In 150 to 200 words, write a work journal about how the below readings chapter have made you aware of examples of the leadership information at your place of work or in an organization in which you are a member.
Leadership Emerges from Within
The primary instrument for leaders is the self. That’s all leaders have to work with. It’s not going to be code written by some brilliant programmer, apps on a smartphone, or clever phrases of a speechwriter that are going to make people better leaders. What leaders do with themselves makes the most difference. Mastery of the art of leadership comes from the mastery of the self. Ultimately, you will see, leadership development is self-development.
Authentic leadership flows from the inside out. It does not come from the outside in. Inside-out leadership is about discovering who you are, what compels you to do what you do, and what gives you the credibility to lead others. Inside-out leadership is about becoming the author of your own story and the maker of your own history. Inside-out leadership is also the only way to respond to what your constituents most want from you. And what is that? What they want to know is who you genuinely are.
Test this out for yourself. Imagine the following scenario. You’re called to a conference room for a very important meeting. You and all your colleagues are sitting there, and in walks a person you’ve never met before. The individual begins to speak and says, â€œHello. I’m your new leader.â€ At the very moment you hear that announcement, what do you want to know about this person? What are the questions that immediately pop into your mind?
We’ve asked this question of many different groups around the world, and the most typical response is some variation of the question â€œWho are you?â€ For example, people say they want to ask a new leader:
What do you stand for and believe in?
What is your style?
How do you make decisions?
What makes you think you can do this?
What makes you happy (or sad, frustrated, angry, etc.)? What qualifies you for this job? What have you done in the past?
What do you like to do in your free time?
To what extent do you think people are trustworthy?
Fundamentally, people want to know about you. They want to know about what inspires you, what drives you, what informs your decisions, what gives you strength, and what makes you who you are. They want to know about the person behind the title and position. They want to know what gives you the confidence to think that you can actually pull something off. They want to know about the person doing the leading before they’re ever willingly going to become the people doing the following.
You can’t expect to accomplish anything grand until you are aware of who you are and comfortable with being able to share yourself with others. If you’re going to lead, then you have to wrestle with questions about what shaped you into the person you are now and what gives meaning to your leadership, your life, and your work.
We were sharing this observation in a workshop with individuals from a number of different organizations. One participant (Cheryl) said she could underscore just how important this point was by sharing her own experience related to a new vice president her organization had just hired. He was making the rounds with various teams, talking about his vision about what they needed to focus on. â€œThe VP was visiting with us,â€ Cheryl explained, â€œsupposedly so that people could get to know him. Imagine how flabbergasted we were when someone asked him the question â€˜What do you like to do when you are not working?’ and he replied, rather curtly, â€˜That’s a personal matter and not relevant. Next question.’â€
â€œBut that is the point, isn’t it!â€ Cheryl exclaimed excitedly, and everyone listening to her story readily agreed. â€œWe wanted, no we needed, to know: Who is this guy? What does he really care about? Why should we followâ€”believe and trustâ€”him if we don’t know who he is? And, he won’t tell us!â€
No one can put leadership into you. It’s already there. You have to go find it inside of you and bring it out. The quest to become a leader, therefore, begins as an inner search to discover who you are. It’s through this process of self-examination that you find the awareness needed to lead yourself and others.
The Three Periods of Self-Development
An artist and educator friend of ours, Jim LaSalandra, after touring a retrospective of American painter Richard Diebenkorn’s works, provided us some keen insights about the process of self-discovery. He told us, â€œThere are really three periods in an artist’s life. In the first, we paint exterior landscapes. In the second, we paint interior landscapes. In the third, we paint ourselves. That’s when you begin to have your own unique style.â€ What applies to the art of painting applies just as well to the art of leadership. When we look back over how leaders learn and grow, we see similar developmental stages.
When first learning to lead, you paint what you see on the outside of yourselfâ€”the exterior landscape. You read biographies and autobiographies about famous leaders. You observe what well-respected or famous leaders do, and you ask the advice of mentors. You read books and listen to podcasts and TED (Technology, Education, Design) talks by experienced executives and scholars. You participate in training programs. You accept job assignments so that you can work alongside someone who can coach you. You want to learn everything you can from others, and you often try to copy their style.
You do all this to learn the fundamentals and to acquire the tools and the techniques others have learned from their experience. Neither Bach nor Picasso sprang full-blown as Bach and Picasso; they needed models. The same is true for comedians, writers, athletes, and aspiring leaders. It’s an absolutely essential period in any leader’s development, and as an aspiring leader you can no more skip the fundamentals than can an aspiring painter or anyone learning a trade or craft.
Even though authenticity comes only when you find your own unique voice, sometimes when you’re first developing your skills and abilities, it can be quite useful to read, observe, and imitate the practices of leaders you admire. If this is where you are in your leadership development process, take some time to do an inventory of who those leaders are. What do they do that you would like to do? Do you have some favorite leader biographies? What about favorite documentaries or movies about historical figures? What are the lessons about leadership you have learned from them? How about a supervisor you’ve had who’s been particularly helpful to you? Maybe an athletic coach, a teacher, or a family member has given you some leadership guidance. Capture as much of this as you can and take stock of what you’ve learned. Remember, the best leaders are the best learners, and they’re constantly learning from others.
Don’t worry about imitating someone else right now. It’s about learning the fundamentals. You’ll discover over time what fits you and what doesn’t. As when trying on new clothes, you’ll learn that on you some things look ridiculous and others make you sparkle.
