Gone are the days when “leader” generally meant a guy in a grey suit with a briefcase. These days a leader might be a jeans and tennis shoe wearing 20...
We rely on leaders to shape our reality. We need them to hold a vision of the future that doesn’t yet exist and influence the right actions for its creation. We need them to identify potential pitfalls and make decisions that help us avoid them. We need them to create space for the kind of innovation that actively changes our world.
These things are true, but it can also be argued that leaders themselves are shaped by their own decisions and directives. Because isn’t it impossible to act without that action having an impact on you?
We are all participants in a process of shaping our reality and being influenced by our direct experience of that reality. This, I know, is obvious. What’s less obvious is how much our unspoken, and often unconscious, thoughts and perspectives also impact that reality.
For example, we might tell our team that we trust their ability to make good decisions. But, if we are harboring a belief that most of the people on our team are too inexperienced to be trusted with important decisions, that belief might be causing us to only allow them decision making power over insignificant issues. Not having the opportunity to stretch and grow, our team will remain inexperienced. It’s cyclical. Stopping the cycle and creating a reality in which we have a competent and experienced team first requires us to acknowledge and adjust our thinking.
That’s why great leaders are courageous enough to pay attention to the spoken and unspoken feedback they receive from others. They know that if they are to have great influence, they must also allow their thinking to be influenced by the truth of how they are impacting their world. They embrace the fact that their thoughts and perspectives about others and the world in general, have a direct impact on the reality they are working to create.
What is the story you are telling yourself about your organization and your purpose within it?
What do you believe about the competence and abilities of your team?
To what extent to you truly believe you can make a positive difference?
To what extent do you believe your team will play a role in the difference you want to make?
If you really want to get an accurate assessment of how your thoughts and beliefs might be influencing your reality, try this experiment: For one day or several, write down every judgment, “good” or “bad” that you make in the privacy of your mind in relation to your work day, including about your teammates.
Be as ruthlessly honest as you can and it’s likely that you’ll notice certain themes. Evaluate the positive and negative implications of the themes. Mostly, ask yourself if the supporting beliefs are true and useful, or false and damaging.
A 2010 study conducted in partnership with Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations examined the interpersonal traits of executives to determine commonalities with the success of their companies. The researchers discovered that the strongest predicator of overall executive success was a high self- awareness score.
This quote from the study seems particularly insightful:
” Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”
Awareness is the first step toward leadership mastery and often brings about positive change in and of itself. Regardless of our current position, the content of our thoughts and the emotions tied to them either shape us to be more effective or they shape us into functioning in a more diminished, less effective, and even cynical manner.
So, my question to you (and myself) is this: What are you shaping in your life, and how are you allowing yourself to be shaped?