By Greg Wallace, Expert Contributors’ Blog, StrategyDriven
Great leaders pattern themselves after (drumroll, please) themselves. As stated by Jim Rohn, noted business philosopher, “all great leaders keep working on themselves until they become effective.”
Yet a significant amount of the billions of dollars we spend each year on leadership training is not about working on ourselves but patterning our leadership on some other leader’s life, leadership model, or leadership principles.
For instance, in a review of a popular leadership book, Amazon.com states “Few of us are natural-born leaders, according to [the author of the book]. Fortunately though, ‘the traits that are the raw material of leadership can be acquired,’ [the author] promises. ‘Link them up with desire and nothing can keep you from becoming a leader. This book will supply the leadership principles. You must supply the desire.’ ”
Rather than adopting someone else’s leadership principles, we can develop our own . . . and find success in the process.
As people and as leaders, we are shaped by our upbringing, our education, and our experiences; we learn from parents, teachers, and mentors; we attend seminars, training sessions, and the school of hard knocks.
What we take away from each of those encounters helps us to develop our own set of leadership principles. If we are intentional about developing those principles, i.e., working on ourselves, we can become even better leaders.
What follows are five benefits from exercising leadership from our own personal model of leadership:
We are more authentic: Trying to emulate someone else’s leadership model introduces a level of inauthenticity that can create a gap between who we are and who we say we are. Studies have shown that authentic leaders have better working relationships and are more successful as leaders since they more easily engage and inspire those they lead.
We are more trusted: People follow only leaders they trust, they trust only leaders they know. When we lead authentically from who we are not who we are emulating, others relate to us better and trust us more.
We are better crisis managers: There’s an old saying, we are like a tube of toothpaste, we don’t know what’s inside of us until we are squeezed. Under pressure, we tend to forget what we are supposed to know but we never “forget” who we are. The more intentional we are about developing our personal model of leadership the better we are able to leverage the lessons we derive from this model during a crisis.
We are more adaptable: Another old saying, no matter where you go, there you are. Many leadership models are applicable in some situations but not in others. They are based on someone else’s experiences. However, our own model, based on our own experience, is instructive regardless of the situation.
We are more effective: Why would we use any approach if it does not make us more effective? Collectively, we spend billions developing our leadership skills but a study by Karp and Helgo concludes that identity is more important to leadership than skills, characteristics, or traits.
For example, I used principles developed from my personal model of leadership to reduce costs, improve quality, and increase productivity during my first full year of leading an application processing organization.
On some levels, the notion of leading from our own identity seems simplistic (don’t we do that without thinking?) but a paper on projective identification suggests that organizational pressures can have more impact on our leadership than our personal identity unless we are intentional about maintaining our sense of self.
This intentionality is critical if we are to reap the benefits of leading from our own identity.
We would do well to remember Judy Garland’s admonition to be “be a first rate version of [ourselves] and not a second rate version of someone else”.