The most basic defining moment demands that leaders resolve the issue of personal identity which has serious implications for their future. In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves. Self-leadership was understood as their number one responsibility. “The higher leaders climb up the corporate ladder the greater their burden of responsibility and their need to reevaluate themselves and their whole self.” (Fairholm, 1997, p. 6). Once you have mastered self-leadership, there is plenty of guidance available on leading others. Leadership of others is the subject of hundreds of books and courses. Self-leadership involves self identity, self-regulation, personal growth, and is vital for achievement of our goals, even if we never lead another person. London (2001) asserted that “People have to know themselves and understand their environments in order to adapt and learn.” (p. 27).
Leaders who do not understand themselves are unlikely to have an accurate view of others or be sensitive to others’ feelings, needs, and attitudes. “To be effective, leaders need insight into their skills and capabilities and how others react to them.” (London, 2001. p. 29). Self-identity refers to how individuals view themselves in relation to others – in particular:
• Self-awareness: how one typically behaves or is perceived by others;
• Self-understanding: recognition of strengths, weaknesses, needs, and emotions;
• Self-consciousness: awareness of behaviors and feelings;
• Self-assessment: determining capabilities and abilities;
• Self-confidence: ability to bring about positive outcomes.
Some people know themselves well, set realistic although ambitious, goals and set out to achieve them. Others seek experiences and challenges as learning opportunities and value others as role models and sources of feedback. London (2001) argued that “the key to effective leadership is the ability to care, and make accurate judgments about how others react to you.” (p. 32).
Defining Who You Are
Wouldn’t it be nice to know the keys to more insightful perception and wiser decision-making? Your personal preferences provide some insight into your leadership orientation. Where you focus your attention (Extraversion or Introversion), the way you take in information (Sensing or Intuition), the way you make decisions (Thinking or Feeling), and how you deal with the outer world (Judging or Perceiving). Each combination of preferences is characterized by its own interest, values, and unique gift. Some of the facets of your leadership style may include being results oriented, disciplined, reliable, direct, and rational.
Identifying the Challenges
The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) was developed in a research project Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began in 1983. They wanted to know what people did when they were at their “personal best” in leading others. From this project evolved The Leadership Challenge Model. From an analysis of the personal-best cases, they developed a model of leadership that consists of what Kouzes and Posner call The Five Practices: 1) Challenging the process, 2) Inspiring a shared vision, 3) Enabling others to act, 4) Modeling the way, and 5) Encouraging the heart. The LPI feedback rating scale runs from 1 to 10 and consists of surveys from yourself as well as three colleagues. Kouzes and Posner (2002) argued that “Teaching a vision – and confirming that the vision is shared – is a process of engaging constituents in conversations about their lives, about their hopes and dreams.” (p. 143).
Creating a Map for Improvement
To attain personal improvement whether physically, mentally, or spiritually, leaders must take the necessary steps to bring about what they wish to achieve. “People don’t just have a winning strategy; they become their winning strategy. They draw their identity from it because their winning strategy is the source of the results they currently enjoy.” (Hargrove and Renaud, 2004, p. 110). When identifying the potential challenges of empowerment, prioritization, and focus it’s important that the strengths and resources required to improve effectiveness in these areas also be identified so that you can create a road map that will allow you to improve your leadership development.
The first potential challenge is empowerment. Leaders are willing to take charge and get people through difficult periods but this may allow followers to become too dependent on them. Today’s workplace needs employees who can make decisions, who can invent solutions to problems, who can take initiative, and who are accountable for results. “Empowerment is a fundamentally different way of working together.” (Jaffe, 1991, p. 4). How should you encourage empowerment? By making followers feel responsible for doing a job and making the organization work better. “The new employee is an active problem solver who helps plan how to get things done and then does them.” (Jaffe, 1991, p. 4).
The second potential challenge is prioritization. Leaders are able to get a lot of things done, even in the mist of confusion, and you’re willing to take the initiative. However, leaders don’t always take the time to think strategically and prioritize task. This could result in farming people off in too many directions. “The leader determines when and where the impact of individuals will be the most potent and then deduces ways to channel control of the team and channel activity towards achieving team objectives.” (Snair, 2003, p. 101). How should leaders prioritize? By establishing clear, measurable, and realistic goals and identifying the means. “When people begin accomplishing goals and achieving results, their confidence level rises, and they begin to set even larger goals for themselves and their organization.” (Hunter, 2004, p. 205).
The third potential challenge is maintaining focus. Leaders are willing to accept decisions from above, and can work quickly to institutionalize changes. However, Leaders have trouble remaining productive in the face of new obstacles when there is a lack of guidance. Getting everyone in the organization on the same page, focused on the priorities of the moment, is always a challenge. Leaders should maintain focus through clear, regular, and up-to-date communication. Mai (2003) argued that “Effective leadership communication is the most powerful tool for managing change and transition in your organization.” It minimizes fear, paralysis, and disaffection that in turn can hurt organizational performance.
