Unravelling the enigma of leadership: my journey of self-exploration

I will start by admitting that I was on the verge of falling into deep despair when I decided to enter the field of leadership. In this day and age, leadership is a ubiquitous and fashionable concept.

The leadership conundrum.
Gaspar González

Gaspar González Jurado-Gutiérrez

Reading time: 13 min

It is a concept that has become democratised and, therefore, everyone has an opinion on it. These opinions spread at an astonishing speed, saturating our ears and eyes in talk shows, newspapers, television programmes, politics, video games, films and much more.

In the rain of opinions: the challenge of finding clarity in leadership

In my life, I have adopted a philosophy of “a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing”, exploring diverse sources, reading, talking and exposing myself to different points of view. However, this approach can be risky at times. I had absorbed a considerable amount of information from a variety of sources, and there came a time when I felt overwhelmed.

Excessive exposure to contradictory opinions and varied perspectives brought me to the brink of confusion. What one asserted was contradicted by another, what I heard here was presented differently there. Finally, I was faced with a crucial decision.

I had to stop and acknowledge that the concept of leadership is inherently interpretable and subjective. But I could also do something else: I had to undergo a process of self-reflection. I asked myself five fundamental questions about leadership and decided that only if the answers I provided were absolutely 100% convincing could I consider myself to have a solid understanding of this topic.

And these were the five crucial questions in my personal journey to understand leadership:

  • Is a leader born or made?
  • Does a leader have to be a leader 24 hours a day, 365 days a year?
  • What are the key competencies and skills of a leader?
  • If Gandhi is the exemplary leader, then what about me?
  • And the last question, though potentially disturbing, involved many important reflections: could Hitler be considered a great leader?

From unanswered questions to inner certainty: my personal transformation

I answered myself honestly and, you know what, not only was I unable to accept my answers 100%, but, at the same time, I was confronted with the “limiting beliefs”, those inner ones that we all harbour and that, mind you, our brain manages.

I don’t understand much about the brain, but I trust the scientific evidence and, above all, my relationship with it. I have serious conversations and I always end up saying: I love you, I need you, but I’m in charge here! Once you empathise with the brain, you can come to understand it.

Our brain is not designed to be happy; it senses worries and risks everywhere, it is rather lazy, it doesn’t like to work, let alone be dazed by new things. Seeing all that he was questioning me, my brain must have thought: “If this one starts now to reflect, to change habits, to learn competences… I’m going down…”. So, his messages to me were along the lines of: “Gaspar, don’t complicate yourself with this leadership thing, let it go and relax”.

Faced with the discrepancy between my brain’s advice and the confusion I knew I was getting into, I was presented with two alternatives:

  • Listen to my brain and leave things as they were, and here’s peace and then glory.
  • Adopt the strategy that I finally followed: the search for a complete solution that addressed each of my uncertainties.

The search for a clever (but NOT naïve) phrase to solve five questions.

The subject of leadership goes beyond the five eternal questions I asked myself. The true essence lies in the simple act of waking up every day and practising the art of “being a good person”. Being a good person is a universal, objective concept that transcends barriers of race, geography, politics or religion.

These are values that we can all understand, even though each individual may define them in a unique and personal way. The beauty of this is that all answers are valid; all contribute something and, when added and multiplied, create a better world.

The fundamental premise holds that the quality of being a good person is an essential pillar in many areas of life. It is not only limited to the professional sphere, where integrity and ethics are fundamental to standing out as a good professional, but also extends to fundamental roles such as being a good parent.

“You will never, ever be a better leader than you are a person”

In the world of work, righteousness and empathy not only build a positive reputation, but also promote a healthy and collaborative work environment. Being a good person in this context means treating others with respect, fostering cooperation and maintaining an ethical commitment in all actions.

Likewise, in the role of parenting, being a good person translates into values such as patience, understanding and unconditional love. These qualities not only influence the relationship with children, but also contribute to the development of a strong and harmonious family.

