Why SELF Leadership comes before Leadership and how you can build it

There is something profound which often happens when we reflect on our experiences, whether they be at work, at home or life in general. One of the key areas of focus and reflection over the past 3 years for me, has been about leadership and the many versions, descriptions and measurements of it.

It’s almost 20 years since I completed my first leadership training program. It was very early in my career with a large telecommunications company, and I was part of their emerging leadership program. It was a comprehensive program starting with a 2-day assessment, incorporating interviews, role plays a “what would you do in this situation” behavioural assessment and more. Long story short, when I came out of the assessment to my surprise, I achieved a “highly developed” for the leadership skill of “managing self”. Well you may laugh as did I when I received my debrief! I had never considered how important “mastering self” was and is to leadership. Since then, and perhaps like you, I have come to realise that there is so much more to leadership than just the behaviours and the perspectives others bring to your style of leadership. There is something more innate, connected and attractive when you experience someone completely in their element and power. Leadership must start within: being comfortable in your own skin. So I’d like to introduce you to a perspective on personal leadership. It requires no whiz bang assessment tools, or 360 degree surveys, just deep reflection, awareness, openness and action.

Aristotle wrote “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. If we accept our personal reality and we master ourselves, only then can we truly enable, empower, inspire and evoke our own leadership and that within others. Therefore “self-leadership” is needed for authentic leadership of others to fully emerge.

When we consider how we see and experience ourselves and how others see and experience us, what we have in our power and ownership is how we think, feel, behave and speak.

Inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral theory and multiple lines of intelligences, I bring together a simple yet highly effective and deep model for personal leadership and leadership of others. This model leverages five key intelligences. If we acknowledge and work on developing these intelligences, it will directly influence your vertical stage of ego development as a human being and leader. Here are 5 main tips each linked to a line of intelligence where I briefly explain each and how to leverage them to access your personal leadership and ultimately your leadership of others:

  1. Bring awareness to, and filter your Self Talk (Intra-Personal Intelligence). Intrapersonal intelligence is a deep understanding of self, self-awareness and self-reflection. You may experience an element of “intrapersonal intelligence” through your conscious self-talk, the little voice in your head. If you are not aware of it, start to bring awareness to it. You may be surprised at what you discover. We all use filters to more easily take in the world around us. We generalise, delete, and distort the reality around us. We sometimes even personalise what we hear. Our thoughts create our reality, some empower and enable, and some disempower and disable. A great example of “empowering” self-talk is in Muhammed Ali’s win over George Foreman in 1974. All the odds were against him. What set him apart and ultimately lead to his success in the fight of his career was his mindset. Part of his training was mental. His self-talk was out loud and empowering: “I am the greatest”. He repeated key phrases until he believed each word. Look at the quality of the words you use, your words create your reality so choose them wisely.
  2. Listen to the way you listen to, connect with and respond to others at work, at home, across all contexts in life (Inter-Personal Intelligence). Interpersonal intelligence is how you relate to others; the capacity to communicate with others in a way that allows all perspectives to be understood. This specific intelligence is the difference between self-leadership and leadership of others. It’s what many leadership programs and tools focus on; your noticeable behaviours and the impact it has on others. Are you aware of and do you understand your team; each function; the individuals that make up your company? What are their needs, their values? Do you understand them? Steven Covey put it succinctly, “first seek to understand, then to be understood”. In senior leadership positions, it is even more important to listen, to understand, to be open. There is a danger in every organisation that senior management do not really know what is going on, they are told what they want to hear. If you want an open, inclusive and transparent culture, you must empower your employees to speak up and lead by example. If you are transparent and authentic you give permission for others to be the same. A great example of authentic leadership is Barack Obama. What made him so likeable is that he is just a normal guy with quirks, who loves his wife and makes dad jokes; plus he happens to be super smart and charismatic. People got to see his personality. Leadership isn’t about a facade, or acting out a role, it’s about being the best leader you can be. Get comfortable allowing others to connect and know you, and you will by default get to know and connect with them.
  3. Understand your emotional triggers, and learn how to regulate them. How do you behave and react – (Emotional intelligence). Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. There are several ways you can develop your emotional intelligence right now. Here are two: acknowledge your emotions and take responsibility for them.

Learn the art of empathy. If you take one point out of this article, then let it be this. To sit in another’s shoes, to let go of your own world view, biases, judgements, and to truly step into another’s world to feel, see, and experience their world is priceless. If you can develop this, starting by practicing daily and you will be more successful in life. Your relationships will improve, your business results will improve, and your happiness will improve. Why? Because when we resolve the differences between other humans and understand it is all perspective then the energy in tension and difference dissolves.

  1. Expand your thinking capacity by taking multiple perspectives on solutions, ideas and problems. (Cognitive Intelligence).  Cognitive Intelligence is your intellectual ability to reason, have logic, read, analyse and prioritise. It’s our analytical, mathematical, linguistic capacity and capability. There is a wonderful book called 6 hats, written by Edward DeBono, in which each hat represents a way of thinking about a situation. For example the red hat represents feelings, and emotions, the white; information. The black hat represents judgement, the green creativity, blue process, and yellow brightness and optimism. The point is the more able you are to stretch and diversify your thinking the better your understanding will be of the situation. Integral theory also offers a way of taking perspectives via first person “I” thoughts and beliefs, second collective “we”, third person objective “it” and fourth person systems “it’s”. We each have a primary way or lens through which we see and experience the world, and this influences what we focus on. When we bring awareness to this, it will enable some freedom to change, to expand and develop other capacities which will increase our power to think, do and be.
  2. Get connected with your purpose and passion: How do you feel, what drives you? (Spiritual intelligence). Spiritual intelligence is a whole brain experience which activates your qualities and capabilities, in self-awareness, wisdom, compassion, integrity, joy, love, creativity, and peace. In leadership, setting a compelling vision, being clear in your decisions and energising your team towards a goal will be so much more powerful when you are fully connected to your purpose. The more meaningful that purpose is, the more it will drive you and others around you. Simon Sinek has built a successful company on the premise of purpose; finding your why. This relates to your company or business why, AND your personal why. Remember the time you started your career: full of ambition, drive, that eagerness to make a difference? You thrived on that for years, it’s what we often call “passion”, and it shows. Well where did it go? Often senior executives started similarly, then fast forward 5, 10, 15 years, and what happens is burnout. Burnout is like being on a treadmill, when initially you thought you started a race. You were clear, focused, passionate, now you reached many of your goals, and are still running. Stop and smell the roses, and ask what is your purpose now? Perhaps it needs an update, a rethink. This one action can be energizing and reinvigorate your career and mindset.

As you can see each of these can get quite deep, so to make this valuable to you, what is your key take out? What will you do differently? The first step to developing personal leadership is awareness, then the desire to change, then the action and discipline to do.

Mary-Anne Kamel
REDgum Collective

Click here to book your spot in Mary-Anne’s half-day workshop on ‘Self-Mastery Towards Leadership’!

For more information on Mary-Anne and how she can help you, click here.

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James Freemantle

Company founder James Freemantle has worked internationally in communications and training for over two decades, helping people to experience dramatic improvement in their abilities to express, influence and inspire. Professional sportspeople, entertainers and executives rely on him to enhance their abilities in presentation techniques, personal branding and media training.

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