By Sheri Philips (Board Member)
When one thinks of the gifts that come from holding leadership positions, one generally thinks of the triumphs of success or the importance of legacy. I believe one of the greatest gifts that can come from leadership is – if allowed to happen – self awareness that teaches and enables self control, which leads to loving and leading people better. This, in turn, almost always leads to organizational success.
Organizational leaders turn to such things as strategic plans, market innovations, brand awareness and internal structure to give them a competitive edge. These things are external and controllable and they are essential to business success, but they have little to offer in shaping the character of a company, which is primarily influenced by the character of its leader.
How many times have you heard people speak of their organizational leaders as empowering, trusting, authentic, and strong? I think it is rare. We usually hear quite the opposite. Could it be these leadership qualities are vital to organizational success? Self-awareness is the internal work that leaders need to do because it reveals where leaders fall short of being most effective. This work is often avoided because it is less concrete and measureable.
As a spiritual director who works primarily with leaders, I turn to Biblical scripture for timeless truths. St. Peter lays out a process for self-awareness in 2 Peter 1:5-8: For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What does this look like for the organizational leader? Perhaps it begins with an admission that the negative aspects of their character get in the way of organizational success. Most leaders shun the 360 Degree Evaluation process because they would prefer not to look in the mirror. Yet somehow the character deficits of a leader show up throughout an organization. All roads lead there.
Often, public, personal or professional failures catalyze self-awareness for the leader, but why wait for that? It takes a courageous person to admit the deficits and commit to growth that will yield personal and organizational benefits.
Peter’s process suggests that out of our desire for goodness, we:
- Gain knowledge – we engage with the “mirror” and acknowledge how our character deficits are impacting the organization. We begin to open ourselves up to understanding how and why we are compensating for personal wounds that hold us back and extend to holding back the organization and the people who work for us.
- Exercise self-control – as we continue to “wake up” to the ways our deficits impact others, we begin to give less space to our egos (always uncomfortable because the ego believes it already knows how to win) and more space to our growing self that is stretching toward empowering and trusting others, and leading from authenticity.
- Endure in this effort – practice makes perfect. If, as leaders, we choose to be authentic and vulnerable (yes, I know you don’t like that word), we keep ourselves accountable to the mirror as we grow. Working with an executive coach or spiritual director can be instrumental in this regard. We must trust that the people we lead will respond to and support us as they watch us grow. And they will. Our employees generally don’t want our jobs, but they want to know they can trust us.
- Enter into the zone of mutual affection and love – when we see ourselves as part of a whole instead of as an island, we begin developing a sense of community in our organizations. Community means mutual regard and rowing the oars of the boat together. It means that the entire team pulls for the “win.” Healthy organizational communities breed success!
When leaders wake up in the middle of the night wondering if they should go for the “win” or do the right thing – i.e. stand by that employee, or slow down the process to invite collective wisdom – this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the leader will choose winning or loving. St. Peter’s wisdom tells us that choosing love leads to effectiveness and fruitfulness. Loving is winning.
In all of this, TruNorth Partners doesn’t want you to hear that business strategies, meeting marketplace needs, and competitive edges are not vital to leadership success. But hear this as an important in addition to: Too many times the personal deficits of a leader hijack the best laid plans of an organization as employees feel unsupported, distrusted, and unheard by their leader.
When leaders can put together the best strategies with authentic, trusting, empowering leadership, everyone wins.