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How knowing yourself helps you in leadership


Kieran Maloney examines what 'inner resources' and self-knowledge we can utilise to sustain leadership.

With management and leadership the place to start is with yourself and self-management, or at least self-awareness. The situation is that if we cannot manage or be aware of ourselves, how can we manage or be aware of others?
This is about emotional intelligence [1], which has two major aspects: firstly the understanding of yourself, your goals, intentions, responses and behaviour, and secondly understanding others and their feelings. Too often managers ignore their own feelings ("business is not about feelings" they say) and in so doing often ignore those of others too. Underlying our core and everything we do is the emotional aspect of life. As such we need to ensure that through awareness we can address our emotions, especially those that distract us.
As managers of people we are concerned with achieving the best; with, through and for those who work for us. To be able to do this we must first be able to manage ourselves and those essential elements of self. If we look beyond ourselves we are seeking the ability to interrelate successfully; that combines the two elements of emotional intelligence.
"We should understand our values and beliefs: from this we may understand our own motivations and what is likely to excite and stimulate us in the work environment."
It is most relevant to start with ourselves as we have a greater opportunity to manage and control ourselves. What are my intentions, my goals? We should also understand our values and beliefs: from this we may understand our own motivations and what is likely to excite and stimulate us in the work environment. Also this self-awareness will allow us to understand personal conflicts, stresses and disappointments as well as being able to toe the party line even if it is not aligned with our own values. Not everyone is in the fortunate position of being fulfilled and fully aligned with their organisation's values and beliefs, but it is what most of us seek.
As a manager it will be valuable for me to understand this about myself and allow me to interact with my team appropriately. If I have a good understanding of myself I have a chance of understanding others and then I can choose how best to interact with them in order to help them, and the team in general succeed. Self-awareness allows managers to interact effectively with the team, who otherwise may build their own relationships and barriers which exclude the manager.
John Adair [2] has been at the forefront of leadership thinking for more than 30 years and his notions of the balance of task, team and individual are as significant today as they ever were. It is important for me as a manager to recognise my strengths and preferences so that I can ensure the balance is achieved. For example if I am task-focused I may neglect the people, yet they are the means of achieving the task. If I care too much about the team then the individual differences and task are ignored, or if I focus on individuals then the team effort and the task take second and /or third place.
It is interesting too that building a team of clones of myself is not a good solution; teams thrive on healthy differences and inputs in order to deliver the best solutions and outcomes. Some managers feel it may be 'easier' to have a team of 'self-clones' but it is not the case usually as members try to assert an individuality that is being suppressed.
Important too are the things that keep us as individuals going and committed, especially when times are difficult. Being able to access our own inner resources can be critical to our success as leaders and managers. For some of us this may be to refer back to books and journals and the experiences that have shown how this 'stuff' works. For others it is the stimulation of physical activity through running, rowing, cycling, working out or whatever your chosen activity. Some combine this with communing with nature or the bigger world; a good walk or run in the countryside can be restorative, stimulating and reenergising. Others may turn to meditation or yoga or pilates as a form of calming and yet still activating the mind.
"Being able to access our own inner resources can be critical to our success as leaders and managers."
There are no right or wrong approaches, but it is important to have a means or personal renewal and strengthening. It is useful too to have a confidante or sounding board with whom we can occasionally share things. Choose carefully as it can become tedious for the confidante if we are constantly at them. Some may be lucky and have a mentor, understanding parent, generous partner or a good mate. Each of these will help with our resilience in the face of challenges.
What may often keep us going too is personal commitment or passion about what we are trying to achieve in the organisation. It can be frustrating if we are passionate and we find team members who are just doing a job, but our passion and commitment can keep us focused and attentive to all the things that will help us and the team achieve our goals. Whatever your own goals and motivations, passion and commitment are key drivers. It will be diluted if your goal is purely to make money, but it can help to keep the focus. Far more energising is shared belief and values with the organisation.
Self-confidence grows with success and achievement and it is important to dwell on our successes and reflect upon how they came about. We will all make mistakes and get it wrong; learn from mistakes but don't dwell on them and do try to be positive that the mistake will not recur. Confront situations and not people and you are more likely to succeed. You may find mantras and affirmations helpful in reminding yourself how good you are, but all of us can build confidence by acknowledging success and achievement. Share success and celebrate it. Know what makes you 'tick' as it will be that upon which you depend in so many ways as a manager.
[1] EQ or Emotional Intelligence is usually associated with Daniel Goleman but was researched in the 1970’s and 1980’s by three American psychologists, Howard Gardner (Harvard), Peter Salovey (Yale) and John Mayer (New Hampshire).
Kieran Maloney and Paul Stanford are authors of You Can Manage: People. Maloney and Stanford have both been managers at various levels in numerous organizations. They have also been Training Managers, responsible for management development

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