Recently, a former co-worker and I were discussing the concept of adequacy in leadership, or put simply, how do we as leaders know that we have what it takes to lead? This is a complex topic that touches on a person’s identity, their motives, and character; in addition to the preparations they have undergone for a leadership role.
Who am I?
There are many people more qualified to expound on the concept of identity (as John and Stasi Eldridge have done in their books Wild at Heart and Captivating), but at the root of identity lies the answer to the questions: who am I and why am I here? It is essential that a leader be able to answer these questions as the path of leadership will work to reveal the true person instead of the pose we often show to others – either through our own choice or by the pose being forcibly ripped away
By “pose” we mean the person we pretend to be in order to hide our true (oftentimes insecure) self.
The answer to this question of identity is not your net worth, the athletic or academic abilities of your children, the social circles you move in, or the title you have on your LinkedIn profile. The answer is who you are if all those things were gone. This thought of naked self-examination may be a frightening proposition, but it is essential because when we live from a pose, we cannot have the fullness of power that comes from true self-understanding.
In fact, many people in “leadership” positions spend much more time fighting to protect their pose (i.e. the perception that they are the boss, have all the answers, have money etc.) than they do serving those they lead to bring organizational success. As you have likely experienced, the false identity of a “leader” creates many problems.
Identify & Motives
So, we begin to see that answering the core question of our identity shapes our motives. For instance, if my identity is unclear and my pose is based on the position I occupy or my net worth, then a basic understanding of self-preservation dictates my motives will be to protect the position or wealth that props up that pose. If my identity is that I am a unique human who is meant to live in relationship with others, my motives in protecting that identity will be very different. From this understanding of identity comes intrinsic self-worth and a respect for others. To be clear, I am not saying money or influence is not a motivating factor in my life, but the key question is what happens when I am forced to choose between more money and more power or my identity. If I could have all the money and power in the world, but it came at the expense of my uniqueness (i.e. having to become someone I was not) or at the expense of living in relationship with others (i.e. sacrificing or destroying relationships to get and keep money / power), what path would I choose? This is the question of a leader’s motives, and it is important to have the answer to this question before you are tested. All of history shows us the danger of leaders who put their interests of “pose”-preservation above the interests of others.
A Foundation of Character
By understanding our identity and the motives that spring out of it, we can start to develop the character needed to support our motives and achieve our life’s mission. Character is a difficult topic because so many people define it differently. One of my favorite ways to look at character is the saying, “character is who you are when no one else is watching.” Like identity, this quote gets at the scary proposition that in solitude – without social or societal norms to keep us in check – we can truly examine the weight of our character. At TSOR, we break character into six traits which support the keystone of relational leadership (love for others). This understanding of ourselves is not meant to drive us into permanent solitude but is intended to help us exist in relationship with others. While there are many important traits, the six we focus on are humility, integrity, responsibility, discipline, wisdom, and courage. We believe that a leader must:
- be humble to avoid the pitfalls of pride, pull out the best ideas from others and recognize them;
- act with integrity to ensure the sustainability of the organization they lead;
- take responsibility for everything under their command to fix problems and shield their team when mistakes are made to preserve innovation and creativity;
- possess the discipline to live with humility, integrity, responsibility, and to test oneself daily so when the actual testing comes, the leader overcomes.
- lead with wisdom to make the best decisions for an organization and those under the leader’s care
- act with courage to uphold the character of the organization
Even if you know who you are and you have motives that support that identity, character is the trait that allows us to stay on the narrow path of becoming who we are meant to be, even when external testing comes.
Who are you becoming?
Through our experience, the identity, motives, and character of an individual will determine more than anything the adequacy of their leadership. However, the last point is important because we cannot just become exceptional, we must engage in the process of becoming. The answers to these questions will vary by industry, but help us gauge the maturity of our leadership:
- What are we doing to become the leaders that honor identity?
- Do you lean into situations that are difficult or do you shy away from them?
- Do you seek a wide variety of perspectives, or do you only surround yourself with others like you?
- Are you willing to put in the hours to build relationship and understand technical aspects of work, or do you prefer to get home and watch television?
- How would your spouse of children characterize your leadership in the home?
Adequacy of leadership comes by consciously putting ourselves in situations that stress our present leadership skillset enough to cause growth, and unfortunately growth often comes through failure along the way. And this is why the foundation of identity is so important in developing leadership adequacy.
Let’s rise above and lead.
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