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Navigating the Love-Fear Polarity in Leadership: Overcoming Today's Challenges

Updated: May 14

In a burdening and fast-paced era in which the problems of the world become our own problems and our problems become the problems of the world, leaders are compelled to ask: how can we rise above the circumstances and lead?


This is the question that sets our series on "Business Challenges" in motion, and we begin our journey with this first article, dabbling in ideas of "us and the world" and "the world around us".


city lights futuristic

Challenging times


We do live in challenging times — mental health issues, leadership crises, political tension, economic uncertainty, the rise of AI, enhanced virtual realities, you name it. Optimism and pessimism separate those who see a stairway to heaven from those who see a highway to hell, but the truth to the matter is: we all look at the world today and wonder - where are we headed? Where is this world leading us?


The question is indeed pertinent, but behind this very question lies one of the root causes of the very "problem of the world" we're trying to solve, and that is: the idea that the world defines our future, not ourselves.


What is leadership?


Some will say that leadership is about rousing speeches or leaning on unwavering optimism, but true leadership is greatly about perception and choice.


Behind our choices, however, there is always an underlying emotion we are trying to meet, and in the majority of cases - as observed by American author, coach, and speaker, Anthony Robbins -, our choices consistently aim to meet at least four out of six emotional needs any human being has, and these are: certainty, uncertainty, significance, connection, growth, and contribution; the first four being the ones we will invariably find ways to meet (certainty, uncertainty, significance, and connection). The basis we will use to meet these emotions, however, depends on the habits we've developed founded upon a deeper layer of ourselves, one that oscillates between only two primary states: either fear or purpose.


These two driving forces are inherently connected to our human condition, and their relation to our living can perhaps be better illustrated by the metaphor of a sailboat.


The Sailboat Metaphor: The Water, the Wind, the Sail, the Keel, and the Captain.
The Sailboat Metaphor: the Water, the Wind, the Sail, the Keel, and the Captain.

The boat floats over water and movement comes as a result of the wind being picked up by the sail, but it also depends on the keel extending down into the water to prevent the boat from flopping over and capsizing. The captain, in turn, is responsible for steering the boat, adjusting the sail and the keel's direction, effectively leading the vessel to its destination and its destiny.


Making a parallel - the water can represent our inner world. In the corporate context, the inner world would be the office, the people, the internal dynamic, but it could also be the company's identity, its brand, product, service, and its purpose. The wind, in turn, can represent the outer world, and in the business context, it would be the market, the trends, consumers, competitors, everything that goes on around the company. The sail represents the company's ability to connect with the external world, and pick up the winds, while the keel represents the company's ability to "know itself", to master its inner dynamic, knowing its objectives, its weaknesses, its strengths, and its essence.


If a company has no keel - no internal management, no internal structure, no solid foundations - it can easily flop at the mercy of the winds (the world, the market, the trends). If, in turn, the company has no sail - no connection with the outer world - it doesn't move! It gets stuck in ideas, in limited perspectives, and it ultimately stays behind. All companies invariably have these dimensions (the outer world, the inner world, the aspect of mastering the inner world, and the aspect of connecting with the outer world), but they do manifest them in different qualities and they steer their keels and sails based on different parameters.


What is the quality of your water (inner clarity), for example? Is it clear? Is it murky? Is your company primarily driven by a positive motivation or is it ultimately driven by fear and the pressure from the market, from investors, from fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of not keeping up with AI, fear of what "they" will say, fear of fill-in-the-blanks? Both fear and purpose always co-exist, but which one runs the show? Which one makes the calls?


Secondly, how well the winds you have picked are serving your destiny or destination? Does your company let the winds dictate its destination or does it read the environment wisely, and chooses the right moments to lower and lift the sail, connecting with the right winds that will lead it to where it wants to go? If a wind says: "We have to go online"; do you immediately go online? If a wind then says: "Forget about it, consumers still value the offline, we have to go offline!", do you go back to offline? What is the basis for the decision-making process, and what is it that your company wants?


The answer to the question about what we want lies in the hand of the leader. In our sailboat metaphor it could be represented by the compass carried by the captain, one that doesn't point to the "magnetic north", but one that perhaps points to a north only known to the captain - a true north, the boat's wanted destination, or the boats designated destiny.


