As a leader it can be hard to tell ourselves the truth, or even know the truth about ourselves. But it is incumbent upon a leader to do the hard work of self-discovery, and not to let our position become the reason for insulation from the truth.
Know who you lead.
Most leaders would agree that we should know the people we lead – their strengths and weaknesses, their learning style, the way they respond under pressure, and the best way to affirm them so they can receive it.
But for some reason, maybe especially in Christian leadership circles, there’s a resistance to knowing ourselves well by taking a deep look into our personalities, tendencies, fears and shortcomings. Maybe it’s because introspection seems to take our focus off the Cross.
I contend that humans are the Father’s magnum opus, and as his greatest work, deserve diligent study.
Stewarding our own unique leadership self is a heavy responsibility. But done well, it helps us identify how we’ve been uniquely wired:
- What feeds our pride versus what feeds our soul
- How we respond to conflict
- Where our vulnerabilities lie (when we’re hungry, tired, hurt, angry, overworked, underappreciated)
There are many tools to help us know ourselves better. One is a trusted adviser. Another is a breadth of personality and leadership tests. Maybe you’ve taken them all, but still find difficulty in understanding yourself. In that case, connect with peer advisers or your family and float what you’ve learned about yourself. Vulnerably ask, “Is this who you see I am?” And listen well to their reply.
Play to your strengths.
Often the American educational system, and maybe most leadership development philosophies, focus on strengthening weaknesses – on shoring up deficiencies. This might seem noble, but I’m challenged to focus on the strengths God has uniquely given me and others. I encourage us all to spend our time using them well, rather than focusing on our deficiencies, things that frankly we may never be good at.
Identify and lean into your natural giftedness, and spend your time working within it.
Identify and lean into your natural giftedness, and spend your time working within it. It’s where you’ll be most effective and have the greatest impact.
Of course, a “C-level” executive, clearly cannot use the excuse, “I’m just not great at managing finances,” or “I’m really not good with people.” You must become competent in these areas. And you can surround yourself with others who are strong where you are weak.
Watch the clock.
Many executives drain their most productive and creative times of the day doing tasks they don’t like. Long before time blocking became a practice, I became aware that from noon to 3:30 p.m. I was pretty useless if I needed to write, create or get through mundane tasks. I’m a high-energy person, but during those hours, things were simply harder. That’s the best time of day for me to have invigorating face-to-face meetings.
It’s also a good time for me to hear other people’s ideas or to return phone calls. If I want to really get something creative done, my best time is either early in the morning or late at night, when creative ideas seem to flow. What about you? Are you a morning person, but you stack your most creative hours with meetings? Chart out your day and, as much as possible, schedule your work to work best for you.
“No” is a complete sentence.
A friend recently told me that “No” is a complete sentence. Leaders are usually good at saying no. Sometimes out of principle or to make a point (check yourself here). Sometimes because it takes too much work to get to “yes.” But when it comes to leading yourself, get good at telling yourself, “No.” No, when you’re tempted to do something for the wrong reason, or in the wrong season. No, when you’ll pay a higher price than the benefit if you say yes. No if you’re constantly tempted to put others’ needs ahead of your own, causing your health and well-being to suffer.
Leading yourself may be the most important mentoring work you ever do.
When people watch you pursuing understanding about who God created you to be, and observe they joy that comes as you lead from your strengths, they will see a “lightness” that comes from knowing oneself. That sure beats the leadership style of striving, straining and white-knuckling to be like someone else.
Penny Hunter is the founder of Hunter Strategy, which serves business and nonprofit clients with creative marketing solutions. She previously served as vice president of communications/marketing for International Justice Mission.