Some forty years ago in a classic Harvard Business Review article entitled The Power To See Ourselves, Paul J. Brower wrote that the difference between a great and not so great leader is often not a difference in ability, rather “the difference lies in self-concept.”
Similarly, Peter Drucker declared in his soon-to-be classic HBR article entitled Managing Oneself, “Success comes to those who know themselves—their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.”
The message of both authors is simple yet profound—leadership effectiveness is directly related to how well leaders know themselves, how confident they are in being who they are, and how able they are to engage others in the pursuit of their goals.
The fact is, the more aware you are of your strengths and limitations as a leader, the clearer you are with regard to your goals and aspirations. The better able you are to integrate those insights into a leadership style and philosophy, the more effective you will be in a leadership position.
This notion doesn’t preclude the fact that other capabilities contribute to effective leadership. Intelligence plays a role, as does intensity, drive, intellectual agility and many other factors. Yet, a genuine comfort with yourself and your aspirations has a great deal to do with your ability to influence those around you.
But it is not easy to develop that level of comfort. Dr. David Astorino of RHR International, a leading firm in leadership assessment and coaching, believes that self-awareness and insight are the most challenging yet the most critical aspects of leadership development.
Says Astorino, “First, human beings aren’t wired for self-insight. Second, our culture doesn’t celebrate self-awareness and introspection. It celebrates action and individual achievement.”
As a result, too many leaders are so narrowly focused on their own achievements that they push those around them aside and leave their organization behind.
That’s a problem, says Astorino, “because given the extreme complexity of today’s business environment, the jobs of direction setting and decision making are way too big for one person to handle.”
Some leaders and their organizations have found ways to take on this challenge.
At HomeBanc Corporation, an Atlanta-based financial services firm, Chairman and CEO Patrick S. Flood recognized that the ability of the company to sustain its impressive record of success was directly related to developing his own and his leadership team’s ability to forge ahead in a challenging business environment.
Flood enlisted the support of consulting firm Generative Leadership to help address the challenge. Flood says the firm, "didn't just give us leadership tips of the day. They went deeper with me and the executive team to really get at the early experiences that shaped our leadership styles, how those experiences influenced our goals, and how we communicate and react to things as a result.”
What did Flood learn from these insights? "Leadership styles and behaviors are based on your experiences. If you want to evolve as a leader, you need to understand the experiences that brought you to where you are and the forces that shaped who you are. Only then can you effectively evolve as a leader to face new situations.”
And did it help his team? “Without question,” says Flood. "Now, when facing a leadership challenge, we all do a better job stepping back to examine alternatives, consider with whom we’re interacting, and communicate in a way that is best for everyone and the organization.”
But let’s not make it sound too easy. Initiatives like HomeBanc’s provide a great start by creating focus and awareness and providing guidance. But real improvement requires an ongoing commitment.
Once you define your leadership strengths and challenges, you have to be willing to deal with the insights and implications. And that means looking into the mirror and making a commitment to do what you need to do, each and every day, to be a more open, engaging, inspiring leader.