I’ll begin this piece by acknowledging a bias: I’m a lifelong learner with a growth mindset who absolutely believes we can build our leadership skills through constant reflection, focus, and practice. I also acknowledge that I’ve got a bit of a perfectionist inner critic who is never quite satisfied. While that gets in my way sometimes, I’m also learning to better acknowledge it and count on it to keep me focused on continuous improvement. Five years after retiring from the Army and two years removed from my last organizational leadership role, I assess myself as a better leader now than I was then, ‘getting it’ better than ever.
Why is that? I assess a large part of it to be that I’ve chosen to stay on my leadership journey. I also remind myself frequently that we can all lead whether we have a title or not. Choosing to stay on my leadership journey is not always easy. It requires being uncomfortable, open to trying new behaviors, taking responsibility for my actions, and realizing that sometimes my emotions trigger reactions that aren’t productive. The leadership journey also means making peace with some of the people and events in my past, as well as with some of my own missteps and shortcomings. Finally, I’ve become much more aware of the value in asking for support, something leaders don’t often like to do for fear of seeming like we don’t have all the answers.[i]
While the challenges of choosing to stay on our leadership journeys are real, so too are the benefits. Citing work from thought leader and Duke University professor Dr. Edward M. Marshall, Skip Prichard recently highlighted some of these benefits in his Leadership Insights blog. Most beneficial, Dr. Marshall finds that by investing in our leadership journeys we discover who we really are. Knowing our true and authentic selves can also result in increases in our:
- Self-esteem and self-confidence, resulting in more positive relationships with others
- Empathy and self-regulation because of greater self-awareness
- Clarity of direction as we better understand our personal vision and mission - our 'why'
- Humility, allowing self-acceptance and a greater resolve to achieve our vision through others
- Personal Mastery, enabling us to coach and mentor others to be their best selves [ii]
Even those on their leadership journeys who realize its benefits often choose to go it alone and assume 100% of the effort for their growth and development. The findings however reflect that our journeys are much more beneficial if we ask teachers, coaches, mentors, and others to travel with us. Teachers can impart the facts about our feelings, the best mentors can provide us with the sage insights of their experiences, and good coaches serve as guides & sounding boards, helping us with alignment and accountability. In his bestselling book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, world-renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith finds that enlisting others is not only helpful, but also essential. Leaders truly focused on moving forward in their journeys need to let others know about how they’re seeking to improve, then ask for and listen to consistent feedback over time that lets them know whether what they’re doing is working.[iii]
World-renowned leadership and emotional intelligence experts Daniel Goleman, Dr. Richard Boyatzis and Dr. Annie McKee made similar discoveries when researching their seminal book, Primal Leadership. Among their many findings, the power of relationships stands out as being beneficial to leaders seeking to improve. Surrounding ourselves with and receiving help from those committed to helping us improve provides a place of psychological safety for the discomfort that comes with behavioral change.[iv]
I’m devoted to continuing my leadership journey, though it may be a long road and won’t always be easy. The more frequently others join me and help me along the way, the more fulfilling my journey becomes. Whether you are considering starting your own leadership journey or are already well along it, I hope after reading this you remember one thing: you don’t have to go it alone!