Somewhere along the way, though, you’ll notice that your talks sound mechanical and rote, that your meetings are boring, and that your interactions feel terribly routine and empty. You’ll awaken to the frightening thought that the words aren’t yours, that the vocabulary is someone else’s, and that the technique is right out of the textbook but not straight from the heart. Although you’ve invested so much time and energy in learning to do all the right things, you suddenly see that they’re no longer serving you well. You may even feel like a phony, that you’re faking it, and fear that you’ll be seen as an imposter. In this regard, Kerry Ann Ostrea, accounting manager at Gilbane Federal, talked with us about how sometimes things might look right on the outside, but they are not just youâ€”and you feel it on the inside. By way of example, she offered this analogy: â€œA dress might fit you perfectly in a dressing room, yet it just doesn’t look right to you; it doesn’t match with who you are. When you buy clothes, fashion or style is not the only consideration that matters. It must also fit the wearer.â€
When you look inside, as Kerry Ann says, does this fit right for you? In these moments, you begin to stare into the darkness of your inner territory and wonder what lies inside. You say to yourself, â€œI’m not someone else. I’m a unique human being. But who exactly am I? What is my true voice?â€ For aspiring leaders, this awakening initiate a period of intense exploration, a period of testing, and a period of invention. You go beyond technique, training, imitating the masters, and taking the advice of others. You go through a period of exhausting experimentation, second-guessing, and anxious and even painful moments, to emerge from all those abstract strokes on the canvas to an expression of self that is truly your own.
For many people, reflecting on their personal-best leadership experiences was this sort of cathartic experience. Looking at their experience and thinking about their motivations and underlying values made them cognizant that leadership was not something outside of themselves that they needed to bring inside. In many ways, they already had much of what they needed to be a leaderâ€”in the present and into the future. It simply needed to be liberated from within.
The project Rich Howe, senior product line manager at NetApp, selected as his personal best was the most significant and memorable of his career until that point. Most important, he said, â€œI learned some hard lessons about myself, what I was capable of doing, and what I cared about.â€ Anh Pham, engineering manager with Analog Devices Inc., said, â€œMy personal best made me think rather deeply about what makes a good leader, and how I had those characteristics within myself.â€ For some this was their first leadership experience, and they learned â€œso much,â€ as Amy Drohan, senior customer success manager at ON24, explained, â€œThis time changed my life. I am who I am, and I am where I am in my life because of this experience.â€
Finding Your True Voice
The turning point in your development as a leader comes when you’re able to merge the lessons from your outer and inner journeys. You awaken to the fact that you don’t have to copy someone else, you don’t have to read a script written by someone else, and you don’t have to wear someone else’s clothes. Because unless it’s your words, and your style, then it’s not really you; it’s just an act: you pretending to be you. It was precisely this realization that Michael Janis, director of strategic marketing at Agilent Technologies, called â€œthe most important lesson I’ve learned, and the one that is truly helping me move forward as a leader. After searching, seeking, and copying the behaviors of leaders in the hopes that I would somehow magically acquire their characteristics and talents, I’ve found that the truest strength in leadership comes from me, and who I am.â€
This leadership lesson is quite similar to what novelist and nonfiction writer Anne Lamott tells would-be writers in her classes: â€œThe truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice. If it is wrapped in someone else’s voice, we readers are suspicious, as if you are dressed up in someone else’s clothes. You cannot write out of someone else’s big dark place; you can only write out of your own. When you try to capture the truth of your experience in some other person’s voice or on that person’s terms, you are moving yourself one step further from what you have seen and what you know.â€1
What’s true for writers is just as true for leaders. You cannot lead out of someone else’s experience. You can only lead out of your own. Grant Hillestad recalled a transformative experience for him when he was involved with a college organization called Students Stay Leaders Forever. While participating in one of its community service road trips, he realized that he didn’t need to worry about fitting in or acting cool because â€œit’s just so much more important to be yourself. If you can trust in yourself, listen to and believe in yourself, you can be a leader and make a difference.â€
Grant found that realizing, and appreciating, who he truly was gave him the courage to navigate difficult situations and make tough choices. When his friends and other students said, â€œAre you nuts? You want me to pay to go and work during spring break?â€ Grant was able to stand up and speak confidently about how much the trips had meant to him, what had been accomplished, and â€œwhat I learned about myself.â€ Like Grant, to lead others, you have to learn about yourself. After all, if you are to speak out, you have to know what to speak about, and if you are to stand up for your beliefs, you have to know the beliefs you stand for. To do what you say, you have to know what you want to say. Authentic leadership cannot come from the outside in. It comes from the inside out. In the next chapter we’ll explore the critical conversation you must have with yourself to strengthen your true voice.
The Key Message and Action
The key message of this chapter is this: No one can put leadership into you. Authentic leadership flows from the inside out. You have to liberate the capacity you already have, and that begins by taking an inner journey to discover who you are.
Create a personal lifeline so that you can identify some of the key patterns in your life. What drives you down and what pulls you up? In your leadership journal, draw a horizontal line across the middle of the page. On the left-hand side of the page, write Past, and on the right-hand side, write Present. On the top half of the page, write Peaks, and at the bottom, write Valleys. Now spend a few minutes recording on this chart significant events or experiences in your life. Start as far back as you’d like and continue to the present. If an event or experience was a peakâ€”a high point, a significantly positive experienceâ€”put it above the line. If it was a valleyâ€”a low point, a significantly negative experienceâ€”put it below the line. Jot down a couple of words to identify what made each experience a peak. Next, make note of what motivated you to climb to each peak or the values that guided your decisions and actions along the way. Do the same thing for the valleys. Identify each and then indicate what motivated you to rise out of the valley or the values that guided you out of it.
Once you’ve done this, reflect on the themes or patterns you see in the peaks and in the valleys. Record the common motivations that emerge. Write down what some of your most important values are. Bottom line: What does this tell you about who you are, what your strengths are, and what matters most to you?”