Truly great leaders know themselves well. They understand their dreams, aspirations and what motivates them to succeed, and this knowledge allows them to lead well and inspire others to succeed.
“From Thomas Edison to Mary Kay Ash to Steve Jobs, great leaders throughout history tap into their strengths, talents and even their quirks to become world changers,” says Karen Zeigler, a life strategist for women in leadership, who provides business coaching, including leadership development training.
“When a leader doesn't explore who he or she is, it’s like buying a new car and not knowing what type of fuel is best suited for the vehicle,” Zeigler says. “The car may still run, but it will not run optimally, and in the long run, it will likely break down. Knowing who you are allows you to perform at your best. You’ll have greater energy and be more effective and productive.”
To develop your true potential as a leader, your first step is to get on the road to self-discovery. Here’s how to begin and chart your course:
Discover Your Values
“Without exception, great leaders possess high levels of self-awareness and clarity of motivation, and this understanding comes from discovering their unique values,” says Morgan Hendrix, CEO of Virtual Business Leader.
Values vary among small-business owners. “Some business owners value consistency, while others value authenticity,” Hendrix says. “My number-one value is alignment—being aligned in business and life matters to me most. Understanding this, along with my other top values, gave me a clear vision of what I want and how I best lead.”
Identify Your Values
You can discover what's really important to you by answering these six questions:
- What matters to you in your family life?
- What makes you feel energized at work?
- What is it that makes you cringe, and why does it bother you?
- What are you unwilling to give up?
- When you start something, what pushes you to jump in?
- What are your most treasured memories?
Spend some time contemplating each of these questions, really digging deep to determine what's most important to you.
Stay True To Your Values
Great leaders know themselves well enough to refuse to compromise their values. “If you look at the career of President Lincoln, you’ll notice that such leaders are never willing to sacrifice their values and principles,” Hendrix says. “Lincoln was not surrounded by a naturally cohesive team of followers but rather by a group of enemies and challengers with leadership roles in their own right, yet he stuck to his own values.”
Discover Your Passions
To reach your highest potential as a great leader, it’s necessary to identify your passions. “Look at those circumstances or experiences in your life that create a big emotional response,” Zeigler says. “One of the best questions to ask yourself in order to discover your passion is, ‘If I could change one thing in my life, what would it be?’ Looking at your dreams and desires will often point to what makes you passionate.”
Success for its own sake isn't usually what inspires people, Zeigler warns. “We often override important pieces of who we are in order to earn more money or achieve what onlookers would deem as more success,” she says. “For instance, I was a successful investment adviser for the first 13 years of my career. Looking at my personality and strengths, it would seem like a good fit. However, my passion for creativity and freedom weren't addressed in my former job, which led to my career change.”
Know Your Temperament
Discovering your temperament by taking a test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, allows you to get a good handle on how you best lead. When you embrace your true personality, you make optimum leadership decisions and reach out for assistance in the most effective way possible.
“I am an intuitive introvert, who thrives in the world of ideas,” Zeigler says. “When it comes to interacting with people, I’m good with small talk for about 15 minutes. Move the conversation to the daily running of a business or department, and I can last two to three hours before I need to retreat. When it comes to problem solving, brainstorming and idea generation, however, I can go just about all day. Such insight shows me the type of leadership tasks I should take on and the people I need to hire or surround myself with in order to create a strong, successful company.”
If you're trying to improve your leadership skills in order to achieve your life goals, these tips will help you get to know yourself better. And you may just discover a leader within that you didn't even know existed.
A freelancer since 1985, Julie Bawden-Davis has written for many publications, including Entrepreneur, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
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