The love-fear polarity


Although the analogy doesn't provide us with any ready answer for our immediate problems, it does puts in perspective the dimensions involved in the role and activity of leading, and as much as there are operating external factors in our process of leading and decision-making there are also internal factors which are equally important and cannot be ignored, for it is out of these internal factors that our primary disposition to engage with the world arises, and it can be veered either by fear or purpose.


So if we really think about it, there are only two primary ways in which we can choose to engage with the circumstances we live in today's world - one based out of fear, desperately trying to set a foothold in a whirlwind of change; and another based on inner guidance, primarily, shaping certainty from within. We cannot escape the fact that, as much as we are spectators, we are also participants of the world, shaping its course as much as it shapes ours. But our ability to shape the world depends largely on our ability to define certainty for ourselves.


"But everything can change!", one might say, "how can we define certainty for ourselves?". Everything does change. But at the same time, there are things that never do, and it is only based on the things that never change that the exercise of leadership is possible. This claim - that some things never change -, although seemingly "spiritual" or "romantic", is not a product of inspirational thinking, imagination, nor hope, but a concrete historical fact.


At Vocalis we love to look at the past in search for insights for the present, for as much as history can teach us about what has changed from time to time, it can also reveal that which has never changed, being therefore essentially timeless.


Greek columns withstanding time

The things that never change


In one of the versions of the Greek myth of creation, Uranus creates Chronos - time. Chronos eats his own children, for everything that is born into time must also die in time - a symbolical representation of the cycles of life, the seasons of nature, the processes of birth, death, and rebirth, the rhythms of planets, stars, and so on. Chronos, however, is tricked by one of his own sons, Zeus, who gives the god of time a rock instead of his own body, thus escaping death by letting time take that which is temporal, and living from that which is timeless and eternal - his own nature. Zeus conquers victory over Chronos, overcoming time with that which is timeless.


The myth is obviously fiction, yet it allows us to understand that, on the eyes of ancient Greek thought at least, change is intimately connected to time and in spite of time, there are essential things that endure.


So what has endured? Looking back in history - and thanks to the advancements in archeology and linguistics we can do so -, we find out that since the very first texts of wisdom literature, there is a pervading idea of eternal virtues or essential qualities inherent to human living that are always in operation, and since their first appearance in literature around 4,500 years ago, they have remained virtually the same until our days.


In the 4,500 years old text entitled "Instructions of Ptahhotep", for example, there is an idea of a set of governing virtues inherent to human nature. This same idea appears again 2,100 years after in Greek philosophy, more particularly in the context of Plato, who laid the foundations for that which his student, Aristotle, would later define as the field of ethics.


Jumping another 2,400 years from Plato's time to our present day, the same foundations would find again practical applications, and become the basis for another field that we now know as psychology. The fact that these principles manifest coherently throughout history and still find practical application today leads us to the hypothesis - if not the realization - that, in spite of ages of change, the fundamental laws inherent to human nature have remained virtually the same for at least 4,500 years (if not since forever).


It seems that our well-being is bound to a set of natural laws, just as physical objects are to the law of gravity - and, whether we like it or not, these laws are never at rest. These eternal themes - or the patterns of well-being, as we like to call them at Vocalis - are not imaginary, but real. They have become the very basis for fields such as ethics and psychology, and they are also observable in the very way in which our health operates, for example.


The patterns of well-being, just like our health, are constantly at work - constantly striving for harmony and sustainable unfoldment. So in recognizing these patterns behind well-being, we can ask ourselves different questions, such as: how can we harness the power of that which is timeless and apply it to our advantage today?


mountains sun inspirational

A timeless story


Throughout history, many influential figures have used these timeless forces to overcome challenges and shape their destinies, and - since we talked about Greek myths and touched on Greek philosophy -, it seems suitable to highlight the story of one of the most influential historical figures of Greece, whose life fitfully portraits the victory of purpose over the circumstances, and that is Plato.


The circumstances in which Plato lived were far from "certain", but they did not stop him from writing over 26 books and establishing one of the most enduring educational institutions in the history of humanity, which remained open for almost 914 years - the Academia. We can learn from the author's life as much as we can from his books, and Plato's life exemplifies the power of leading with purpose, demonstrating that we too can guide our paths, navigating through the problems of the world, rather than being led by the external circumstances.


