Why Leaders Need to Have a Strong ‘Sense of Self’
How to navigate difficult conversations with
You’ve no doubt heard (not a few) such office horror stories by now. Of managers who, on instance, are not beyond belittling subordinates to feel more powerful; who hesitate to make tough decisions and yet refrain from taking any suggestions from subordinates. Managers who tend to sabotage their own long-term success and that of the organization because, for one, they guard information rather than share it freely.
And it all begins when someone with a poor ‘sense of self’ lands a leadership role. People in teams managed by such leaders invariably suffer as morale plummets, stress rises and productivity wanes. Such leaders represent the antagonistic ghouls of corporate horror stories. There might, after all, be some truth to the adage ‘People leave managers, not companies’.
In direct contrast to the scene of doom and gloom above, when an individual with a strong ‘sense of self’ lands a leadership position, they radiate calm confidence and grace that’s so natural to them. This confidence in leadership can be downright inspiring, infectious, and energizing for all who come in contact with it.
Interestingly, these individuals also spoken of as ‘going places’ and ‘outpacing peers’, implying a career fast-track of sorts. An office fairy tale, if there ever was one.
And here’s the kicker: the difference between the horror story and the fairy tale lies in the making of a choice.
[spacer height=”15px”]What a Strong Sense of Self Means
First, let’s talk about this ‘sense of self’, as it were. It’s is not about narcissism or self-absorption. Au contraire, a ‘sense of self’ means being grounded in an impregnable understanding of who one is at the very core. And it means being completely present to one’s strengths and weaknesses, of course. A sense of self is categorically not rooted in externals, achievements and things material.
[spacer height=”15px”]The ‘Just Being Myself’ Excuse
Too often, the jingle ‘I was just being myself’ is used as a hall-pass for bad behaviour. It’s not to ‘Be yourself’ but to ‘Be your best possible self’ that must be aspired to. The choice that distinguishes a secure confident leader from an insecure one we were referring to earlier – this is it. It requires introspection, recognition, acknowledgement and systematic elimination of vices and shortcomings.
And it takes work. As the American writer, Frederick Buechner narrates in his autobiographical work ‘Telling Secrets’ writes, “Our original shimmering self gets buried so deep we hardly live out of it at all….rather, we learn to live out of all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s wrath.” Turns out, it’s that easy to lose touch with our ‘sense of self’.
When it comes to leadership, a ‘sense of self’ is the very foundation of stability. So it follows, that a lack of a ‘sense of self’ underpins insecurity. Insecurities in all its forms are deeply entrenched in an individual’s psyche – their origins can be traced way back to their formative years – and they seep into all aspects of life.
We’re not going to presume to tell you that the choice to be one’s best self is the easiest thing to do.
While no one can undo damaging experiences from formative years, one can always choose to rise above these injurious experiences and prevent them from being the source of actions and fuel for habits.
And that requires that one develops a strong sense of self.
[spacer height=”15px”]Developing ‘a sense of self’
Here are some suggestions on developing an unshakeable ‘sense of self’:[spacer height=”10px”]
a) An Exercise to Help You Hone a ‘sense of self’:
This is an intensely introspective activity that’s designed to help people isolate the core essence of who they are. We aren’t including instructions here, but you can download these instructions using the link at the bottom of this page.
b) Figure out your values:
Values are deep-rooted beliefs that guide the choices that you make in life, whether you are aware of them or not. So, if you haven’t already, figure out your values on priority.
c) Work towards accepting yourself:
The exercise we referenced in point a) will certainly help you here. If you are in a constant state of self-judgement, it’s like trying to see yourself clearly in the dark. Okay, so you have made mistakes. So have the best leaders in the world. It happens to the best of us. Be kind to yourself. Pick yourself up, and keep going. Learn from your mistakes, and resolve never to repeat them.
d) Get mindful:
Sometimes all it takes to have a stronger ‘‘sense of self’’ is to slow down enough to introspect upon your words and actions and identify if these were in keeping with who you really are at your very core (as determined by you in and through the exercise from point a) above and in keeping with your values.
There you go. These four steps should stand you in good stead on your path to developing your ‘sense of self’. So go ahead and make that choice, if you will. Lead with your best possible self. Leave a mark!