In order to be a great leader, you have to know yourself. This is paramount for a number of reasons. You need self-mastery in order to lead others, to keep to the path you set, but most of all you need self-mastery so that when someone shows you a better way you can take the new information on board in a constructive manner. Leaders throughout the world often lament their position to those closest to them. Being a leader is hard and often lonely. Some leaders lose themselves in the act of leadership and end up causing irreparable harm to themselves and their organisation.
This is where Ikigai can have great impact on the leader. The concept of Ikigai is to find your life’s purpose. If that is the case, it stands to reason that you might want to figure that out before you decide to be a leader. The best leaders are self-ware. They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses. This duality is the underpinnings of Ikigai, but there is so much more to it than that. For truly great leaders to function they must constantly re-evaluate their Ikigai and make sure that it is in line with the organisation.
At the same time the followers must also know their Ikigai. Without this knowledge you are rudderless. Moreover you are a danger to the organization and to yourself. You must know who you are and what you want before you can move toward it. More than that you have to know what you are good at and what you offer the world so that you can organize your efforts in the best way possible.
So what exactly is Ikiga? Well… the real question it would seem is what is your reason for life, that is to say what is you reason for living. This question is not meant in any sort of esoteric manner. In the context of this discussion, this is as real as it gets. For many of us the question sits at the heart of what makes us happy or more poignantly, what is standing in the way of our happiness.
In many ways, the ability and opportunity to ask this question is seen as a form of privilege. Although there is some truth to that, there most certainly should not be. Every person needs to ask this question of themselves and every leader must answer this question before they dare assume the mantle. This question is the beginning of wisdom through self-awareness.
Leaders, I charge you, know thyself.
Ikigai stands as a four tier concept. It is certainly more complex than that but this is the structural base. By addressing these four questions of the self we can come it, the purpose of our lives as realized through self-examination. At the end of the day it also comes down to making a living, after all the purpose of your life must also sustain your life. To be fair it might not be possible to make a living by following your Ikigai or perhaps not in the short term. However, being mindful of your Ikigai can only be beneficial. After all, as Socrates said, The unexamined life is not worth living.
Question 1- What do you love?
On the surface this question seems innocuous. However there aren’t many things in life more important than this. In the first place, what you love is what drives you. What you love inspires you. But, we have to be careful. What we love can often destroy us. By examining what you love you can make sure that your love is something positive. This gives you the opportunity to grow that love and reinforce it with knowledge and purpose and help it mature. On the flip side, if your love is a negative, you can isolate it and work on it. Thus you can either remove it and replace it with something more positive or you can grow past it and make sure that it does not cause you harm. Whatever it is that you put in this box, it is clear that it should be held in the highest esteem of your cognitive conscious mind. Also remember that you can love as may things as your heart can carry. Love abundantly and fully. Never, ever, diminish your love.
Question 2- What does the world need?
This question is not as broad as it would seem. Start small, local, and move outward from there. What does your would need? Or you could start broader and then move concentrically closer to home. In either case, this means you need to look at the world we live in. Conversely, to the question of love being directed inward, the question of what the world needs is directed outward. This could be practical for example a product that will change an entire industry or an abstract idea that will change the world for the better.
Question 3- What can I be paid for?
This is perhaps the hardest question to answer because the answer exists outside the self. The related question of what people are willing to pay for is also something needs to be looked at. Interestingly there is also a time element that needs to be looked at here. There are many products that were complete flops when first released but ended up being a massive success when the world caught up with it. The best example of this phenomenon is the selfie stick. It was invented in the 1980’s by Hiroshi Ueda, but only gained popularity after his patent ran out in 2003. During that time the “telescopic extender for supporting compact camera” as Ueda called it was actually considered one of the most useless inventions of the century. But then something amazing happened, the age of the phone camera heralded the age of the selfie. Thus when Wayne Fromm brought the device back and renamed it the Selfie Stick it suddenly became one of the most important accessories and a must have tech item for the discerning selfie model. So, when you answer this question make sure your answers are dynamic and make sure that you are ready change with the market.
Question 4 - What are you good at?
Once you answered the preceding questions you can tackle this one. Here it is vital to be honest with yourself. You have to be honest with yourself throughout the process but here there is a particular danger. At the end of the day whatever you decide to pursue must entail some level of proficiency in order to garner success. You cannot decide that your Ikigai is be the world’s greatest singer if are tone deaf. Once you have metered out the preceding questions you have to take a realistic view of what you are good at the see how that can work in relation to the other elements.
The way all this plays into leadership is obvious when looking at Ikigai through the lens of leadership, however this is also a valuable exercise for those who follow. Firstly, you have to know yourself in order to ascertain whether or not you agree with the person you have decided to follow. After all one cannot just blindly follow. At the same time, as a follower, you have to sometimes let the leader know that you don’t like the direction they are taking and that means you have be to acutely aware of what you believe in.
It is important to make sure that we hold our leaders to a higher standard and this means we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. The fact of the matter is that once we have a leader, it is far too easy to become complacent in how we interact with that leader. In a word this kind of thinking is lazy. This is one of the problems with the current paradigm of leadership, we have created this false idea that the leader is supposed to think for us. This paradigm is further perpetuated by the leaders because they are more concerned with holding on to their power than with the act of leadership.
This is the fundamental failure of leadership and yet we cannot blame the leaders. Human nature being what it is this is a natural out shoot of power. Power corrupts; there is no doubt about that. Therefore we must hold our leaders to task and make sure that the feedback loop is positive. To do this we have to be secure in ourselves and this is where Ikigai can make a huge impact.
Question everything. There is nothing wrong with wanting to gain better understanding. Any leader that is afraid of questions has missed the point of leadership. As the leader your task is to take the organisation to an optimum state of being, to do this you have to listen to your followers, your critics and detractors. Being the leader does not make you right. Being right makes you a leader. I have been told often that I always want to be right, as if that a bad thing. It’s not. It’s a very good thing. The real issue is insisting you are right regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Great leaders can and must acknowledge their failures and shortcomings. As a leader, if you are wrong, you must stand on the highest platform and proclaim this to your follows. This is not weakness it is strength. This will allow the leader to course correct and make sure the organizational integrity is maintained.The leader has to be right all the time. The only way to truly achieve this state is to constantly review what you know and be ready to adjust your knowledge. Keep in mind that you never know what people are capable of and you can always learn something new, from anyone. Remember, the wise man learns more from the fool than the fool does from the wise man.