“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!” ― Dr. Seuus, Horton Hatches the Egg
It’s well known that our children learn from our actions, not our words. The admonition “Do what I say, not what I do!” never has worked even for the least cleaver child. The same absolutely holds true for how we each and all can inspire authentic, purposeful leadership by embodying it ourselves.
I have found that self-awareness is the most fundamental dimension for this. Can you to look into your own mirror with clarity and honesty about what examples you are setting on a daily, if not hourly, basis? Are you being open, transparent and do you bring your whole self to the table, including your vulnerabilities and shortcomings?
We’re often told that strength means something very different than this but my experience is that the strongest among us are willing to be candid about our weaknesses. In fact, that very act inspires a deeper level of trust and respect among those we lead. And, in doing so, we also empower them to take leadership in areas where they might have greater competency than us.
But, this requires a tremendous level of self-confidence: not a phony aura of confidence but a genuine soul sense of what we know, what we don’t; who we are, who we’re not. In my growth over many decades, I found that these moments, which I call “sacred intimacy,” are completely appropriate in a professional context and offer a context for extraordinary transformation.
As leaders, we all are trying to get other people – usually many of them – to do multiple things that are extremely challenging over an extended time frame. Do we give them enough authority and autonomy to really achieve what we’re asking for? Or do we find that threatening? And, if the latter is the case, then why is that? Are you willing to do the soul searching to find the answers?
Or do you choose to stay in the protective territorial mind-set that says I gain my power by always being in control and zealously guarding everything that I know? I’ve seen that if you give away non-physical things – knowledge, power, contacts, etc. – you are never diminished. You still have those things and someone else does too: exponential growth for which you are respected.
When coaching senior executives about giving others the ability to achieve, I use the simplest analogy of a parent whose toddler is just learning to tie their shoe laces. You’re late for work: your first impulse is to rush in and do it for them. But, if you just wait until they do it… you never have to do it again. You’re liberated and they’ve just moved to another developmental stage.
We constantly hear and say the buzz-phrases – co-creation, collaboration across silos, build capacity – but we often hesitate from actually engaging with others in the open, candid way that would enable those concepts to come to life. Think about what’s holding you back. Find a small thing you can do differently to start to build “muscles” in your undeveloped realms.
Let me be clear: I do not mean become someone other than who you truly are; I do mean stretch your repertoire to include a broader spectrum. But, before you can do that, you must acknowledge to yourself where you might need stretching. For me, it’s patience. I’m fast and to the point: not everyone can respond to that well. So, I continue to work on calibrating accordingly.
I work on that and many other things that can make me more present, more trust-able, more my full self. I feel freer each day to acknowledge how and where I can grow while I also know how to genuinely own the ways in which I am gifted. I continue to search for the space between feeling overly inflated with self-satisfaction or completely unworthy. Who I am is enough.
I’ve become a better leader because of this ongoing self-awareness. I no longer need the external validation (although it’s nice to receive). I can feel it in my bones when I’m facilitating leadership development programs, organizational change management initiatives, one-one-one executive coaching and just in my simple daily interactions with everyone I meet.
This piece was originally published on beCause Global Consulting blog