"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."
- Hamlet, (184.108.40.206). William Shakespeare, English dramatist, playwright and poet, 1564-1616
At some point you realized that you are a leader.
For many, this is a daunting realization, because as the leader you are ultimately accountable for the success of your business.
Being a leader means others are following you. It implies that you are going somewhere and they trust you to do the right things, the right way, at the right time. They trust that it’s in you to pull this off.
The question is: Do you know what’s "in" you?
Do I Need To Know Myself?
The word “leader” doesn’t refer to the work involved, like “plumber” or “programmer” or “teacher” or even “manager”. Rather, “leader” evokes qualities – vision, strength, integrity, confidence – traits that we tend to associate with leadership.
So if leadership is about the person, not about the work that person does, then as an effective leader you need to know yourself and to continually develop yourself to be more of the person – the Leader – you want to be.
In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner note:
Wanting to lead and believing that you can lead are only the departure points on the path to leadership. Leadership is an art, a performing art. And in the art of leadership, the artist’s instrument is the self. The mastery of the art of leadership comes with the mastery of the self. Ultimately, leadership development is a process of self-development.
The quest for leadership is first an inner quest to discover who you are. Through self-development comes the confidence needed to lead. Self-confidence is really awareness of and faith in your own powers. These powers become clear and strong only as you work to identify and develop them.
Our Five Step Challenge
So, what exactly, are you looking for in this quest for self-knowledge? While there are many possibilities, these challenging steps guide you as dig into understanding yourself better.
1. Know your values and beliefs
Values are ideals, qualities, and entities (like education), that people consider desirable in and of themselves; they are the things that are most important to us.
Beliefs are ideas that you have accepted as true, whether or not they can be proved. One person may believe very strongly that an assumption is true and another person might argue, just as convincingly, that it is not.
While values and beliefs are not identical, they are very much related to one another. Knowing clearly what values and beliefs you hold gives you important insight into your motivations – why you act the way you do. It also helps you to be clearer in your communications with others.
2. Be aware of your assumptions
An assumption is something supposed, something taken for granted. An assumption is like a belief, in that it is perceived as truth, even though it is not known for sure whether it is true or not. We are often not aware of the assumptions under which we operate.
What if your assumption is wrong? Too often acting on an inaccurate assumption causes problems, misunderstandings, wasted time, and bad feelings.
Your challenge is to become aware when your actions or reactions are the results of assumptions, and then be willing to find out if your assumption is correct or not. When you learn to question your assumptions, you see other people differently and are much more competent and compassionate in your actions.
3. Understand your impact on others
Impact is how you make other people feel. It happens by the way you look, the way you talk and listen, the way you respond, your physical presence, even by what people have heard about you. By seeking to understand your impact on others you can learn much about yourself and about relationships. This can make you a better leader, and a better person.
To understand the impact you have on others you have to actually ask them what they think. And you have to make it safe for them to tell you. This may take some time, so be patient. You must be willing to hear things you may not like. You may be shocked, or feel hurt, angry, or completely misunderstood.
The goal here is simply “information gathering” so don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Remember, you’ll also hear a lot of positive things that you may not have known about yourself. Use what people tell you to get a better understanding of how they see you and why they react to you the way they do.
4. Recognize those things that “hard” for you – and overcome them
There are some things that are just plain “hard” for you, and you’ve probably become expert at avoiding them. You may be so good at it that you don’t even realize when you do it. You may call them weaknesses, inabilities, or your “nature”.
What kinds of things? Things like delegating work to others, telling employees that you’re unhappy with their performance and why, speaking in front of groups of people.
Not addressing those “hard” things can prevent you from achieving what you really want. For example, avoiding telling employees when their work is not up to par is not getting the best results possible. And a lot of energy and attention is used up by these avoidance techniques.
When avoidance becomes habitual you lose the ability to choose. When you give up your ability to choose, you relinquish your ability to make decisions, to take “right action” – this can damage your effectiveness as a leader.
5. Embrace the unknown
For most people, being in the unknown is uncomfortable. You don’t have all the facts. You don’t fully understand what’s happening now or you are not sure what will happen next. It means you’re not the expert and others may know more than you. It’s being vulnerable.
Many people respond to the unknown by denial. They believe that by acting more certain, they can convince themselves and others that they really do know. They believe it’s better to appear “strong,” “sure,” and “self-confident”.
Effective leadership views the unknown differently. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay not to be the expert. It’s okay to ask other people’s advice and opinions. If you’re the “expert”, you can miss important new information and ideas.
Take the Next Step
In the final analysis, leadership is not really about leading other people. It’s not about trying to get your people to do what you want them to do.
Leadership is about leading yourself.
It’s about taking responsibility for your own life. It’s about connecting to that extraordinary, alive part of you that wants something more, that takes you beyond simply living. It is expressing to everyone around you the uniqueness and the vitality that lives within you.
Where are you in this process, and which of these steps has proven to be the most difficult for you?