“No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself.”
~ William Penn
Once trustworthiness is decided upon, we quickly move to assess someone’s intelligence and strength, or competence.
In this round, we assess the person’s actual ability to do what they say they can do. We quickly asses factors such as a person’s confidence, how respectful they are toward themselves and others, do they seem in charge of their own thoughts and mind, and most importantly, are they honest and authentic. This information helps us evaluate and shape our judgment about a person’s competence.
While intelligent leadership is a combination of trustworthiness and competence, all the confidence in the world, however, amounts to very little if the leader is not first judged to be worthy of trust and respect. Without them, the leader’s constructive influence is not going to get very far, and over time it will turn into control, manipulation and threat.
How to Master Oneself
The journey to self-mastery begins with mastering one’s thoughts that incessantly flow in and out of the mind which then become the basis of our emotions, decisions and how we interact with ourselves, others and our world.
But how can we master our thoughts? To do so we first need to realize that we are not our thoughts, good, bad or indifferent. Thoughts, the product of small drops of chemical transmissions in our brains, are only tools to help us survive and find our ways in the world. That is all. There is no need to believe them, especially if they are distorted, which they often are because of the brain’s inherent negativity bias.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Once we discover who we are beyond our thoughts tell us, we will learn to lead our thoughts rather than being led by them. It is only then that we can master the self by mastering the mind.
Self-mastery, therefore, begins with the right understanding that who we are is far greater than our thoughts. When we realize that we are not our thoughts, our identities, our accomplishments or lack of them, and our past or our imagined future, we then come to realize that we are the thinker and not the thought. This immediately frees us from the influence of unproductive thoughts and judgments, which leads to the mind becoming clam and the brain functioning in a state of balance and harmony. We thus become proactive rather than reactive. As a result, our natural agility, competence and self-confidence surface which enables us to become intelligent leaders, not minding if we are leading a family, organization or country.
When you master your mind, you have mastered yourself. In doing so, your natural abilities to lead others by becoming a sincere role model who people trust, respect and would truly wish to follow.