Around 427 BCE in Athens, Plato, son of Ariston, was born into a well-connected and noble family, and at that time, Athens and Sparta were locked in a fierce political and military conflict that would last for thirty years. Initially groomed for a political career, Plato's life took a transformative turn upon meeting Socrates. Captivated by Socrates’ humble discourses on life questions and virtues, Plato abandoned his political aspirations to delve into the fundamentals of human existence. Plato believed that a system must be built on solid foundations in order to succeed, so it seemed only logical to try to understand these foundations before engaging into power struggles for the sake of opinionated political perspectives.


In 404 BCE, at the age of 24, when Plato was poised to make his mark on the world, he witnessed the defeat of Athens to Sparta in the thirty-year war, and the subsequent fall of Athenian democracy. Athens, however, would not be the only pillar of his life to fall. This tumultuous period saw the brief rise of a harsh oligarchy known as the 'Thirty Tyrants,' which included at least two of Plato’s relatives, but after a civil war, this regime was toppled and democracy was restored. The political landscape remained quite unstable, and five years into the new democracy, in 399 BCE, the Athenian aristocrats decided that Socrates' encouragement to inquiry and philosophical investigation posed a threat to their authority and power. So, when Plato was about 29 years old, he witnesses his mentor be sentenced to death by the Athenian court, completely shattering his emotional strength and his dreams.


War, loss, and the death of his mentor should have stopped him from continuing his philosophical pursuit, but they didn't. For almost ten years Plato lowered the sails and traveled. It is believed that only around the age of 38 he started writing his famous dialogues which would culminate with the opening of his school - the Academia - in the outskirts of Athens.


The Academia - or Academy - became the world's model for modern universities, and his philosophy became one of the most influential lines of thought in the history of humanity. More than two thousand years after his death, we continue to be fascinated by his thoughts, penned down on his words, despite his warning that wisdom is never to be found in words, but only in the contemplation of the eternal patterns of life within (Phaedrus 275).


Some food for thought


Where was Plato's world leading him? Let's look at the circumstances of his life leading him to "start his own business".


Let's cover the highlights, briefly:

  • Born into war - one that would pervade his infancy, teenage years, and early adulthood

  • Encouraged to pursue a political career and discouraged by his family and nobles to pursue philosophy

  • Impacted by Athens' defeat at the age of early adulthood, witnessing the entire governance of Athens change

  • Shocked by the death of his mentor which not only turned off Plato's beacon of light, but sent him a message about what awaits those who want to challenge Athenian authority with unconventional ideas

  • Consequently cornered between either following his purpose and facing death or giving up and not following his purpose


Where was the world leading Plato? To a good place? To a bad place? He could have fought, he could have given up, he could have criticized the world, but he didn't get stuck in any of these places. Where on Earth did Plato find the strength to follow his path going against the world around him? He knew he had a purpose.


There is something about purpose - and you can see it as a blessing or a curse - which is the fact that it is inseparable from who we are. Purposes are rooted into our very lives, just as in the apple tree is already inside the apple seed, only waiting to come into expression.


When the time comes, we are called by our nature to become our purpose, to be who we are and express it, and in this moment, amidst changes and uncertainties, we are all being called to lead from purpose.


ballerina purpose picture

The power of purpose


Rooted in our purpose - not in fear -, we find ways to innovate. We were trained to think of innovation as synonymous to "keeping up with technology" (chasing the winds), and that couldn't be further from the truth.


Innovation is bound to purpose, creativity, connection, and meeting needs, and we can use technology at our favor in this process - using the winds in favor to our destiny. Our purpose goes beyond "pretty statements", "philanthropical ideas", or "big dreams of saving the world" - it is an endless source of life, and it can take shape into multiple projects, products, brands, services, in infinite versions of ourselves, and it does not depend on the world around us to exist.


Any form of creativity stems directly from our purpose. If we ask ourselves: what are the multiple ways in which we can express your purpose? What are the projects we can create based on that purpose? What is the one thing we can do to bring our purpose to the world today in our own way, with the resources we have? When we shift our focus from fear to purpose, we're no longer bound to the world and its changes, but to life and its possibilities.


The problem is that we forgot what purpose truly means, labeling it as a pretty (and abstract) vase that we put on a shelf and dust off when new investors come in or employees come visit our business, instead of using it as the fuel to everything we do and as the center of our business equation: Business = Purpose + Needs. The changes might affect the way in which purpose meets the needs, but they do not change our purpose.