The importance of being a good person is reflected in all facets of life, as these virtues transcend specific contexts. In personal relationships, in the community and in society at large, the positive impact of being a good person manifests itself in building trust, strengthening social bonds and promoting an environment in which all can flourish. Ultimately, consistency between our actions and our moral values contributes not only to individual success, but also to collective well-being.

Being a good person manifests itself in acts of solidarity, empathy, respect, integrity and generosity. No matter where we come from or what we believe in, these qualities resonate in the human heart universally. When we all, regardless of our differences, commit to practising kindness and humanity, it creates a multiplier effect that can have a significant impact on our lives and the world as a whole.

Ultimately, it is not about the labels or titles we wear, but about the actions and attitude we choose to adopt in our daily interactions. By focusing on the practice of being good people, we can transcend divisions and work together to create a more compassionate and caring world. It is a reminder that leadership, in its truest form, is about humanity and being a beacon of goodness in a complex and challenging world.

And while we were at it, I came up with another intelligent (but NOT naïve) phrase that had a lot to do with who we are and how much we are worth as a person:

Gaspar, the most valuable title you can achieve is that of a good person. And it is not awarded by a university, but by the practice of your values and the people you relate to.

This other clever phrase (which is NOT naïve) carries a profound truth that we often overlook in our quest for recognition and success in the world. It is not diplomas, degrees or material achievements that define our worth as human beings, but the quality of our actions and the nature of our interactions with others.

In a society that often measures success in terms of status, wealth and power, this phrase is a powerful reminder that what really matters is who we are as people. It doesn’t matter how many academic degrees we have or how much money we accumulate if we are not good people. Our humanity, our actions and the way we treat others are the true indicators of our greatness.

This “title” of being a good person is not awarded at a graduation ceremony or found on a resume. It is earned through the consistent practice of values such as empathy, compassion, generosity, honesty and integrity. It is a title that is built over a lifetime, through daily interactions with friends, family, colleagues and strangers.

It is also a title that is strengthened and reinforced as we positively influence the lives of those around us. Being a good person not only benefits ourselves, but also contributes to building a better community and a better world. When we choose to be good people, we not only improve our own lives, but also inspire others to follow our example.

From serenity to wisdom: my path of reflection in the world of leadership

After taking the initiative and experiencing a surge of serenity and calm thanks to these two optimistic phrases (which are NOT naïve), I felt even more motivated to delve into the depths of the vast world of leadership. This journey led me to a process of deep reflection, where I reached significant conclusions that not only impacted my understanding of leadership, but also my perspective on life as a whole:

Leading from within: discovering the true source of power in leadership

The essence of leadership is defined as the ability to influence others, especially oneself. This statement encompasses immense power, as consciously or unconsciously, we all possess the ability to influence those around us, whether known or unknown:

Sociologists have claimed that even the most introverted individual will influence more than 10,000 people in their lifetime. This fact illustrates the magnitude of our impact on the world around us.

One example that highlights the unconscious impact of leadership on society is Andrés Iniesta’s goal at Chelsea on 6 May 2009. This event not only took his team to the final, but also had surprising effects on society: the birth rate rose by 16% nine months later and, one month later, by a further 11%.

If you aspire to lead and have a positive influence on others, it is essential to recognise that the path to leadership starts from within, with personal leadership. The fundamental premise is that before you can lead others, you must be able to lead yourself effectively and authentically. Leading yourself is the most challenging and exciting project a person can face: your own life project.

Leading your own life project is a challenging and exciting undertaking that prepares you to lead others effectively. When you become a leader of yourself, you become better able to inspire and guide those around you, creating a positive impact on your environment and the world at large.

Leading your life involves making conscious decisions about your values, goals and priorities. It is a process of self-reflection in which you ask yourself who you want to be, what you want to achieve and how to get there. Through authenticity and clarity of vision, you set a path that leads you towards fulfilling your dreams and aspirations.

