By: Rachel Vandenberg
One of my college political science course requirements was a course about leadership. What I remember of the course was learning about famous political leaders both past and current and a characterization of leadership as mostly outward. Perhaps it is either selective memory or my own internal bias that also conjures up images of strong masculine leaders like war heroes on top of horses at the front of the charging line and American Presidents giving famous speeches. My first intellectual beliefs about leadership therefore were, what could I do to make myself appear strong, authoritative and smart to the outside world so I could emulate what I perceived as excellent leadership?
What happens when you find yourself in a leadership position and this is what you think leadership is all about? Well let's just say that being in a leadership position and being a good leader are not the same thing. And if we think that leadership is about outward appearances then we will most certainly fail. As experienced leaders, we all know this. But I believe there can still be the tendency to act as if our primary goal as leaders is to change and influence the behavior of the people that work with us. I fall into that trap every day. Yes, influencing others to work towards common objectives is a consequence of our leadership but it is not the strategy to achieve our goals.
My most significant leadership achievements have come when I have reflected, learned and applied experience and knowledge about and related to my own behavior.
Improving leadership is for me about self-management and self-discipline and it is always a work in progress. I've brought these principles into my own life by taking these steps.
1. Creating space for reflection and linking this to a healthy life-style.
2. Defining my values and using them as a guide for life and work.
3. Seeking out new knowledge and experiences on a continual basis.
4. Cultivating a growth-mindset.
To read more about self-leadership, check out this article from Harvard Business Review: "To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself."