Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.
Marylin Monroe (attrib.)
This post is part of a series on my reflections on senior leadership. To read the rest click here, otherwise, read on!
As I reflected recently on how I wanted to develop this series on The Next Level, I felt that rather than going into the actions of senior leadership, instead I should look to further explore the qualities of great leaders, and how this can improve my practice at this level. My reasoning is akin to Stephen Covey’s approach of ‘Sharpening the Saw’; I know I have the capacity and qualities to succeed at this level, but am I making the most of them and in what areas can I make the greatest gains?
I talk of pillars because I wanted to focus on what great leadership rests on; what foundations are needed for a leader to be truly effective in their work. Again this is an opportunity for self reflection, but also to give others a framework to go through the same process. Let’s begin with what my research has shown me to be the core quality: self esteem.
I thought long and hard about how to go about this. See, from a very young age, self esteem has been somewhat of an slippery issue. I was brought up to be modest, not flashy and never to over play one’s achievements. There is obviously some merit in this: no one likes a show off, and it’s a way of keeping your feet on the ground. That said, one has to be careful not to cross over from modesty into meekness and lack of surety; no leader ever succeeded by being submissive.
That said, being submissive and modest are understandable traps to fall into when being eager to please, wanting to avoid over confidence. So how can one carry self esteem without it slipping into over assurity and arrogance?
Self esteem comes from two main values: self-acceptance and self-responsibility. Let’s explore.
To accept oneself, to value yourself for who you are, without judging yourself is self-acceptance. It’s about not comparing yourself to others and appreciating the merits of what you’ve achieved. Now, if you’re anything like me this is something that hasn’t come readily. For example, I used to balk when people called me a geek – but I am a geek! There’s no actual shame in being a geek; it’s about taking an more than superficial interest in a wide range of things (I’ve recently learned of the term philomath which literally means lover of knowledge: I think I’ll start using that). Yet for years it was something I was ashamed of.
Part of the reason for this was down to comparing myself with my friends, for whom studying was akin to pulling teeth; but in reality those friends were temporary and now I move in circles where knowledge is truly valued. The lesson, then, with self acceptance is to not compare who you are with who others are, and instead realise what you have to offer to the world and make the most of those attributes.
Importantly a lack of self acceptance is incredibly easy for others to pick up on. People can smell it, particularly if it results in a submissive nature. Lack of acceptance in oneself means one can become overly willing to please, unassertive or worse, both. Having a sidekick attitude is unlikely to be becoming in a leadership role. People look to leaders to stand for their vision, not to question their goals relative to others’ opinions.
One thing I learned from an early age: you create your own luck. When you accept yourself, you accept your situation and you take responsibility for it too. Once this happens you take control. A person with self esteem understands that the outcomes in their lives are their responsibility. This means that when they want things to happen they make decisions and live by them, whether they made the right decision or otherwise.
Recently I’ve learned that the trick to this is to become 100% solution orientated. Don’t complain about a situation, and blame others; instead immediately ask what can I do about it? This may not mean having answers to problems right away, but what it might mean is knowing where to look and/or finding the time to put solutions together. This is an easy lesson to forget. I can’t be the only one who has done so. But when you’ve got an attitude of leadership like mine – helping people to be the best they can – then solutions are your bread and butter. Self-responsibility allows you to thrive in any circumstance.
I went into detail about integrity in an earlier post, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but it’s obvious to me that if your actions aren’t congruent with your value system or your words then you’ll never hold confidence in who you are: you’ll have too many questions in yourself to ever carry oneself with assurity and self belief.
- What makes you, you?
- What qualities do you possess that set you apart from others?
- What benefit do those qualities provide?
- Think about two or three problems you currently face: what can you do to make a difference right away?
- Why is blaming others destructive to your self esteem?
- How can you act in the future to ensure your leadership fits with your value system?
Self-esteem centres on three principles:
- Self-acceptance: valuing who you are without comparison to the qualities and achievements of others;
- Self-responsibility: understanding that life’s outcomes are a result of one’s actions;
- Integrity: being true to your core values in each aspect of your role.
Senior leaders need self-esteem because it communicates assurity and solidity: if the one steering the ship has confidence in the course, then the rest of the crew can enjoy the journey…
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