“The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein
Leadership is about influence, service, and transformation. First, leadership does not come from positional authority; rather it is based on influence. Second, it is the leader’s job to serve the people. For as leadership-expert Larry Spears states, “True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others and see them grow” (1998, p. 3). Finally, successful leadership is about transformation—the transformation of individuals, organizations, and even broader culture. It is in this transformation piece where professional development plays a key role.
Transforming culture requires transforming organizations and institutions, and transforming organizations and institutions requires transforming individuals. Therefore, culture cannot be transformed without individuals being transformed. As Peter Drucker (1999, p. 11) writes, “The need to manage oneself is therefore creating a revolution in human affairs.” Essentially, one must effectively lead oneself before attempting to lead others.
Once one has taken the time to understand oneself: personality, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, etc., one has the responsibility to understand that others are just as unique. Then, instead of rejecting those differences, one is able to see them as complements. It allows one to create and lead a team where others’ strengths balance one’s own weaknesses. Or, in the words of strengths-expert Marcus Buckingham (2008), “A great team player volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time and deliberately partners with people who have different strengths.”
The important question then becomes, how does one lead oneself? One important way one can learn to lead oneself is through professional development. Some professional development tools we use at Inta-Great include: the DiSC Profile, The 360 DiSC, StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership, The Truth About You, and a listening profile—among other things. All of these assessments are meant to help individuals understand more about themselves and the way they think, feel, and act. On top of these tools, identifying personal values, writing personal mission and/or vision statements, setting SMART goals for one’s life, and developing a relationship with a mentor are all great professional development exercises. And more formally, professional courses/seminars and advanced education also constitute professional development. And yet, professional development is not only confined to resources outside of oneself, for as Donald Schon (1983) is quick to point out, the reflective practitioner is a resource onto himself.
The reflective practitioner is one who engages in reflection-in-action as a means of professional development. Reflection-in-action takes place when one thinks about what he or she is doing while he or she is doing it. This allows one to conduct mini-experiments, apply theory to a situation, and, in real-time, evolve the theory until the desired results are achieved. This reflection-in-action allows one to recognize the tacit understandings which have been guiding one’s actions, perhaps even hindering one’s effectiveness (Schon, 1983). Schon (1983, p. 68) sums it up when he says, “When someone reflects-in-action, he becomes a researcher in the practice of context….[he] constructs a new theory of the unique case.”
Overall, professional development, through both external resources and internal reflection-in-action, is the foundation of self-leadership. Then, self-leadership is the basis for personal transformation. And finally, personal transformation is “the breath that sustains our ability to lead others” thereby transforming organizations and institutions, and ultimately culture (Manz, 2001, p. 16).
- Buckingham, M. (2008). The truth about you: Your secret to success. [Video]. (Available from Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN)
- Drucker, P. (1999). Managing oneself. Harvard Business Review, 77(2), 64-74.
- Manz, C. (2001). The leadership wisdom of Jesus. San Francisco: Brett-Koehler.
- Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. NY: Basic Books.
- Spears, L.C. (Ed.) (1998) Insight in leadership. New York: Wiley.
In honor of President’s Day, we’ve put together our top ten favorite presidential quotes about leadership:
- “A man who has never lost himself in a cause bigger than himself has missed one of life’s mountaintop experiences. Only in losing himself does he find himself.” – Richard Nixon
- “You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin’.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
- “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” – Theodore Roosevelt
- “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” – Abraham Lincoln
- “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your reputation, for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington
- “Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.” – Thomas Jefferson
- “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” – Woodrow Wilson
- “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
- “Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.” – Andrew Jackson
- “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
And because we just couldn’t keep it to ten, here’s a Bonus:
11. “The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the
greatness is already there.” – James Buchanan
There is the leader one is and the leader one is meant to be. According to Richard Leider, the key to having these two leaders meet is asking the difficult question, “What is my calling?” Asking this question requires courage to look inside oneself, identify one’s strengths and talents, and explore how to offer those strengths and talents to others. Recognizing one’s own calling is only the first step, however, truly great leaders are able to recognize the potential in those they serve and help them discover the leader they are meant to be as well.
Leider defines calling as “the inner urge to give our gifts away.” Therefore, when one asks “What is my calling?” he is really asking, “What gifts do I possess, and how can I offer these gifts the world?” Answering this question requires a lot of introspection and honesty. It also emphasizes the principle that good leadership starts with the self.
One’s own life must be transformed, one’s own questions answered, before one can hope to successfully lead others. As the old adage tells us, “One cannot give away what one does not possess.” It is only after one takes the time to explore his or her own strengths and stewardship of those strengths that one’s full potential can be reached.
After understanding one’s own strengths and talents, true leadership requires the ability to help one’s followers identify their strengths and talents. Why? Because a great leader knows and responds to the differences in calling and gifting among the people he or she serves. This allows the leader to pull together a team whose sum is exponentially greater than all its parts. Or, as strengths expert Marcus Buckingham puts it, “There are no well-rounded leaders, only well-rounded leadership teams.”
In the end, asking oneself “What is my calling?” is the key to unleashing the vast potential inside oneself, and then, inside others. It is the key to transforming the leader one currently is into the leader one was designed to be, and the results are sure to be remarkable.
*Richard Leider, “Is Leading Your Calling?” from Leader to Leader, Winter, 2004.