In addition to the three potential challenges identified above there is always the need for continuous self-improvement in physical, mental, and spiritual fitness. Personal development must expand all aspects of the human awareness – the physical, mental, and the spiritual. Fairholm (1997) asserted that we need organizations “…that provide not only training and direction in how to do work, but that engage workers in constant learning and personal development of their capacities.” (p. 10)
Physical Fitness Improvement
“Not only is physical fitness a worthwhile goal with positive benefits at work, but the sense of positive fellowship and community sets a tone that carries over into the work environment.” (Cox, 2002, p. 162). There was a time when the U.S. Navy made fitness programs mandatory, and implemented programs that failed to motivate or inspire sailors. But we’ve moved towards a physical readiness program that “targets individual fitness and places a renewed emphasis on command leadership to help create a culture of fitness throughout the Navy.” (Mueller, 2000, p. 1).
Mental Fitness Improvement
Our body, emotions, mind, and soul form the whole person. It is only by dealing with each part of the whole, that we can have complete health. Our situation does not control how we think or feel but rather the way we think determines our situation. (See Ps 38:3, Prov 13:12, Prov 14:30, and Prov 17:22). Life is a journey where the mind is the driver, the body is the vehicle, and the soul is the passenger. All are connected and one can’t complete the journey without the others. While it’s a fact that our physical condition impacts our emotional and mental state, it’s also true that the way we think, act, and feel impact our physical condition.
If a person isn’t mentally fit, the effects of additional stress snowball until their physical and emotional fitness are compromised as well. Guilt, sadness, anger, sorrow, frustration, pain and anguish can produce illness and mental degradation. Many people separate their spiritual lives into a separate box or a specific time for worship and don’t integrate spirituality into their everyday lives. But prayer acts as a foundation for meditation and should be given center stage in our lives. “…many people draw moral fortitude and inner strength from a spiritual foundation.” (Department of the Army Staff. 2004, p. 46).
Spiritual Fitness Improvement
The connection between leadership and spirituality is not always automatic and must be constantly nurtured. Who we are is more important than what we know. What we do with our knowledge determines who we are. Fairholm (1997) suggested that leadership “…is a matter of touching people’s souls, not controlling their actions. Leadership is connecting with other people at the feeling level.” (p. 7). People respond to the way their leaders feel toward them. Spirituality should guide our personal values and the meaning we give to our lives. The goal must be to incessantly renew our spiritual connection and to apply it to every aspect of our lives.
Forging the Way to Self-Leadership
As well as looking good on the outside, we need to make sure we feel beautiful from within. Whether it is through exercise, meditation, or prayer, we all have the desire to stay strong, independent, self confident and happy. And we want to be productive and feel we add meaning to our lives each day. Goals are great. They are our incentive towards achievement. Whether we set all-out big time goals or just trying to stick to small goals within a daily routine, there are ways to keep and meet all life’s goals. Aim for progress, not perfection. The art of becoming the person I want to be is a work in progress and a constant learning curve.
Cox, Danny. (2002). Leadership When the Heat’s On. Blacklick, OH: McGraw-Hill Inc.
Department of the Army Staff. (2004). U. S. Army Leadership Field Manual. Blacklick, OH, USA: McGraw-Hill Companies. Retrieved November 11, 2005, from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/regent/Doc?id=10083648&ppg=60.
Fairholm, Gilbert W. (1997). Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality & Community in the New American Workplace. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated.
Hargrove, Robert A. and Renaud, Michel (2004). Your Coach (In a Book): Mastering the Trickiest Leadership, Business, and Career Challenges You Will Ever Face. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Holy Bible (1985). King James Version Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Zondervan Corporation.
Hunter, James C. (2004). World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader. Westminster, MD: Crown Publishing Group.
Jaffe, Dennis T. (1991). Empowerment: A Practice Guide for Success. Menlo Park, CA: Course Technology Crisp.
Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge. Third Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Books.
London, Manuel. (2001). Leadership Development: Paths to Self-Insight and Professional Growth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Incorporated.
Mai, Robert. (2003). Leader As Communicator: Strategies and Tactics to Build Loyalty, Focus Effort, and Spark Creativity. Saranac Lake, NY: AMACOM.
Mueller, Ingrid Lt. (2000). Navy launches culture of fitness with new standards. Pensacola, FL. Navy Personnel Command Public Affairs. Retrieved November 01, 2005. [http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/news/navnews/nns00/nns00013.txt]
Snair, Scott. (2003). Stop the Meeting I Want to Get Off! How to Eliminate Endless Meetings While Improving Your Team’s Communication, Productivity, and Effectiveness. Blacklick, OH: McGraw-Hill Professional.