Effective leadership and authentic self expression go hand in hand. One of the perils of leadership is that one’s authentic self often gets traded in for power, prestige and self aggrandizement. Instead of manifesting authenticity and core personal values many become intoxicated with their role allowing their pseudo self to run their lives and their businesses.
Paul Weiand, founder and director of the Advanced Emotional Intelligence Institute (AEI), notes that many high achievers who become leaders have distorted self images. He says,
“They either think too much of themselves or they simply don’t know who they are. As a result they are seen as weak, phony or untrustworthy.”
Leaders resist soul searching just when they need it most. Weiand reminds us that by the time we reach our mid thirties our identities have become solidified and this makes change very difficult for us. Leaders today need to have a strong core personality where they know their deep inner values and are courageous enough to live by them.
They also need to be flexible and resilient. Effective leaders are summoned to live in a paradox, having one foot squarely rooted in their deep inner self and values and the other firmly planted in the day to day forces and pressures of their work environment. Effective leadership demands that one constantly manages this tenuous balance.
When Leadership Strengths Become Liabilities
At some point strengths become liabilities, says Weiand. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. Our tendency is to over-ride our weaknesses by developing our strengths. In this way we compensate for our weaknesses. Once we pass a certain critical point, however this manner of coping no longer works and becomes a liability. Consider this scenario:
A manager has a very forceful style and possesses tremendous ability to focus on a goal and accomplish many things. He gets the job done by pushing hard. His weakness however lies in people skills.
Under mounting pressure he tries to by-pass his weakness by pressing harder to accomplish his goal. Oblivious to the needs of his team, he alienates, thereby creating disloyalty and distrust. His strength becomes his liability.
Weiand continues to remind us that leaders frequently define themselves by their work and not by who they really are. When people achieve success they become inebriated with their accomplishments and mistakenly confuse their self image for the role that they fulfill. They lose access to their deep inner self; this is where true strength and resilience comes from.
The problem with this is that they now lose site of their weaknesses and the reality of their true nature. Weiand notes that they “eventually lose their ethics and do whatever seems expedient”. They can no longer lead effectively.
Becoming More Effective
Being an effective leader requires us to have a deep knowledge of our inner selves, having a good grasp of our strengths and limitations. This is a continuous process and requires deliberate attention.
At the zenith of our careers we may think that we least need it. It takes courage and will power to fight inertia. Effective leadership is about winning this battle, and searching deeper to be in touch with our true selves and manage this.
In the middle ages the ecclesial community spoke of the monastic cycle. It goes like this: Devotion produces discipline, discipline produces abundance and abundance destroys discipline. With lack of discipline, abundance disappears and we again go back to where we started.
Effective leaders manage abundance prudently, remembering that their first task is to be true to themselves so that abundance doesn’t destroy them. Effective leaders will take heed, not just when it is convenient, but as a habitual practice.