As you become a leader in your own life, you radiate an energy and confidence that is contagious to those around you. Personal leadership becomes an inspiring example to others, showing them that it is possible to face challenges, learn from failures and continually grow.

Discovering your leadership – conscious, unconscious or white label

Leadership is a dynamic and multifaceted concept that can take many forms depending on the person exercising it. In the world of leadership, we find individuals with different approaches and attitudes towards their leadership capacity. Some embark on a journey of self-discovery and conscious personal growth, while others lead more spontaneously, and some are aware of their potential but are hesitant to step into active leadership.

Conscious Leader

Those who consciously work on developing their leadership capacity and constantly strive to improve are on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth of great significance. In this journey, the individual not only recognises his or her potential to influence others, but also commits to honing his or her leadership skills in order to maximise his or her impact.

Unconscious Leader

A leader who exercises leadership unconsciously, without a defined intention, does so spontaneously and, in some cases, can be surprisingly effective. This type of leadership flows without a predetermined plan and sometimes fits naturally into situations. However, if this person decided to consciously work on and practice his or her leadership, he or she could achieve even higher levels of success and effectiveness.

White Label Leader

One who is aware of his or her leadership ability, but does not decide to actively take it on, practice it, learn and perfect it, is at a crucial crossroads. This person is aware of his or her potential to influence his or her environment, but hesitates to take the necessary step to develop his or her leadership. Instead of taking charge of his own growth, he allows others to define and guide his leadership path.

Which of these types of leaders do you recognise yourself as and how can you move forward in your leadership journey?

The dance of empowerment: discovering that we are all leaders and followers

Each of us has the opportunity to play the role of leader or follower, depending on the activity we are doing and the people we are interacting with. This is because we all have the ability to influence others, while at the same time we are susceptible to being influenced by them.

For example, in the school environment, the teacher acts as a leader by teaching us something new, while we take on the role of followers by listening and learning. However, once we understand the subject, we can become leaders by helping a peer by explaining what we have learned.

This perspective reveals that leadership is not static or exclusive to some people; we can all lead at different times and in different situations. The key is to recognise when it is appropriate to take the lead and when it is more beneficial to follow someone else. It is like a dance in which we exchange roles according to the needs of the moment.

In short, we all have the capacity to lead and follow, and this is an inherent part of our daily lives. Our daily interactions are a kind of game in which we sometimes play the role of leader and sometimes the role of follower, depending on what is most appropriate at the time.

Leadership in contrast: positive versus negative leadership

Finally, I will address the question of whether Hitler can be considered a great leader and provide my reasoning: Yes, Hitler was a great leader, but his legacy left a profound catastrophe in human history.

The impact of leadership on a group or organisation is undeniable, although it is crucial to recognise that not all leaders generate positive effects. Regardless of the quality of leadership, it can have both negative and positive effects, and this dichotomy is based on how a leader develops and exercises his or her skills and competencies.

The quality of a leader is closely related to their commitment to learning and practice. Positive leaders devote time and effort to improving their skills and competencies, and they do so from the heart. Their motivation comes from a genuine desire to make a positive difference in the lives of those they lead. On the other hand, negative leaders also devote time and effort to improving their skills and competencies, but they do so not from the heart but out of obligation or to serve their own self-interest.

A positive leader influences through persuasion and good example. They seek collective well-being and a common benefit that leads to a better situation for all. These leaders are able to inspire others to follow them with enthusiasm and commitment. On the other hand, negative leaders resort to manipulation to achieve their goals. Their focus is on individual and selfish benefits, and they are willing to sacrifice the welfare of the group for their personal interests. This always leads to a worse situation for all involved.

Ultimately, we could conclude by saying that leadership is neither inherently positive nor negative, but depends on how it is exercised and the intentions behind the leader’s actions. Leaders can choose to influence from a place of authenticity, understanding and collaboration, or from a position of selfishness and manipulation. The quality of leadership is therefore directly linked to the motivation and ethics of the leader, and is a reminder of the importance of leading from the heart and with a focus on the well-being of all.


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