How Well Do You REALLY Know Yourself? Effective Leaders Need To Be Authentic!

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 23 April 2015

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In order to inspire and engage others, leaders need to know and understand the people they manage.  But there is an important dimension to effective leadership that is often neglected because of the fast pace and constant demands that we face.  And that is to take the time to really know yourself.  That means fully understanding why you see the world the way you do, knowing your values and your non-negotiables, understanding your vision, goals, and objectives, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses.  Let’s look at each of these more closely.

1. Understand why you see the world the way you do

The way you see the world is shaped by your experiences, your environment, and your family and friends.  We process these things in our own unique way and look at the world through the lens of these collective influencers.   A friend of mine who grew up in a broken home defines “family” and “relationships” very differently from the way I define it, coming from an environment with two loving parents who were married for over 50 years.  And when I was younger and very loyal to the company for which I worked, I was the unfortunate casualty of a divestiture of the business I was managing and it shaped my perception of company loyalty for the rest of my career.

2. Knowing your values and non-negotiables

People you lead look to your actions more intently than your words.  And your actions reflect your values. So it’s important to understand what values drive your behavior and to identify the non-negotiables, or the things that are some important to you that you will walk away from a situation, job, relationship, etc. if they are violated.  I recall working for an organization that stated that both integrity and a desire to win were part of their culture and non-negotiables.  However, as I did a hallway survey of leaders, I quickly discovered that although these were articulated and published as values, the general consensus was that as long as you hit your goals and objectives, nothing else mattered.  This certainly resulted in a lack of buy-in and alignment around the company values and culture.

3. Understand your vision, goals, and objectives

We are all driven by a purpose and if you do not take the time to fully understand what drives you and motivates you, it’s fairly difficult to inspire and engage others.  Your personal vision, goals, and objectives also have to be reconciled to those in the organization for which you are engaged or it’s difficult to be passionate about what you do.  I have worked for organizations in which my vision and goal of making a difference did not line up with the company’s objective of simply driving growth.  The result is that I was never fully engaged or passionate about my role.

 4. Know your strengths and weaknesses

Let’s face it, everyone has both strengths and weaknesses.  Effective leaders leverage their strengths and surround themselves with others who can offset their weaknesses.  But unless you know what those weaknesses are, it’s easy to start believing that if you work hard enough using your strengths, you can convince others to overlook those weaknesses.  I have worked for a number of organizations in which the senior leadership team was carefully chosen so collectively, they were stronger than any one individual, offsetting each other’s weaknesses.  

Without taking the time to really know him/herself, leaders can fall into the trap of seeing themselves very differently from the way others see them.  That means taking the time to have a sober self-assessment, not thinking either too highly or too lowly of yourself, but having a realistic understanding of what drives you and why you behave in the manner in which you do.  People look for authenticity in those they follow.  Have you ever pretended to be someone you’re not to get a certain position or advance a relationship?  It’s hard to keep up a pretense forever and eventually the real you reveals him or herself. 

Here are some suggestions for taking steps to truly knowing yourself

  1. Take some time to reflect on your past and assess how it drives your behavior and the manner in which you see the world. 
  2. Apply the “start, stop, continue” approach to that assessment.  Determine what behaviors create problems with your leadership and commit to stopping them, what behaviors you should start exhibiting more that reflect your values and beliefs, and what behaviors make you an effective leader and should be continued.
  3. Find an accountability partner who knows you and can challenge you on your sober self-assessment
  4. List your non-negotiables and keep them in the forefront.  What violations of your values will cause you to walk away from a job, relationship or situation?
  5. Capture you vision, goals, and objectives in writing and compare them to those of the organization for which you work.
  6. Do a personal SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).  Then consciously seek out others who can offset your weaknesses with their strengths.

Take the time to truly know yourself so others can know you as you really are, and you can inspire and engage those you lead with authenticity and passion.