Every business leader I have worked with has worried that they were failing in some fundamental way. The most common complaint I have heard is that they would get drawn into details too often instead of doing what they do best: turning inspiration into vision. Working hard and rushing to get everything done in a day, they say they don’t feel focused, present or consistent enough to be the great role models they want to be.
They knew that authentic leadership was about more than getting things done. It mattered deeply to them that they be the best role models for their staff. But their own behaviour was at odds with what they believed an effective leader would do. The result was that they spent a lot of energy pretending everything was okay when it actually wasn’t. Keeping the illusion alive was exhausting and inefficient. Worse, it was counterproductive to their end goals because they sidestepped the learning that could have led to better results.
If you are a business owner, you already know the list of essential qualities for effective leadership: clear communication, integrity, confidence, decisiveness, strategic planning ability and vision. But what is often not discussed are the personal leadership skills underlying these qualities.
These deeper skills are the foundation for matching your behaviour with your intentions. You can practice how to communicate effectively, but you won’t get your message across if you are unaware you are reacting to a feeling inside you. No matter how determined you are to operate with integrity, your hidden commitments will consistently take out you off track. And the confidence you are looking for comes with self-compassion and setting effective boundaries.
This deeper skillset is the key to cultivating effective leadership qualities.
1. Know your inner landscape
What makes you who you are? Drives you? What are your stories about the world and your place in it?
You may believe that you are alone and must prove your worth in order to be accepted. This can lead to burnout and perfectionism. But if you believe you are worthy and trust that the world is ready to receive your best work, you will be more likely to enjoy the process of business creation with greater results.
Your inner landscape is your unique collection of stories, beliefs and patterns. By themselves, they are not problematic. They were useful coping skills at the time you were growing up. They helped you navigate your family dynamic. The trouble occurs when you continue to use the same strategies as an adult when they may no longer be helpful. When you were ten years old and wanted to have more control, asserting yourself and fighting back may have worked. But as an adult, this might not help you develop rapport and trust with your staff.
Here are some questions you could ask to uncover your stories and patterns:
- What were your earliest stories about you and the world? How do they show up now?
- What one pattern are you now only vaguely aware of? Would it change everything in your performance if you were willing to bring it forward?
- What are you prepared to do to uncover what drives you?
- What well-ingrained behaviours do you notice in your work?
- What are you believing that is getting in your way?
2. Be in personal integrity
Integrity is not about right or wrong, good or bad. It means being consistent with your word, doing what you say you will do and telling someone when you cannot follow through.
Are you being true to your word?
If you want to ensure integrity in your business, be true to your word in your personal life. When you are not following through on your commitments to yourself, you will be seen as inconsistent and untrustworthy. Likewise, when you are known to honour your commitments to yourself, you will create conditions for peak performance. As Michael C. Jensen of Harvard Business School has said: “We argue that if you respect the Law of Integrity you will experience enormous increases in performance, both in your organization and in your life.”
Check-ins for personal integrity:
- Are your behaviours matching your intentions?
- Are you letting go of the gym despite your commitment to feeling better?
- Are you putting your needs at the bottom of the list in favour of the most pressing issue at work?
3. Cultivate presence
Presence is not just something for meditators. It is “…a capacity that is critical in situations of disruptive change, not only for institutions and systems, but also for teams and individuals.” – C. Otto Scharmer (2013)
Presence is being fully awake to how we are feeling inside and what is in front of us. It is a felt sense of being in the moment, aware and centered. This awareness changes the way we relate, create and solve problems because we are less reactive and more purposeful.
Being an entrepreneur makes it easy to slip into seeking and striving. There can be a sense of urgency to reach targets and look for the next achievement. Letting go of the striving is key. It does not mean letting go of your goals. It does mean allowing what is here in the present moment to be as it is, so that you can be at your very best. The payoff is increased vitality, optimal performance and fulfillment.
What mindfulness practices do you currently have for cultivating presence?
You can practice any of the following during your work day:
- When you wake up in the morning, notice the sky. What colour is it? The texture?
- Notice how your body is feeling. Notice any resistance to experiencing it fully. Allow your attention to go there fully.
- Take three full breaths and visualize the breath coming up from your feet and out through your mouth.
- Drink your coffee slowly. Savour it. Feel the sensations of the liquid passing your tongue.
4. Embrace the learning
When a leader spends their energy hiding their weaknesses and focusing solely on their strengths, the cost to the organization is considerable. As Robert Kegan of Harvard has said: “This is the single biggest waste of a company’s resources.” There is no escaping that human development is at the core of every successful business. According to Kegan : “Individual growth and organizational performance function is “one thing.”
If personal development is so critical to success, how can you get the most from this learning? It can feel daunting to recognize personal obstacles, accept them and then change your behaviour.
Here are tips for getting the very most out of your learning:
- Notice what you are avoiding:
By facing what you avoid, you will feel more confident, skilled and effective. You can ask yourself: “How would I feel if I followed through with this? What am I believing about this situation (or myself) that I am avoiding?”
- Do what you have been avoiding:
Identify what would support you in taking action. It may be choosing a time, place or an affirmation such as: “This will make me stronger.”
- Cultivate self-compassion:
Kristen Neff, a leading expert in the field, has said that: “Self-compassion means being gentle, kind and understanding with yourself; accepting that you are not perfect; and understanding that there is potential for learning and growth in every mistake you make” ( Neff, 2003).
Your learning depends on this non-judgmental support. The safer you feel, the more you will be able to change your behaviour.
5. See your feelings as guides
Learn your palette of feelings and you will have access to a rich resource.
Feelings tell you what is important to you so you can make good choices. By themselves, they are not good or bad. They are like vocabularies that describe a situation so you can know which choices you want to make.
Of course, they are not always comfortable. Anger, sadness and grief can be difficult to experience but this does not mean you are failing. Likewise, joy and happiness do not mean you are succeeding. They are merely guideposts for creating more of what you want.
The key is to be aware of them. If you can’t read their language, you will miss the information. The result is that you may react instead of respond, or miss an opportunity to take a higher road.
Here are some ways you can learn your range of feelings and how to recognize them:
- Ask yourself: “What feelings have I experienced today?”
- Where do I feel this in my body? What is its texture? Temperature?
- When feelings do arise, notice which ones you tend to avoid. Which ones do you more readily acknowledge?
- Notice if you feel upset when others express certain feelings. What is the discomfort inside you? If you cannot name it, what does it feel like in your body?
6. Get out of your head
Your mind is not designed to do all your thinking for you. Yes, this is true. Learning and performing are as much a perceptual, physical and emotional experience as they are cognitive. Overthinking does not bring better results. Getting back into your body regularly during the day improves thinking, sharpens intuition, increases vitality and supports creativity.
What does this mean in the context of your work day?
Here are 3 steps you can take to step out of doing and into being for brief moments.
- Recognize when you need to get out of your head.
Check your focus, muscle tension, productivity and emotional state. If any one of these feels effortful, choose to step back from what you are doing.
- Take a break.
Break the trance of thinking by taking your hands off the computer. Put down your phone. Push your chair back from the desk. Now, notice the room, your feet, legs and breath. Notice the physical sensations. Don’t just think about them. Feel them.
- Choose to move.
Your body has a reciprocal relationship with your brain. When you move your body, you change your brain. Take 1-2 minutes several times a day to stand up, go to the bathroom, stretch, hold a yoga posture or do a Brain Gym® movement. These should be short, sweet and frequent.
Personal mastery is at the core of authentic leadership. Honour your personal learning and you will achieve greater success in your business.