Last week I got Covid, and was too sick to finish the newsletter. This made my inner taskmaster very unhappy. I experienced an internal struggle between my inclinations – the part of me that is caring and healing versus the part demanding results at whatever cost.
During the back and forth, I noticed my inner taskmaster has a distinct communication style: direct, aggressive, impatient. In reflecting on leadership for this article, I came to a stunning realization: my command-and-control inner critic is an exact reflection of what I used to think a leader was.
Early in my career, my understanding of leadership was very skewed.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising. It may not be unique to a science background, but leadership models in the academic world tend to be few and far between. My advisors were well-meaning people but leadership wasn’t even in their vocabulary. Most (though not all) managers and leaders at my first biotech company were brand new themselves and learning by doing.
So, left to my own devices, my early perception of leadership tended towards that command and control style. This was my metronome – inner and outer – for a long time until a course taught me the true breadth and meaning of leadership.
This course was an immersive three- day experience at the Center for Creative Leadership, where participants were placed in mildly stressful artificial scenarios and their actions and outcomes observed. Spoiler: you won’t realize how much it affects you to have to take your shoes off in a conference room until you take this course.
I learned so much in this leadership crucible.
- The incredible range of effective leadership styles
Being an outgoing, decisive type of person, my natural style is energetic and directive. It was eye opening to see participants with other natural styles – quieter, introverted – being effective or (gulp) even more effective than my put-it-all-out-there approach.
- How much bad behaviors hurt
Every interaction can increase or decrease trust in ways that you don’t even realize. Non-verbal cues matter too – important for someone like me who frowns when thinking, often making people feel I’m mad at them. And people notice where you are putting your attention.
- That it’s possible to change
Up to that point, I’d certainly thought about career growth but nowhere had I tied it to personal growth. What are my values? What do I want to accomplish in my life? And what are the actions and behaviors that will allow me to do so?
That was, for me, outside-in learning. The feedback I received on my behaviors caused me to question my motivation and approaches.
This is incredibly helpful type of learning, coming from courses, asking for feedback, and learning about good leadership habits and modeling others.
What’s even more powerful, in my opinion, is leadership from the inside out.
Often I coach people who want to change their behaviors. Since most of us have good self discipline these changes can be made, superficially…for at time. But the unhelpful behaviors are rooted in an assumption, emotion or mindset.
For example, if I frequently correct the (good enough) work of one of my direct reports, I’m assuming the work needs to be perfect and only I can make it right. I can change the behavior by not sending correcting emails to the person, but the underlying issue may be about something else, like trust. If I increase my trust in a) the employee b) myself as a delegating manager and c) the universe in general that all will be well, the urge to send those emails will go away.
I made a simple ladder model, below, to describe self leadership / leadership from the inside out. There’s a starting point (level 0) where you are open to change and progress upward through self awareness. Falling below the line (level -1) is best characterized by the victim mentality.
The wonderful thing about these self leadership qualities is that you can work on them any time, whatever your role. And the difficult part is that you can be working on them your entire life.
Ask yourself, with honesty and compassion:
- Where are you in this moment on the self-leadership ladder?
- What actions could you take right now to move up the ladder – taking a breath, a break, or pausing before acting?
- What other steps are possible for your self-leadership growth? I’m happy to offer suggestions.
One more leadership model in the world. Let me know if it’s useful.