Leadership and Awareness

A Common Question . . .

It has to be the most frequently-asked question among those who discover that I’m focused on helping aspiring and emerging leaders – "How would I know that I’ve got real leadership potential?”

Since many, if not most people in business tend to be extraverted, as opposed to being introverted, they naturally assume that there’s some criteria independent of themselves that’s used to gauge their suitability for the role. When they learn I’m a behavioural scientist, their next assumption is that it likely involves psychometric profiling.

This is logical when you consider the facts. There have been millions of leaders through history and across the spectrum of human activity. Surely some one somewhere has been able to analyze the characteristics and traits of the better, more successful leaders and then distill this into some form of inventory. Aren’t great leaders readily recognized by the majority of other people? Their attributes should be described and quantified, right?

Some are incredulous when I tell them that there’s no specific profile for evaluating leadership ability. Certainly, there are common traits and, more importantly, inherent strengths that are engaged in leadership initiatives, but simple possession of these will not guarantee success. In short, there’s no identifiable, measurable template of individual attributes that will signify that anyone is, or could be a leader.

Surprisingly, the introverts among us have less difficulty with the question or the typical responses. They tend to look within themselves for guidance and quite often will construct suitable hypotheses for use as guidelines. By so doing, they are looking in the right place even though they may not be focusing on the right evidence. It is not leadership that they should study, but rather their ‘self’.

Some Form of Intelligence . . .

There’s been a lot of debate over the past ten years or more about the role of intelligence in business success. It’s reasonable to assume that you need a certain level of intelligence to master the complexities of creating value but is it also reasonable to assert that this quality has unlimited and infinite influence? Should the brightest and most intellectually accomplished among us be designated as our leaders?

The ‘gut’ response to this is definitely "No”! Many intellectuals are so narrow in their focus and so readily distracted by irrelevancies that they alienate those around them – consider the ‘absent-minded professor’. Others have intellectual capabilities in abundance but lack the basics in social skills so their impact is rejected out-of-hand.

In addition, there are many forms of intelligence – social, emotional, creative, computational, rational, etc.; I’d invite you to review the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences. He does suggest that leaders need to excel in one form, that of ‘Interpersonal intelligence’, but even he does not suggest that this is ‘sine qua non’.

Surely, intelligence, specifically ‘interpersonal intelligence’ will contribute to leadership success but we need to look further. My recommendation is that we consider wisdom which I define as insight and situational awareness. One would not need to be super intelligent to be wise although such a quality or attribute could qualify one as possessing common sense. There’s more to it though - and it’s worth exploring.

The Role of Wisdom . . .

Is there a link between wisdom and interpersonal intelligence? It’s probable but wisdom isn’t confined to our interactions with others; it has to start at some point within our individual values and thought processes. Wisdom demonstrates a deeper understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations that allows us to make choices or act consistently for optimal results.

This emanates from our perspectives – the way we frame issues – and perceptions – the values we attach to our observations. It insinuates comprehension and acceptance of universal, perhaps absolute standards for evaluation so that our personal values are continuously tested, refined and improved. Clearly, it goes far beyond the interface we might have with another person.

This is heavy stuff though, very philosophical and some could argue that it’s even theosophical and well outside the bounds of business leadership. We need to be more pragmatic here, and to recognize that wisdom, for all its mystery, is just another tool for our mind to use in interpreting and reconciling the world around us.

So, if it’s a tool, what’s the focal material for our wisdom – our insight and situational awareness – to work on? If it’s not common or shared traits, characteristics and attributes, it has to be something deeper – our essential values.

The good news here is that we know where these reside and they are accessible to us, if we want to take the time and make the effort to examine them. It is self-insight and self-awareness that holds the answers to our question regarding our personal leadership potential

Frank’s Approach . . .

He was a superior salesman who suddenly found himself thrust into the role of Sales Manager. His team was made up of ten other supremely independent sales professionals in an intensely competitive market, most of whom held the belief that a new sales manager was the very last thing they needed. Having taken on the challenge though, Frank was determined that he’d be the very best manager the Company had ever known.

He asked me to recommend books, courses and other source materials and then to coach him as he merged into the role. My first action was to guide him through an assessment covering style, emotional intelligence, cognitive traits, acquired competencies and inherent strengths. He was impressed by the thoroughness of the exercise and immediately asked me if it proved that he had what was needed for the role.

