The simple but powerful way to improve your leadership
Last week I bumped into an old college friend — an accountancy lecturer with a keen interest in financial ethics and leadership. During our conversation he remarked that our country would make great strides if leaders acted in the interests of the people rather than seeking leadership positions purely for their own benefit. As he lectures, he’s eager to impart to students the importance of integrity and ethics as an integral part of the accounting profession.
My friend’s observations tie in well with those of best-selling business author and management consultant Ken Blanchard. In an article ‘Look Inside to Begin Your Leadership Journey ’ Blanchard writes, “Leadership is a transformational journey that starts with self-leadership. It begins by asking yourself a tough question: Am I here to serve, or be served?” A leader’s answer to this question will be reflected in their fundamental approach to leadership.
If you believe leadership is all about satisfying your personal needs, your leadership will be selfish. If however, your leadership revolves around meeting the needs of the organisation, employees and other stakeholders, your leadership will be selfless.
Blanchard believes the best leaders have a servant leadership philosophy comprising a two-pronged approach. The visionary or strategic leadership role which involves setting the vision and overall direction and the operational leadership role providing strong day-to-day management practices for implementing the vision.
Blanchard explains, “At its core, servant leadership means that once vision and direction are set, the organisational pyramid is turned upside-down and leaders work for their people.” The people look to the leader for vision and direction, and the leader serves the people by helping them accomplish goals in line with the vision. The leader responds to the needs of the people and facilitates environments conducive to progress.
In the course of running his international management training and consulting firm for over 40 years, Blanchard has observed two things that keep executives from becoming servant leaders: false pride and self-doubt or fear.
Leaders operating in false pride have a ‘more than’ attitude. They think more highly of themselves than they should and spend most of their time looking for ways to promote themselves. Their behaviour is characterised by boasting, taking all the credit, doing all the talking and demanding all the attention.
Leaders operating under fear and self-doubt have a ‘less than’ attitude. They think less of themselves than they should and spend their time constantly trying to protect themselves. Their behaviour is characterised by intimidating others, withholding information, hoarding control, discouraging honest feedback and hiding behind their position.
The root cause of both false pride and self-doubt is the ego. Simply defined, your ego is your sense of self. Your ego is how you see yourself and distinguish yourself from the rest of the world and from other people. Having an appropriate view of yourself is essential for a healthy self-esteem. Problems arise if you develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance or a debilitating sense of inferiority.
In their book ‘Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (Or Most Expensive Liability)’ authors Dave Marcum and Steven Smith write, “Ego is the invisible line item on every company’s profit and loss statement. Despite the negative reputation of ego, it isn’t purely a loss. On the profit side, ego sparks the drive to invent and achieve, the nerve to try something new, and the tenacity to conquer setbacks that inevitably come. Many people don’t have enough ego, and that leads to insecurity, hollow participation, and apathy that paralyse cultures and leaders.”
Marcum and Smith further explain, “Invested into every team meeting, boardroom debate, performance review, client conversation, contract negotiation, or employment interview is the potential for ego to work for us or against us. If we manage ego wisely, we get the upside it delivers followed by strong returns. But when that intense, persistent force inside manages us, companies suffer real economic losses.”
Blanchard states, “Ego is the biggest addiction in the world. So many people think of their self-worth as a function of their performance plus the opinions of others. But that’s a dead-end deal. When your self-worth is somewhere ‘out there’, it’s always up for grabs.” To help executives identify where ego may be affecting their leadership, Blanchard often incorporates an ‘Egos Anonymous’ session into his workshops. Participants take turns sharing an example of a false pride or self-doubt moment that got in the way of them being their best self.
The executives reflect on recent situations where they behaved badly or in ways inconsistent with who they see themselves to be. Many identify incidents driven by a need to be right, to be seen as smart, to be accepted as a part of the group, or to win even at the expense of others — all ego-driven behaviours that limit leadership effectiveness.
Successful leadership begins with self-leadership. Blanchard recommends leaders ask themselves this key question: “What am I doing daily to recalibrate who I want to be in the world? Consider your daily habits and their impact on your life. Take time to explore who you are, who you want to be and what steps you can take on a daily basis to get closer to becoming your best self. Your leadership journey begins on the inside — but ultimately will have a tremendous impact on the people around yo
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