Taking a cold hard look
The hardest challenge for any leader is to take a cold hard look at what they, their values, their behaviours, their thoughts and their actions. It’s easy to ask others to change. It can be exciting to build something new. It can be thrilling to see a community come together. But what all of these scenarios overlook is that they are all external changes. No one is forced to confront themselves in the light of day.
When one is obligated to examine the tension between who they are and who they want to be three things can happen: i) nothing, ii) turning away from the moment, and ii) growth. Doing nothing in the face of an opportunity to critically examine oneself may mean that the leader lacks sufficient self-awareness to identify the moment. It can also mean that the leader doesn’t see any need to evaluate the tension.
Turning away from the moment is another option. Some things are too difficult, painful or draining to confront. They could be reviewed at another time but not yet. For the time being, the leader has chosen to ignore the friction.
The third option and the most difficult is to take a cold hard look at what is causing internal conflict. It’s not easy to challenge your own values, sense of self and identity. It takes courage to undergo a process of self-evaluation. Doubt will seep into your thoughts. It’s painful to realise that what you thought was true isn’t correct. It can be gut-wrenching to come to the understanding your perceptions were inaccurate, flawed or even false. Those who chose to go through the process or even those who have it imposed on them, emerge stronger self-leaders and by extension better leaders.
Here are some steps to take to make it a habit to check in with yourself, to challenge your assumptions and to take a cold hard look at yourself:
- Intentionally seek out credible sources of information with whom you disagree
- Listen attentively
- Listen for the substance of the argument and not for the counter-argument
- Wrestle with the ideas and ask why you (dis)agree with them
- Make it a habit to occasionally do different things, to meet different people
- Leaders can become creatures of habit. Staying with their tribe as it were, they go to the same events, they meet with the same people, they surround themselves with like-minded people. These activities can be good for group cohesion. They can also slow personal growth from group think.
- When you feel uncomfortable, remain with the discomfort. Use it as a cue to ask yourself why you’re not at ease. Using the friction as a guide, explore what makes you tense and why. Always seek the why.
Taking a cold hard look at yourself isn’t always pleasant. A leader’s journey isn’t always flowers and rainbows. By being honest with yourself, you’re also giving yourself opportunities to explore, empower and grow. And ultimately you’re being your own leader by doing for yourself what you would readily do without blinking an eye for another.