Inspirational leaders are a rare breed. they have a deep passion for their profession, clarity of vision, unshakable value systems and boundless drive and determination. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life and from all industries, but they have one
thing in common: They’ve all done an introspective dive, know their strengths and weaknesses, and have little confusion about their personal code of ethics and bottom-line priorities.
In other words, they don’t kid themselves into thinking they are something they are not, and they don’t behave in ways that contradict their core values. They know who they are, and they understand themselves, warts and all. They continue to develop their strengths and don’t shy away from examining and correcting their weaknesses. They are authentic leaders.
Authentic leadership makes its debut in a multitude of ways, but frequently it is triggered by a pivotal “aha” moment—a moment when values are tested, illusions shattered or insight gained. One way to accelerate the process is to create your own aha moment. While none of the following methods are particularly easy, all are worthwhile if you are aiming for the stars and realize there may be a few self-imposed hurdles blocking your way.
Look objectively at your own behavior. While it’s possible to do this on your own, most of us won’t or don’t (or can’t). A more proven and relatively easier method is to complete a reputable self-assessment and then work with the assessment administrator to best understand the results.
A well known and respected leadership self-assessment is the HoganLead, created by Todd Henshaw, director of Wharton’s Executive Leadership Program and facilitator of The Council’s Leadership in a Sales Organization conference. HoganLead measures potential (your positive leadership qualities), challenges (the qualities that might be impediments to optimal leadership) and values (the things that motivate you based on your personal value system). By uncovering these sometimes hidden and frequently ignored characteristics, a leader has a blueprint on which to start a program of learning, development and enhanced communication with staff, peers and those at higher levels.
Listen carefully and believe what you hear. I was recently the subject of a very well managed “360 degree” feedback assessment. With the encouragement and support of my coach, Caroline Nicholl, I went into the exercise with a realistic yet optimistic mindset. I looked forward to the feedback—both positive and negative—because I knew that, if I could listen to and accept how others perceived my work style, values and leadership skills, I would have the basis for a plan of improvement. All really mature and grown-up, right?
Little did I realize that my inner child was lying in wait. While I got all I hoped for in terms of candid evaluation, I underestimated the emotional impact of so much honesty. At first I felt alienated by the feedback (the feedback group consisted of seven peers and colleagues, my boss and the two people who report to me). I realize now they were fair in their assessment, and I can see now that they did supply a ton of positive feedback. But as we all know, positive feedback is somehow less impactful than negative.
Afterward, I struggled for weeks to find my own leaderbalance and come to terms with the fact that I’m not perfect. Then I started making small changes to my behavior, which led to a few major changes. And while I have miles and miles to go, and I’ll have many missteps along the way, at least I believe I’m on the right path. Lesson learned—though I’ll continue to check in with my colleagues and staff just to be sure.
Develop a plan and start making changes now. Completing a self-assessment, undergoing a multi-rater feedback evaluation, and diving deep with a coach are not worth a hill of beans unless you do something about it. “Knowing” is a very powerful place to be, but real power comes in taking what you know and making sometimes uncomfortable personal changes to become the successful leader you strive to be. Enlist the help of others, bring people closer and rely on their feedback to get to the next step, the next level, the next success.
You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re as good a leader as you can be. Even if you are very successful, you still need to grow to reach your full potential. Most of us will never get there unless we do some soul searching and get some objective information from others.
So take the blinders off, open the kimono and dig deep to find the optimal leader just waiting to emerge. You have nothing to lose except possibly some self-deception. On a personal and professional level, you have everything to gain.