When was the last time you took a candid look inside?
When was the last time you lifted the hood and saw not only that which is running great, but that which is destined to fail? It is said that the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.
Professor Bill George at Harvard Business School – former CEO of Medronic, Inc and author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership – points out that leaders who fail often do so because they fall prey to the pressures and seductions they face. It is seldom the starvation of leadership skills, style or power that drive the failure, but rather the indigestion of their egos, greed, craving for public adoration and their fear of loss of power that drives their failures. This recipe often overwhelms even the most capable in their responsibility and accountability to build sustainable organization.
In contrast, introspective leaders, authentic leaders, and servant leaders understand that the true compass is about investing in others and bringing them together around a common vision. The moment you choose to teach, mentor, or coach is the moment you realize that this work is not about you but about the greater cause in executing that vision.
Jim Collins often refers to what he calls Level 5 leaders – those whose agendas, focus and resources have been elevated to the well being of their organizations much more so than that of themselves. Introspective leaders remain focused on the outcomes derived by the sustainable change in the behaviors of their teams, resisting the essence of human temptations, which often distract with ego and insecurity.
If you set that vision for the achievement of your respective teams – which many may often consider to be unreasonable or unattainable – by motivating others to work harder than they have ever worked before, it is amazing how often they will defy common wisdom in achieving the very same vision.
Introspective leaders are purposeful and effective in planning and systematically executing on that plan with the ability to change course when flexibility is required. They work relentlessly to tackle the immense challenges that inevitably arise and reflect constantly not only on their own performance, but the performance of their teams.
In short, they do what most effective leaders do in any context because they are aware of their strengths and focus on fully utilizing these core competencies. But they are also candid about their weaknesses and surround themselves with those who provide this context.
In many ways, introspective leadership is inherent, but it can also be trained. Your DNA encompasses characteristics such as drive, the innate ability to influence and motivate, and perseverance against even the greatest odds. But you develop those qualities through hands-on leadership experiences. One such quality is adaptability in the face of unexpected obstacles, changing market dynamics, and outright failure.
Adaptability allows you to learn from mistakes and the process to grow both personally and professionally. So, as Professor George asks, “Why is it so hard to lead yourself?” For introspective leaders, the answer is that there is often a gap between an idealized self (that for which you want to be seen) and the real self (that which you really are).
The fundamental key to growing as a leader is to narrow this gap with a deep self awareness that only comes from straight and honest input from those you respect and trust, coupled with a candid exploration of yourself and followed by a rational effort to change the necessary behaviors, acquire additional skills, and focus on the right performance at the right time to enhance your ability to reach your vision.
If that vision and its supporting mission is focused on achieving ambitious results via an important and noteworthy pursuit vs. maintaining an image of oneself, introspective leaders evolve in the manner in which it becomes necessary to serve a larger cause. If you think more about how people perceive you than what you need to do to realize your goals, it is time to take a step back and recalibrate yourself to what really matters.
Very few people follow titles – but they will follow courage.