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In Search of One's Excellent Self

"Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."  Albert Einstein

So I want to be a leader.  Now, where is that list of famous people whose characteristics I need to emulate to ensure success? . . . . Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Aung San Suu Kyi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Sun Tzu . . .  and the list goes on.  Famous leaders all, who inhabit any list of “Essential Leader Characteristics”, and who’s example I should follow.

My head spins.  It addles the brain just trying to keep up with the ever lengthening list and which, as time goes on, starts to bring the ‘essentials’ into conflict.  After all, what is the best leadership style for me?  The charismatic leader, or the quiet leader?  The servant leader, or the participative leader, or the situational leader?  The transactional, or transformational, leader?  What if I don't measure up to the legends?  Will I have failed?  Who should I compare myself with?  Who will others compare me with?  Who am I to be?  Who, and where, is the authentic leader in me?

Given the breadth of history that covers the individuals named above, I doubt whether any of them sat down and said, “now, how can I be more like Mother Teresa?”  Instead, and I’m guessing here because I don’t have access to their interview notes, they would probably say “I just did what I thought was the right thing to do.”  Or, “it just came naturally to me, I let my conscience be my guide.”

While reading about the life and times of leaders from the past is always interesting, I think we should all spend more time on searching for the authentic leader inside us all – our ‘true north’ as Bill George says. 

We should spend less time getting to know the famous leaders of the past, and more time in getting to know and understand the present ‘me’.

As a start to that process, consider the following questions:

  • When am I at my best as a leader?
  • Who do I lead, and how do I do that?
  • What do my followers need from me that will help them succeed?
  • Under what circumstances do I feel ‘in flow’? 
  • When does leadership come easy to me?
  • How would my followers describe me?  What would I like them to say?
  • What are my prominent values?
  • What is my core value, that value that has been part of me from as early as I can remember?
  • Are my followers seeing the real me, or just an imitation of someone else?
  • Where am I leading others to?  In what direction am I heading?
  • Is this the best way for me to be leading right now, under these circumstances?
  • Why do I want to lead – for recognition, status, material gain, or to serve others?
  • How did I arrive at this point, and what do I need to do from now on? 

We are all special and unique.  Unfortunately, many leaders and managers with whom I interact have never taken, and will never take, the time to understand what is special and important about them and what they do each day.  And that’s a shame.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to understand and appreciate that most important person – ourselves?  When we have answers to those questions listed above, we can start to understand our true purpose as leaders and managers of individuals and organisations.  And while there might not be books written about us, we will know that we know.  We will know that we operate from our position of conscious competence, and conscious confidence.  We will know that we are leading in the manner that is required and which best reflects our true self.

And isn’t that the leader that I am meant to be?

All the best

Reader Comments (1)

Denis, this is a terrific post - thank you. I've read it now a couple of times, and still finding more to consider. Find your true north indeed!

September 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark Robilliard

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