I told him that it proved nothing; that was not its purpose. Instead what he was looking at was an inventory of his ‘tool bag’ for leadership and that he would now have the opportunity to select and apply the right tools for the challenges as they arose. His eyes glazed over. Obviously I’d given him too much information and insufficient intelligence to recognize the value of what he was looking at.

We reviewed his mandate as Sales Manager in the context of the organization’s objectives. He identified the areas where he would need to focus to get results and the changes he needed to effect. I then encouraged him to consider the best strategies to achieve those outcomes; he approached the job with enthusiasm and began to sketch out generic action plans at a prodigious rate.

At this point I stopped him and referred him back to the assessment we’d just completed. He’d ignored this intelligence completely, adopting instead more conventional strategies from the general domain. I used the analogy of building a patio deck and asked him why, if he had a full bag of specifically designed tools at hand, was he intending to use sticks and stones to do the job?

He began to evaluate the cognitive, acquired and inherent strengths he’d discovered in his assessment and to use them to build startling and innovative strategies to achieve his desired ends. He refined these basic strategies with his awareness of his current emotional perspectives and his preferred style of interaction with each of his new team members, and the results unfolded like clockwork!

Less than three months later, during a routine staff meeting with his team, he was informed by no less than three individuals that he was the best thing that had happened to them in a long while. As he recounted this to me, with considerable pride, he admitted to me that it had demanded no effort or strain on his part. "If I’d known it was this easy", he said, "I would have done it a long time ago!”

Celeste’s Approach . . .

Celeste was a shift supervisor in a call center and she was very good at what she did, selecting, training and monitoring operatives in her area. It was no surprise that she was chosen to be the new Call Center Manager when the job became available. However, she was less than confident in her new role and, very quickly, she began to feel the pressures in some unpalatable ways. Her family life suffered and her health deteriorated to the point that she wanted ‘out’!

She explained to me that she could not fathom what was going wrong; she loved the Company and what she did, and she knew her contributions were appreciated. So why couldn’t she sleep at night and why was she beginning to snap at people over minor issues?

I asked her to describe a typical day in her new job and then to compare and contrast it with the role she’d had before her promotion. It quickly emerged that she’d reset her self demands and expectations to a significantly higher level but had not yet changed her working practices to suit. Celeste was trapped in the spiral of trying to do more and more with the same or less resources; she was working harder and longer to stay in the same place and it wasn’t satisfying.

I took her back to the assessment she’d undertaken before she was promoted. Here again, she’d considered it to be a ‘proving’ exercise albeit one that had suggested some areas where she could make changes for future gain – when she had time. Of course, since her promotion, she’d never found time for ‘luxuries’ like self- improvement.

Celeste had become so externally / other focused, so responsive to the demands placed on her by others that she’d let go of managing herself; other people were doing this for her and they were running her ragged in the process. I encouraged her to re-examine her strengths and to trace them back to her values – what was really important to her.

At first she was reluctant to let go of the ‘here-and-now’ control that she was imposing but as her self insights grew and her self awareness emerged she quickly realized that much of what she was trying to do had little or no meaning, either for her or for the organization.

It didn’t take long. In a few weeks she was looking at the world and her work through clearer eyes; she is now relying on her newly found intuition to signal what is appropriate and what can be diverted or ignored. The stress has fallen away and the business of her life has quietened substantially. More importantly, she’s getting the kind of results she dreamed about and working less hours at the same time.

The Bottom Line . . .

Frank and Celeste are typical of many who find themselves in a leadership role and who initially fail to understand that it demands that you be true to yourself before you can ever be true to others. Your value as a leader requires that you help others by focusing the desire for change that’s resident in them, not in yourself, and that you then act as a facilitator of sustainable action to create that desired future.

This means that others will put in the effort to create the change, if you help them, because it is what they want. Your job is to contribute focus and facilitation to make their dreams a reality. You can best do this by giving them your real self; if you attempt to be other than what you truly are, they will not trust you, they will resist you and they’ll come to resent you.

Also, you must know yourself so that you can act from the conviction of your values; you need to be authentic. Others will build their own future and will not need to rely upon you and your contribution unless you impose it and make this mandatory; why would you want to do this? It would very likely limit your future options and contributions.

So, know yourself, be yourself, use your inherent and acquired strengths as well as your knowledge, skills and experience to build success and new leadership potential in the people around you. Share your real self with others – this is the greatest gift you can give them.

There’s no one else who can do what you are built to do as well as you can!

What are you waiting for?

I’d welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. We can all learn through dialogue and your viewpoints will undoubtedly gain more value when shared. Please contact me at david@andros.org.