Teresa Carmo is a proponent of authentic leadership, a forward-looking marketer, and an unconventional thinker with a heart for inspiring the reach for greater heights. She combines an avid curiosity and a sharp vision, with a wide and deep marketing skillset from several strategic roles in elite global brands, such as LEGO, Johnson & Johnson and Nestlé, in multiple geographic remits, to drive business change that meets the future. Teresa is a former Senior Global Marketing Director and Global Head of the Preschool business at the LEGO Group’s HQ in Denmark, specializing in Leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and acting as strategic advisor for businesses and entrepreneurs that are making a positive change in the world.
We seem to be living in an era of an undeniable leadership gap, paradoxically coexisting with an abundance of leaders. Suddenly there seems to be a rise of self-designated leaders, leaders related titles are popping up all over social media, and leadership became a buzzword, often dissociated from the depth and meaning that would make it justice.
On the other hand, the world is changing at a pace the human mind can hardly follow, pressing the need to redefine the way leadership is embodied and understood. We continue however to mistake management positions for the ability to lead. Moving up the corporate ladder and being a true leader, are two inherently different things. Those role modelling the behaviours of leaders, and those in positions of power, are not always found in the same exact place.
While it’s true that leadership does not require a title, it can be embodied by anyone, anywhere, the fact is that it is absolutely mandatory in positions of power. So, collectively and individually, we need to maximize laser focus on what could in fact address today’s leadership gap and aspire a world in which true leaders and those entitled to be such, are a seamless match.
Might the office be hindering true leadership?
True leadership always begins with the inner person. John Maxwell
The leadership authority, John Maxwell, said it well. If there is a discipline rooted in the deepest layers of the human condition, that’s leadership. This is probably why it’s often misunderstood in contexts driven by extrinsic values. The noise and turbulence found in the rush of achievement-oriented agendas, prevent us from looking at the submersed levels that compose our human reality. With good intentions to get somewhere trusted to be relevant, we may spend our time chasing, or being chased by, all things beyond those that could bring us closer to ourselves. Three interconnected examples that come to mind:
- We outsource the power over our lives: Busyness, job titles, promotions, wealth, are some of the criteria that define our sense of importance. These are however criteria external to us, not defined by us, and rarely connected to inner reasons. External validation has the power to get us trapped in the hamster wheel and before we know we are living a life that doesn’t fully reflect who we are or need to be. The hunt for the next corporate ladder is not so commonly anchored in a clear sense of purpose.
- We go along to get along: There’s a sense of safety that comes from doing what we think will be valued by others. More often than not, we tend to replicate commonly accepted behaviours, acting alike to an extent larger than what human nature would anticipate. We don’t listen enough, let alone own, our biggest source of power: our uniqueness. Leadership is however more likely to be found in a truly unique and genuine character than in someone following a set of expected ideas.
- We avoid venturing far from the shores: Opposite to where human growth is actually found, we tend to avoid greater risks in life. More than what we may realize, we live on autopilot, within the apathy zone of what has been normalized as the “way to success”. The path to prioritizing the inner person isn’t so tangible, so the unpredictable ends up being an opponent of authenticity, and therefore, of leadership as well.
This reflects yet what the world, and the office culture, reinforces. So, it takes conscious effort to break through the norm and get hold of what personal purpose driven choices truly mean.
Leadership is in its essence an act of service. Leaders who step in with the heart and the mind to be so, are there to give rather than take. Only those with a profound sense of self combined with selflessness, can do this well.
What does mountaineering have to do with leadership?
Emotional intelligence seems to be the currency to thrive in the ever-changing world we live in; at the heart of it lies self-awareness. In his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman describes this well. And if leadership starts with the inner person and this with self-awareness, then self-awareness might as well be the x-factor of true leadership.
Self-awareness doesn’t yet take enough spotlight in how we manage our lives individually nor in how companies hire, evaluate and promote. It is definitely underrated.
The human reality is however complex, so the path to a solid inner clarity is not one-dimensional nor a straight line. As much as the growth found in the workplace is invaluable, there’s limits to what a business setting can realistically do. The ultimate responsibility for the holistic build-up of human capital, lies with the individual and the leader to be. How this is approached, it’s a personal choice and a commitment for a lifetime.
Offering perspective, a way I personally found helpful over the years, is looking for where personal passions meet discomfort, and explore it consistently.
To illustrate, in May this year I did the eight days trek to the Everest Base Camp, at 5364 meters above sea level, in the Himalayas. For those less familiar, trekkers in such context are confronted with many aspects of harsh physical, mental and emotional discomfort. All things big and small have a much higher force of gravity there, easily threatening how and if we get to the next stage of the trek and to the top. This is not less true for our strengths, and mainly our weaknesses, which get surfaced very visibly, in concentrated effect. It’s a powerful show don’t tell exercise.
There’s a power not to be underestimated in contexts that get us in touch with the bumps of being a beginner again, the vulnerability of having little under our control, and the neutralizing effect of any sort of status or title that we often tie our identities to. These experiences get us to face our human condition as the ultimate source of answers and see other perspectives of who we are or are not, that we might not see so clearly in the workplace.
The choice on how to explore passions, discomfort and risks, are personal and infinite. They are however likely to bring life-changing individual and collective rewards, including building more self-aware, purpose driven and authentic leaders.
What seems to be paramount is to shift the generalized understanding of leadership from a title-oriented discipline to a human capital based one, with an accent on self-awareness.
That requires: 1) an elevated consciousness of the complexity and criticality of assessing, shaping and honouring the inner person by leaders individually, which takes responsibility prior entitlement; 2) the collective normalization and incentive of the pursuit of unique personal choices that lead to clarity of purpose and authenticity; 3) a higher appraisal by organizations of emotional intelligence evidence and a deep reformulation of what a profile for leadership positions should in fact take.