“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle
Experience tells us that what we value and believe in most deeply will move us most powerfully in work and life. In Kouzes and Posner’s book, The Leadership Challenge, the authors speak to the imperative of knowing who we are on the inside when they say, “The first step a leader must take in becoming an exemplary leader is inward. It’s a step toward discovering personal values and beliefs.”
One of the most staggering statistics that I have seen in the last few years is that some 80% of employees don’t trust their boss to tell the truth. This bit of information along with other research about how we currently feel about our leaders has significantly undermined the institution of leadership in the current world of work. This being said, I firmly believe the vast majority of human beings are well intended- including those in the C-Suite who are currently bearing the brunt of the negative sentiment. While not excusing the unacceptable trend in behavior, I believe as leaders we may have simply lost our way under the pressure of boards, shareholders, media, and society as a whole in such a way that we are no longer living true to ourselves. And while globally there is a desire for something different, something that looks more like leaders who are honest, credible, reliable, and trustworthy regardless of the situation; the looming question is regarding the correct path forward.
On looking inward as a first step toward exemplary leadership, Kouzes and Posner go on to say, “Leaders must find their voice. They must discover a set of principles that guide their decisions and actions and find a way to express a leadership philosophy in their own words and not someone else’s.” We can only be authentic when we lead in accordance with the values, beliefs, principles, and philosophies that matter most to us- when how we act and behave on the outside is in sync with who we are on the inside. It is only when we try to be someone we are not or speak in a voice that is unfamiliar to us that trouble sets in.
As we look ahead, does it make sense for us to pause and take a good look inside to ensure we have a deep understanding of who we are and what matters most to us in life? Can we think about what we do on a day-to-day basis that gives us energy and a sense of fulfillment versus drains us to the point of exhaustion? Should we consider our current place of business, our role and corresponding responsibilities and ask ourselves if we truly are on our dance floor? Dance floor as a metaphor for a place, space and endeavor that not only let’s us be the best version of ourselves but celebrates, recognizes and rewards us for it. And maybe the most important question of all, are we willing to make a change in the event some of the answers to the above may not be as positive as we were originally thinking.
It goes without saying that as leaders we can not inspire others until we are first inspired ourselves; that we can not help others find their voice and their dance floor until we have clearly found ours. What lies in the balance is how we show up everyday at work and in life, and the impact we have on those around us.
As work transforms to the human side where it is people over profits, doing good (making a difference in the lives of others) and doing well (exceptional performance outcomes), leadership truly is an inside out job. It’s so much more about who the leader is versus what the leader knows as a path forward; living, working and leading aligned with our own core values, principles, beliefs, and purpose to in turn help those around us do the same.