In my work as a professional coach, and with the help of others, I’ve learned what makes a successful leader. Many people feel it has to do with technical and/or strategic skill sets or knowledge. Knowledge is important, but it’s not central. Others believe it is critical thinking skills. That, too, is important, but it’s not what I’ve found to be at the core of a great leader.
What is needed in every great leader is for the leader to be “well-defined.” I’ve rarely coached someone who decided more knowledge or more skill would help them become a successful leader.Instead, what they needed to learn was more about themselves.
A well-defined leader is one who is internally aligned. What they say and they do. It looks like this:
- Their thinking rules their emotions.
- They’re a non-anxious presence.
- They have firm, appropriate boundaries.
- They have clarity of self and their own goals.
- They consider self when problems arise.
- They welcome conflict that is centered on mission.
- They know their own core values and live them out in actions.
Think of a leader you respect and from whom you would love to learn. They most likely fit the description above. Now think of a leader who struggles, who does not have many followers. They are probably struggling to be well-defined in some or many ways.
Becoming a well-defined leader does not happen overnight. It is a process of growth and maturity. But there are some core steps:
- Identify and articulate your core values.
- Identify and articulate your goals.
- Identify what makes you anxious, and ask yourself why—what is your life-story that plays into that anxiety?
- Identify and articulate the values and goals of the organization you lead within.
As you can see, it begins with learning about self, the good (core values) and what you struggle with (anxieties). Leadership always begins with truly understanding who you are and what’s important to you. It moves to what your weaknesses may be. Knowing the good and the gaps of you is the core to good leadership. You can always gain knowledge and learn new skills, but even before you do—learn about yourself.
So, if you want to grow in your leadership, take the time to know yourself. That will take you on a journey of self-awareness. Once you are self-aware, you can begin to navigate leadership in more successful ways.