Leaders who make a lasting difference in their organisations are those who are not afraid of change, or of taking risks. But before a leader can lead a team to success, they first have to be at their best.

In Courageous Invitations: How to Be Your Best and Succeed through Self-Disruption, Dr. Jefferson Yu-Jen Chen and Anne Duggan invite leaders to be courageous, take risks and ensure that their teams make what they call “a reciprocal contribution” to the organisation. Leaders who empower their teams are likely to achieve better results because all stakeholders are cognisant of the benefit for themselves as well. Leaders need to be aware that people will give their all when they also stand to gain something.

Organisations often measure the success of their leaders by referring to the key performance indicators agreed upon appointment. These usually include profit margins, revenue earnings, and improving business performance, among others — all of which are important benchmarks for any business. It’s not enough, however, to merely measure success only in terms of these operational criteria. After all, organisations are made up of people and the successes they achieve are through the efforts of good, agile, and visionary leaders, and the people they lead. But, in order to be an effective leader, you must be courageous, take risks, and best of all, ensure value creation for everyone in your organisation. 

In their book, GIBS faculty Dr. Jefferson Yu-Jen Chen and colleague Anne Duggan invite leaders to be courageous and disrupt some longstanding beliefs that can be self-limiting.

In order to change your circumstances, you must be brave enough to try to change those circumstances. The authors challenge leaders to rise above the self and invest in their workforce, to ensure that the yields benefit everyone, from the cleaner to the top executive.

Chen and Duggan highlight the importance of value creation — that is, activating your team to help you deliver your objectives, while ensuring that they also win in the process. In this book, leaders are urged to invite courage into their daily actions as they seek to effect change in their worlds, and in the worlds of others. Chen and Duggan believe that when individuals invite courage into their lives, they can be open to new ways of thinking, hence the metaphor of self-disruption.

“Our thinking is that in order to be great, you cannot be average. You must constantly invite yourself to be better. (And) those invitations require you to exercise some courage,” explains Chen. In the book, Chen and Duggan have put together some gems to “assist leaders to navigate self-disruption, and to re-imagine, re-calibrate and activate your best self”.

Although Courageous Invitations falls under the category of self-help books, its authors see themselves as carriers of messages and lessons that can be beneficial to others. Although they use contemporary stories to illustrate various examples of overcoming obstacles, they have also had their fair share of life’s challenges — and as the cliché notes, they have survived to tell the tale.

“When we wrote this book, we thought there must be other people who are in similar situations. In fact, some of the messages carried in the book have come up in my teaching and coaching,” explains Chen.

Co-author Duggan is an Australia-based lawyer and chartered accountant whose foray into the business world spans corporate strategy, strategic transformation, and major infrastructure delivery. Theirs is no ordinary collaboration: Chen and Duggan have been friends since university days. So, it was easy for them to connect the dots together and produce a self-help manual for those who need some nudging and encouragement.

A new take on finding purpose

Many people navigate life trying to understand and master the self. The concept of self-mastery is often narrated in inspirational films or books as a construct that requires one to travel far away to find the “self”. The idea of purpose is usually centred on the individual finding out why they exist, and whether they are living up to said purpose.

Chen and Duggan, however, challenge the idea that one should embark on a long and arduous journey to master the self — they see purpose as an ever-evolving construct. They suggest that leaders should “explore various audacious possibilities instead”. By this they mean modern leaders should approach leadership from a lens of collective development and focus less on individual milestones.

One of the constructs they suggest leaders should consider is the concept of reciprocal contribution. Chen and Duggan argue that “one’s purpose does not often lead to any gratifying outcome until you understand the needs of those you wish to contribute to and until you find meaningful ways in which they can contribute to you in turn”. The premise of reciprocal contribution is similar to the concept of ubuntu, where individuals work together for the good of the collective. When you work with others for the greater good, then everyone grows.

“When you are playing your part, and others are doing the same, we all become better. That mutually reciprocated effort ought to prevail until humans become better. When humans become better, society becomes better. We spend a lot of time focusing on finding purpose. But purpose changes. The question is how are you making reciprocal contribution every day in the spaces you occupy?” Chen asks.

Activate your best self

One of the most revered and renowned leaders in the modern world is basketball and NBA great Michael Jordan, who led his Chicago Bulls team to six championships in the 1990s. Jordan once famously said: “You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.” In his playing days, Jordan was known for being highly self-driven, and expected teammates to always raise their standard whenever they were on the basketball court.

Chen and Duggan talk about showing up, and always activating your best self. This means that at any given time, you intentionally desire and work towards being a better version of yourself. People who work in organisations look up to their leaders not only for guidance, but they also draw inspiration from leaders who drive themselves as hard as they are demanding of others.

“You should start to tune into the fact that there are many opportunities for you to be more than who you are right now. You can dream bigger, think smarter, and take the shot with confidence,” suggest Chen and Duggan. In order to effectively lead their organisations, leaders should take more shots, that is, keep trying until they find their groove or the point where everything clicks into place.

Chen believes that when you take more shots, there is always the risk that you might not score the ball into the proverbial basket. But he also notes that when a leader keeps trying and is intentional in their practice, it will hold them in good stead.

The authors of Courageous Invitations: How to Be Your Best and Succeed through Self-Disruption note that some of the best leaders in the world have taken risks, failed and tried many more times. “As long as you know you can bounce back from the risks, unless your failures are catastrophic or highly immoral, most people only care about your achievements or how you bounced back from adversity and became more,” they assert.

Shifting mindsets, making a difference

One of the tools that Chen and Duggan provide for leaders who are navigating their way through highs and lows in an organisation is called the SHIFT method. SHIFT stands for Sincerity, Heuristics, Intentionality, Fortitude and Transfers. This method has been set up to help leaders navigate their way to success.

  • Sincerity: This is closely linked to the notion of honesty, which is often associated with being fair and telling the truth. Sincerity prompts leaders to empathise, love and care for others. It empowers leaders to be honest, vulnerable and transparent.
  • Heuristic: An heuristic is a mental shortcut to problem-solving that employs a quick, less complex thought-processing approach. A better understanding of these heuristics and of the biases to which they lead could improve judgments and decisions in situations of uncertainty.
  • Intentionality: The focus is on performing every act we conduct with consciousness, deliberately and directly. By doing so, we can steer our minds and actions toward something more frequently and repeatedly. It is also the power of minds and mental states to be focused on things, ideas, beliefs or hopes.
  • Fortitude: This refers to an ability to show courage in the face of pain or adversity. Fortitude is a crucial component of the SHIFT approach. Without it, our lives may feel like just another acronym.
  • Transfers: In the context of SHIFT, transfers comes from the psychological term transference, which describes the phenomenon in which an individual redirects emotions and feelings, often unconsciously, for another person onto an entirely different person. In business, this phenomenon refers to finding constructive ways to engage with subordinates or employees.

“There will always be a dominant logic of the era leaders find themselves in. But there will also be new logics that challenge those entrenched social frames. With times changing, if you are not able activate your best self to start thinking differently, you will be stuck in an old paradigm,” notes Chen.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Self-mastery begins by identifying, developing, and exploring your goals.
  • When you activate your best self, you give yourself permission to be better.
  • Invite yourself to be courageous as you seek change.

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