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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Are you a wise leader and don’t realise it? 5 signs [Wise Wednesdays]

“I don’t feel like a leader.”

Often when people say this to me, I ask them a few questions to explore the feeling.

It often turns out that:

1) They think they need an official title or a team to be a ‘leader’

2) They equate leadership with a sort of authoritarian or forceful model that they don’t see themselves in or perhaps even dislike…

3) They underestimate the impact of their presence in influencing outcomes

In effect, they’re measuring themselves against a particular form of leadership.

But why limit yourself to a single form of leadership?

Many years ago while studying medical anthropology, I was struck by the idea of culture-bound syndromes. They’re illnesses that are specific to a particular society.

For example, you may have heard the expression ‘running Amok’ which comes from Malaysia, for someone who’s suffering from loss or shame; or being struck by the ‘Evil Eye’ in the Mediterranean. My favourite is ‘man flu’ in the UK although not officially a syndrome…

What if you applied this idea to your leadership?

You could distinguish between culture-bound forms of leadership that are historical, specific to a particular country or type of society on the one hand; and a more universal type of leadership that is fluid and adaptable, bringing what’s needed by the times or the situation. In other words there’s a distinction:

Culture-bound leadership:

Defined by societal conditioning. More reactive than responsive i.e. tends to act from habit and reinforces cultural norms regardless of the bigger context. Stays within the confines of a particular model and persona.


Universal leadership:

Transcends societal norms of leadership. More responsive than reactive i.e. tends to sense into what’s needed and tap into emergent wisdom that may lead to quiet action. Dances at the edge of culture and is able to evolve.

The people that I work with are mission-driven: they want to make a difference. It’s not status or money that motivates them. So they’re always willing to step out of cultural norms to fulfil their purpose in life – they’re more universal leaders than culture-bound leaders. Perhaps you are too?

Here are a few more signs of being a Universal (rather than a Culture-Bound) leader:

1. You can step up and step back

You’re not attached to job descriptions. You do what’s needed in a given situation. Sometimes you’re at the front, sometimes you’re at the back or in the middle.

2. You anticipate needs but don’t rush to fix

You can sense things that others don’t seem to detect or care about. You feel others’ states, motives and anticipate outcomes. But you also have an awareness that it’s not your responsibility to intervene everywhere.

3. You’re willing to sit in the unknown

Because you don’t rely on external norms to tell you what to do, you may often find yourself without a clear answer as to what to do next. But you trust the process and allow things to reveal themselves in their own time.

4. You balance truth and connection

You have generous empathy and compassion which enables deep connection. But you don’t get overwhelmed because you balance it with equanimity and wisdom. You’ll say what needs to be said including saying ‘no’ where necessary.

5. Your hunches are uncanny when you trust them

You have intuitions that may not make sense on the surface but save you a lot of time and trouble. You might experience synchronicity i.e. meaningful coincidences.

Legends in the Making: One of the members of our Presence Power Possibility mastermind-coaching group felt it was time to leave her job and move on to something different. It didn’t make sense to her colleagues or her team necessarily as she was so successful at it. She felt guilty at times. But the day after she left, it was announced out of the blue that the company was being restructured and her boss was fired – something she neither her nor her team could have predicted. But instead of being caught in the change management process, her energies are now being channelled into a new exciting role and a passion projects for her community creating the next generation of leaders. She also inspired her team to see beyond ‘success’ and trust their intuition as they explore where they want to channel their energies.

Some call this more intuitive way of operating Surrendered Leadership. I like it because it juxtaposes the traditional notion of leadership – as something proactive and even forceful – with the idea of surrender or letting go.

Letting of what? Egoic agendas.

What if the ultimate – universal – form of leadership today was more of this fluid and intuitive variety?

What if giving up of the illusion of control and tuning into a more subtle sense of what wants to emerge is what you’re called to be, serve and lead from in this vastly interconnected, intricate and interdependent world?

Have a good week,


p.s. The Success Trap won a Business Book Award last week. It's exciting to see the fruit of writing Wise Wednesdays regularly for 5 years as this was the seed for the book. I’m very grateful to everyone who contributed to the creative process including my clients, readers, family and publisher Kogan Page. Don't wait to start writing!

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