When we think of leadership, many of us think of leading a group of people in an organization. But the best kind of leadership is as much about personal growth and raising self-awareness as it is about managing and inspiring others.
Leadership is not just a job we do; being a leader isn’t any different than being ourselves. No matter where we are in the company’s organizational structure, we are bringing our life experiences, personality traits, beliefs, attitudes, values, motivations, stressors, and concerns.
Whether we have spent the time developing our emotional skills or not, these skills really come into play when we are leading others. It’s inevitable that our emotions and those of others will affect performance at work, and we need to have the skills and tools to know how to tend to all kinds of emotions for all types of people in all sorts of situations.
However, before we can focus on addressing the emotions of others and work with them to help unleash their potential, we need to focus on the power from within: that inside-out kind of leadership that will allow us first to free our potential, so we can live a life of fulfillment with a great sense of purpose, guiding us to make a positive contribution to the world around us. If we can do this, we give others permission to do the same.
Many of us may have taken a leadership course or two but probably have never been taught personal leadership—learning how to first lead ourselves on the right path. Taking an inside-out approach does not mean we should be focusing only on the inner and forget about the outer results. Instead, we should be constantly looking both inwardly at our emotions and outwardly at our actions and the impact those actions have on others. Do our external results, what is happening on the outside (good or bad), match what we feel or want on the inside? Do our intentions match our impact?
Leading from within is a journey, not a destination, of profound self-discovery, requiring self-awareness and self-actualization. It’s an inside job that is constantly shifting. We are continuously learning about ourselves and going deep underneath the surface of our actions. We need to challenge old beliefs and thinking patterns that are no longer working for us. And we need to face our fears, courageously reaching deep within ourselves to find out what fulfills us and genuinely makes us happy.
If leaders can unveil their own humanness, employees will feel more comfortable and connected to their superior, as well as their work. It can be as simple as starting the meeting off with “I am feeling a little overwhelmed today. How is everyone else feeling?” This can open the opportunity for an intimate conversation beyond the usual “how was your weekend,” water-cooler chatter. In fact, research shows that when leaders drop their polished professional presentation, employees tend to trust and believe more in what the leaders are sharing.
Leadership is not about being the best; it is about being willing to go first. The key is that leaders must go first. They need to step out of their comfort zone and be the first to admit their vulnerabilities and open the conversation to a deeper one beyond the agenda for the meeting. Taking the corporate mask off even slightly and allowing yourself and your people to be human in the workplace is critical.
Leaders need to allow others to honestly share how they are feeling, make errors, offer suggestions, and be open about themselves. When leaders do this, employees are more productive, are happier overall, and tend to be more loyal to their organization.
When leaders show they genuinely care about their employees’ well-being and move from employing to empowering their people, the work atmosphere changes. The results? People try harder, perform better, and are kinder to and have more compassion for others.
Carolyn Stern, author of The Emotionally Strong Leader, is the President and CEO of EI Experience, an executive leadership development and emotional intelligence training firm. She is a certified Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Development Expert, professional speaker, and university professor whose emotional intelligence courses and modules have been adopted by top universities in North America. She has also provided comprehensive training programs to business leaders across the continent in highly regarded corporations encompassing industries such as technology, finance, manufacturing, advertising, education, healthcare, government, and foodservice. Stern lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can learn more at www:carolynstern.com/book.