Harnessing change, and making choices


Someone - whether we're talking about a company or an individual - truly rooted in their purpose knows for a fact that no matter what happens to the world, wherever they are, they will be delivering. This posture - this ability to navigate the world rooted in our own purpose and not at the mercy of the winds - comes with its own set of challenges, and it does require work, skill, and strong capacities, but it does not require fear of uncertainty and it certainly cannot exist under the premise of letting fear steer the wheel, putting ourselves in a "survival mode" instead of a creative mindset.


One of the challenges of leading through purpose is change. Heraclitus, 500 BCE, believed that change is the only constant in life, and today he would most certainly be right. Thus knowing that times will change, we can adapt - not necessarily by following the norm, but by identifying how we're going to position ourselves before the changes of our time. We can use the resources around us - new technology, new systems, new trends - to serve our purpose, not the other way around. Without purpose, any wind carries our sailboat: "AI is here, let's become fully technological". But with purpose, guidance comes from within: "AI is here, let's be more human". The fact is the same, but the response is completely different.


Only leaders truly aware of their purpose have the power to choose how to respond to the circumstances, allowing their nature to rule over their condition, and not the other way around.


If we allow ourselves to be creative, to plan for change as much as we plan for survival, sketching out new ideas, and embarking on this process as a team, in a matter of days the world around us can still be the same, but we will have changed.


The true change we should all be striving for is that of consistently going from fear to purpose, and meeting purpose with action. When purpose awakens, a leader is born, and when we rise to our own leadership, we come to realize one simple truth: that the commitment to purpose is an individual choice, and it does not depend on the world.


The world didn't invite Plato into being who he was. No one could have been Plato, but Plato. No other company can be your company, but your company. And no other person can be you, but you.


If we believe that Purpose is indeed one of the pillars of harmony, then the questions to assess it are: Who am I? For whom do I do the things I do? Who do I truly serve? What does my audience truly needs? How can I serve this true need in my own way? What are the resources and structure I need to serve it?


If before AI transforming the answers to these questions into an actionable plan would be something exceedingly time-consuming (if not prohibitively expensive), with the advent of AI, we can come up with a purpose-based action plan within minutes by requesting ideas on how to turn our answers to these questions into actionable plans. So why not use AI in many ways to serve our purpose? The results of a small step might be surprising. We can - and we should - use the tools available to us to our favor and use the winds of the world to fuel that which we came here to do, sharing what we came here to share, meeting the needs around us in our own unique way.


Easy? No. Possible? Yes.


There's another collateral beauty to purpose, and that is: Collaboration. By leading, we send a signal to the world, and the world responds. People who resonate with your purpose show up. You find yourself in a community. Suddenly resources come, opportunities emerge, new partnerships, new revenue streams, and what was once a challenge of "keeping up with the world" might soon become a challenge of "keeping up with so many projects!". Life exists. Life is. There are eternal patterns to life (or patterns that are at least 4,500 years old), and these patterns are inseparable from who we are, inseparable from you.


The bottom line


Thus by looking at the "problem of the world" from this perspective, we realize that as much as it is a "problem of the world" it is also a problem of ourselves.


What is it that we truly want? Who do we want to be in the world? Are we willing to pay the price of change? For whether we like it or not, it will come one way or the other. The choice to be a leader is by any means an easy one, and it does require pulse, strength, determination, and a great sense of self-awareness.


Once again the words of old times continue to echo in the wind and hit the canvases of our sails: Know thyself.


We hope that putting into perspective the matters of certainty and uncertainty around the topic of leadership brings new light into your assessment of your own potential, your possibilities, and your future.


Are there challenges ahead of us? Definitely. But with clarity on our purpose, there is little to fear and a lot to be done. No matter how much the world changes, nothing can change the reason why we came here for, and what we came to be a part of. There are infinite resources available to help us craft and shape our wildest dreams into new ways of winning victory over the circumstances.


Whether it is in today's world or in the worlds to come, there will always be needs to be met and purposes wanting to come to fruition. To find the link between the two is to lead our own sailboat, navigating the waters of life, moving forward in the winds of time.



A dream


So it's a paradox, isn't it? Where will we lead the world? What will the world be like when we become leaders of our own purpose, serving each other to the best of our abilities? We don't know for sure, but we do know that this is the world we want to live in. We salute you, leader! We hope you have an awesome journey. Stay strong in your purpose, and take care!


-Vocalis Team


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