Leadership is to most a matter of doing. People have written reams of books, articles, whitepapers, etc about all the doing that is required of leaders. Setting the vision, building a culture, fundraising, all about doing. It’s a concession to our pervasive culture of productivity that the only part of leadership that is talked about is the part that looks like a bunch of boxes one can check. It’s what’s measurable, so it’s what gets done. But it’s only half of the battle.
Leadership necessarily involves two equally important aspects: the subject and the object. We focus so much on the object, or the output, that leaders should strive for, that we rarely address subject, or the leader herself.
This may seem like another way of saying “sharpen your sword,” but the practical reality of doing that is really just a way of checking another box. Important, for sure, but still in the category of the object.
What is needed is a sincere and equal focus on the leader herself, or more specifically the place from which the leader is coming.
Every box that a leader checks is checked from a very unique perspective, and that perspective includes specific preferences, biases, traumas and neuroses, which together make up the narrative that leader has built to bring order and meaning to her life. These biases, traumas, preferences and neuroses, all the chatter living in her head whether consciously or not, are the overarching framework through which she decides which boxes to check and why, and what it means to check a box. Everything that a leader does in her quest to bring about a result for her team, and the things she decides are valuable to do in the first place, are inextricably driven by the internal discussion going on in her head.
If she has overcome a rough childhood, she is more likely to hire people who persevere. If her parents were members of a labor union she is more likely to prioritize creating a great culture over driving for additional profitability. And so on.
None of this is bad, inherently. It’s just a matter of consciously making these choices, rather than letting unconscious processes make them for you. The problem is that every leader makes decisions based on a set of criteria and influences which are unknown to her, unless that leader has done some serious internal work.
The work, here, is to dive deep into your own thought processes, to see the patterns for yourself. Figure out your own innate biases, and what environmental triggers send you down specific thought patterns. Once you see them, then you have a choice to make: are these helpful to my aim as a leader, or should I work to neutralize them.
This is why the best leaders tend to be meditators, and the best business coaches have backgrounds in psychology.
In becoming the best leader you can be, it’s important to become adept at vision setting, culture building, selling, fundraising and the rest. But as leadership is about making good choices, not only for you but on behalf of all the human beings for whom you are responsible, it’s equally important to do the internal work to figure out why you make the choices you make in the first place, so you can make them consciously.