who you are influences how you lead

A lack of self-knowledge is the most common everyday source of Leadership Failures. The behaviour of a leader reflects his self image. But before making an attempt to change his behaviour, it is imperative to ascertain the cause behind it


By : Santhosh Babu | People Matters on 1st May, 2010

A lack of self-knowledge is the most common everyday source of Leadership Failures

The behaviour of a leader reflects his self image. But before making an attempt to change his behaviour, it is imperative to ascertain the cause behind it

Harsh Banerjee is a senior executive in a Telecom company who thinks he is the Alpha Dog among the pack and behaves exactly like that - intimidating his juniors, supporting and protecting his followers and shamelessly demonstrating narcissistic behaviour. He seems to be in a world of ignorance even though everyone talks about how insensitive he is.

A lack of self-knowledge is the most common everyday source of Leadership Failures. Having facilitated top management workshops and coached senior leadership for a while, I strongly believe that self-knowledge and alignment of values to action is the most important leadership trait.

To perform at your best without sacrificing yourself to achievement is to operate from a foundation that is anchored solidly in what is most important and most enduring in your life. To step into the space of being personally accountable and to align all of this to the outcomes a leader seeks makes him a truly powerful leader. Self -awareness for a leader can be his understanding of his personality type, his values, needs, habits and emotions. And this gives rise to a basic question starts: How is ‘who I’m’ influencing ‘what I’m doing now’?

The basic premise of self-awareness is that each one of us is responsible for what’s happening around us and we create our own life experiences. This is a complex process that can be seriously hampered if you are unconscious of how you operate, or if you have a misconception about yourself. Many use rationalization to give themselves good and justifiable reasons for why they act the way they do. If there is a problem, you may pretend it is not with you but it is with the other person. This is called projection. These defense mechanisms keep you unaware of your interpersonal leadership impact. The need here is to discover and develop ‘who you really are’, not what ‘who others think you should be’ and not even ‘who you think you should be’. But who you really are and how well you control your life, lead others and function in relationships depends on how well you utilize the strengths and recognize the weaknesses you discover in your own self.

A leader needs to create a shift at both ‘being’ and ‘doing’ levels. Many of the performance feedback and coaching frameworks focus solely at a ‘doing’ level where a specific behaviour is changed to get new results. So Harsh could decide not to intimidate his colleagues and be more sensitive to them by doing certain things differently. However this does not address at a deeper level on why Harsh was demonstrating such behaviours. What assumptions about self and others were creating those behaviours in Harsh? What is his self-image and how is that influencing his behaviours?

When we are aware of our personality, values, needs and emotions and how they influence what we do, a shift could occur at a ‘being’ level. This shift will help a leader align his values to his goals and behaviours, thus enabling him to be in the ‘flow’. A leader who is self aware and operating in the ‘flow’ would be able to manage others, manage systems and more importantly, will be able to ‘walk the talk’. While 360-degree feedback and internal feedback mechanisms can help create awareness to an extent, powerful training interventions and coaching can truly make ‘the’ difference.


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