Good leadership begins with you. Everyone talks about developing good leadership skills. The truth is that the only person who can really teach you how to be the best leader is . . . you.
It’s tempting to rely on an expert to show you how to mine the hidden truths about good leadership. The bookshelves are stuffed with leadership assessments and techniques. They can all add value but they cannot answer the most important questions: Who are you and what do you believe?
No expert can tease those answers out into the open except you, no matter how much money you spend or how hard they try. A lack of self-awareness and self-knowledge produces a leader who is grounded only in the latest model or theory—a little like switching religion when the going gets tough or when something better comes along.
Models and Theories
I wrote a blog a few weeks back that talked about how I used different strategies as an FBI agent to surround the foreign spies I was trying to recruit to work for the U.S. government. An individual commented and asked why I didn’t use a leadership model that is currently very popular in training circles.
In actuality, there is nothing wrong with the leadership model he mentioned, but he missed the point because anytime you’re dealing with people, models and theories can only guide a leader so far. At some point, good leadership comes out of what is inside of you.
To paraphrase the venerable Jim Collins, if you’re a leader who doesn’t know who you are and what makes you tick, you will never move from good to great.
I relied on sound theories and dependable models when leading a team, but I distinguished my investigation from the others in the pack by drawing from my personal strengths. I’m not talking about the strengths that come from a skills assessment—I’m talking about the strength of character that girds and sustains us when we’re not sure where else to turn to or who else to trust. This is the type of self-awareness and self-knowledge that is our true north in any situation.
No Ego, Please
The admonition to become more self-aware can create a point of stickiness because many leaders can be self-absorbed. This is the opposite of what I’m talking about. A leader who is self-aware has not only accepted their weaknesses, they’ve faced them head on and have learned how to manage them as well. There is no room for fantasies or ego.
The heart of good leadership is connecting with others so they will follow us. Like the Wizard of Oz, people will only follow a promise for so long before they pull back the curtain to get a good look at who is behind it. Don’t let them see an empty suit.
Key Areas of Awareness
People are diverse and complex which is why it’s hard at times to accurately interpret our reaction to different situations. Here are key areas for self-awareness and self-knowledge:
- Remember that it does not change as you age
- Spot ways it impacts the way in which you interact with others
- Identify your strengths and assets
- Recognize your weaknesses and vulnerabilities
- Create opportunities that allow you to thrive
- Minimize situations that trigger the less desirable personality traits
2. Personal Values
- Make a list of values that are important to you.
- Prioritize the following values: honesty, self-awareness, listening to others, attentiveness, spirituality, authenticity, gratitude, trust, gentleness, humility, courage, self-knowledge, self-discipline, patience, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, charity, freedom, generosity, peace, joy, hope, and decisiveness.
- Think of times they have provided direction in your life
- Identify how you keep sight of your most important personal values in the busyness of your day-to-day activities
- Recognize that you are a creature of habit and are predictable in your response to the unknown, the unexpected, and the uninvited events in your life
- Identify the patterns that emerge in those responses
- Distinguish between the patterns that are beneficial and those that interfere with your effectiveness and productivity.
- Pinpoint the patterns that help you succeed and minimize those that impede your progress.
- Identify the emotions that reveal themselves most often
- Name the ones that rarely reveal themselves
- Recognize the triggers for negative emotions
- Make an association between your emotion and your behavior
- Consider that awareness of your emotions leads to greater control over them
Good leadership begins with self. You will always be the best expert on you—no matter how much you pay a consultant or coach.
How can you begin to reflect on your daily experiences to gain more self-awareness and self-knowledge? Do you want to make that commitment even if it means you’ll need to eliminate something else? What external factors will help you be faithful to the process? What doubts do you have about digging deeper into understanding yourself better?
I’d love to hear from you.
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