When the concept of leadership is mentioned, many people’s minds immediately rush to what a leader does, and yet those are just external manifestations of who a leader is.
As you strive to be a better leader in your business or workplace, emphasis should go to mastering your inner game so that such mastery will manifest on the outside as successful leadership.
What is the Inner Game?
The inner game entails being aware of and in touch with who you are on the inside. It is the relationship that you have with yourself. When that relationship is good, your relationship with the external world will be good.
This means that as a leader, you will be better able to inspire your team, set the right priorities, know how to resolve conflicts productively, and so on.
People who have mastered the inner game are clear and certain about most things in their professional and personal life, they are stable on the inside and the outside, they are strongly guided by a desire to be truthful and authentic, and they are at peace with themselves.
In contrast, leaders or people who have not mastered the inner game aren’t clear and stable because external influences easily sway them and throw them off-balance, so they are always reacting. They are also driven by their egos, which makes them rather self-centered and selfish. They aren’t at peace with who or what they are, so they constantly yearn for love and validation from external sources, such as their subordinates.
As you can see, mastering your inner game sets you up for success as a leader while lacking inner mastery makes for poor leadership and failure.
The 3 Pillars of the Inner Game
Playing the inner game hinges on honing three major aspects. The first is your intuition. No leader can succeed in their role if they haven’t learned to trust their intuition or gut feelings. You need to have a sixth sense about things if you wish to be exceptional in your field. Mastering the inner game therefore entails doing things that help you to become more aware of your intuition so that you can depend on it to make better decisions in your day-to-day life.
The second broad aspect of the inner game is your character. Here, emphasis should be placed on your values which underpin everything about you. Your habits are also vital in setting your character, so effort needs to be directed towards cultivating habits that support you while also getting rid of those which aren’t helpful. For example, leaders should cultivate the habit of delivering on any promises they make because this builds a character of dependability and reliability.
The third pillar of the inner game is self-awareness. As a leader, it is important to be self-aware regarding your strengths and limitations as well as what you stand for (and what you cannot stomach or allow to be associated with you). Who you are on the inside is exuded in everything you say or do, and those around you pick up cues about this. It is therefore important to be self-aware so that you take steps to polish up where you are weak, and to capitalize on your strengths while leaning on others who are skilled in the areas where you have weaknesses.
Strategies to Help You Master the Inner Game
There are several strategies that you can implement in order to play your inner game effectively. The specific strategies that work best will vary from one person to another, so it helps to have an extensive repertoire of these strategies in your toolkit. You can then switch them up as and when the need arises, and rely more on those that have given you better results. We share some of those helpful strategies in the discussion below.
Mindfulness and meditation. Being in the moment (mindfulness) and taking time off to meditate daily or regularly will enable you to develop a better relationship with yourself in order to remain centered. Mindfulness and meditation have lots of benefits for leaders, such as helping one to keep stress at bay, increasing focus, clarity of thought, and so many others.
Journaling. Journaling is important because it helps leaders to reflect on what is happening in their lives and how they can improve themselves in order to become better leaders. As journaling becomes a habit, it makes it possible for leaders to track their progress and keep in touch with who they are.
Practicing gratitude. You can look at this as a sub-set of journaling because many people maintain a gratitude journal. However, you can still practice gratitude without journaling about it, though it is a lot better to write things down. For example, you can cultivate a daily habit of mentioning at least five things that you are grateful for each day before you go to sleep. This habit will train you to see the positive in all situations and events, and you will silence that inner critic who dominates you self-talk. You will also see the good in others, resulting in better relationships with employees or stakeholders.
Exercise. You will be surprised to see exercise as a strategy for playing your inner game well, but exercise belongs here because it has a role in boosting brain function and building character. When you are physically fit and healthy, your brain functions better, you are better able to handle stress (and will not lose your cool over minor infractions), and you will have the mental and physical stamina to put in the long hours that leadership often demands.
Reading & Learning. Mastering the inner game calls for reading as well as being a lifelong learner. Leaders need to do this because the corporate and business landscape is ever-changing. You must therefore constantly update your mental models so that the team you lead enjoys lasting success despite the evolving environment in which they operate. Keep reading and learning about how to improve on the inside so that your results on the outside are a natural outcome of your internal improvements.
Effective leadership begins with who you are or who you become on the inside. The path to success as a leader therefore lies in playing the inner game and nurturing the best relationship ever with yourself. If you are uncomfortable during silent moments when you are speaking to yourself, it is time to get to work on your inner game. Enjoy this journey to mastering your inner game, and see the benefits manifest in all areas of your life. When you play the inner game well, you never lose touch with your soul!