In this post I want to talk about the Fierce Leadership Framework, which has three layers, all of which are required for us to live life fully, directly face death and transcend to being truly fierce leaders: the fierceness of a warrior, a fierce heart, and a fiercely open vulnerability.
When we think of warriors our mind goes immediately to people who summon their inner courage and are brave enough to confront dangerous situations and emergencies: heroes who have shown no regard for their own safety and, without hesitation, have dived in to rescue some poor hapless soul in distress; soldiers who persistently and vigorously battle against an oppressive foe; doctors and health care workers who rise above their own physical and mental exhaustion to constantly tackle pain and suffering, bringing much needed relief to the sick and dying; we think of people who are driven by a heady mix of adrenaline, beliefs and training to do outrageously incredible things that take our breath away and leave us inspired.
Being a fierce warrior in the context of leadership can be all those things, but it is for the most part a bit more every day: as CEO having the courage to stand up to your forceful major shareholder and chairman to say no to their pet project because it doesn’t make strategic sense for the company; telling a team member that they are not pulling their weight when you know this will be an uncomfortable conversation; being positive and rallying the business with a strong vision when you are struggling with the emotional turmoil ofyour own depression, the death of a family member or a crumbling marriage. In fact, for most of us every day life takes a level of fierceness. It takes the courage to fiercely choose to do what we believe is right in any given situation no matter how hard or adverse the initial consequences.
The ultimate fierce warrior mix is a combination of commitment, devotion to a higher purpose, adherence to an internal guidance system of ethics, honor and morals, service to colleagues, others and the company and a balance of intelligence and wisdom. We do have to be cautious of a shadow fierceness that, bordering on ferocious, can arise as a result of a need to control, a craving for approval, a defensiveness, shame or even a deluded feeling of invulnerability. Don’t be misled by the word warrior, or even fierce, this is not about conquering armies of demons or vanquishing your or the world’s enemies. Invoking visualisations that tap into this aggressive meme ultimately encourage unnecessary denial, rejection and striving. A good way to check if you are on path as a fierce warrior is to embody this feeling. Let your body show you the way. You should feel your fierce warrior in your belly.
Our fierce warrior is not about eradicating fear by pushing it away or ignoring it; it is about facing fear and being present with our superpowers even when we are terrified. There are six powerful ways it shows up: firstly, it empowers us to confront ignorance wherever we find it; secondly, it ensures we are not entrapped in uncertainty; thirdly, we don’t fall for habitual complacency; fourthly, we commit to staying the course under adversity and difficult circumstances; fifthly, we turn in the direction of suffering instead of avoiding it; and sixthly, we take on the risk of the unknown over the known.
The second level of being fierce, fierce heart is an undefended stance in which we openly feel everything, without judgement. With fierce heart we openly allow ourselves to be touched not only by untainted beauty and goodness, but also by unfiltered evil and horror. The intensity of fierceness required for fierce heart is more akin to laser-focused passion than the bravery of being a fierce warrior: we focus this intensity on persisting with the truth of what we experience, no matter how dark this may become; rather than rejecting what is right here and now for us, we face it head on with eyes wide open. This fierceness in our receptivity to what is taking place creates the space within which we can register, plumb the depths or the heights of, and ultimately merge with our fears. Through this fierce heart we include whatever emotion, fear or thought we had been wanting to avoid, which helps us deal with a situation as a leader rather than creating a wall around it.
Our openly fierce heart also empowers up to be deeply compassionate for the suffering of others. This is where we shine as fierce leaders, for in our realisation that we all have fears, we are able to stand with and support others in their fear.
A confronting story which portrays fierce heart at work involves a suicide bombing incident. A suicide bomber walked into the middle of a busy morning market and pushed the detonator. The bomb went off killing and maiming many people, but for some inexplicable reason the suicide bomber was not killed outright. When the first responders arrived on the scene they found one of the injured comforting the suicide bomber who was in the process of bleeding out on the sidewalk. The injured man was able to look beyond the evil, the pain and the death and, invoking his fierce heart, connect at the most basic level with another human being in their hour of need.
Fierce vulnerability is the third level of fierce leadership and it is the most open to our inner selves. It is a portal to our soul nature and through this entryway we are able to plumb our deeper dimensions. While the word vulnerable literally translates as ‘to wound’, fierce vulnerability is less associated with a susceptibility to harm of any kind, be it physical or emotional in nature. Our initial response to any form of vulnerability is to try to avoid it. However, fierce vulnerability is less of a curse and more of a blessing for us as leaders.
Allowing ourselves to experience fierce vulnerability we become more receptive to experiencing our emotions, we perceive our thoughts with greater clarity and we more acutely sense all the pains and the pleasures of our bodies. Through this heightened capacity to be vulnerable we are able to also witness all planes of reality: we become more aware of our permeability; we unmask our identities and realise that they are not fixed; we notice and embrace the impermanence of everything. Our fierce vulnerability gives us the power to embrace constant change: we open to the endless parameters of human existence, including the more oblique, deeper and timeless dimensions; we see clearly that our compulsions, fixations and habits are an empty shell echoing our constant chatter and holding nothing but our need for identity.
The power of fierce vulnerability conditions us to be present with a work colleague who had lost a family member, to sense her pain and to openly listen to her words without judgement or bias. This power allows us to recognise our fear, when we pick ourselves up from a failed venture and start the journey of a new one, harnessing that fear and turning it into an energy that drives our entire team forward.
Think of fierce vulnerability as a non-defensive stance that empowers us to be as widely open as possible to our experience. Being open, with no judgement or defensiveness, we are less susceptible to the opacity of barriers, layers and masks; we are transparent and fiercely present in the moment with our experience, not thinking about what may have been or what we have to do, and the people we lead or who look to us for guidance feel this depth of open presence acutely; many times we don’t even need to say anything as our presence provides an abundance of comfort and compassion.
In a state of fierce vulnerability we see control for the illusion that it is; we attune to the inevitability of suffering; we release our grasping to rationalise, measure and explain and we accept the unpredictability, mutability and inexplicability of the universe; we also operate from a place of greater receptivity to not only to those around us but also, quietening the thrall of our ego, to our inner soul guidance.
Fiercely vulnerable we approach the point of invulnerability, not as a barrier to emotion or protection from pain or death, but as an eternal openness within which there is no place for our fear to cling to and like a wind blowing through an open space it dissipates. Replacing this fear our fierce vulnerability becomes a power of abundance that we hold not only for ourselves, but also for everything and everyone in the universe, to whom we are intimately connected.
The night before my 6-hour heart operation I was exhausted from the almost constant beating of my heart in a life threatening rhythm that fluctuated as high as double the normal heart rate. I was overcome with concern about whether the procedure to ablate the electrical misfirings in my heart would work or not. My mind was awash with a heady potion of positive and negative thoughts and endless questioning. My cardiologist came to visit me. Rather than launch into a monologue about the efficacy of the procedure and what he would be doing in the morning, he simply stayed with me in silence. I could tell he was attuned to my racing thoughts and fears. I could also feel his fierce presence and this calmed me right down.
“Try to get some sleep,” he said, squeezing my hand and giving my one final glance that was suffused with compassion. In that moment I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. I was in good, caring hands and I trusted myself to the flow of events, my fear no longer held my entire attention and my questioning mind subsided. I felt connected to the world around me and that I was at home in my hospital room. The next morning I was wheeled into the operating theatre with a calm mind and receptive body.