“In everyone’s life, at some time or another, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer
Over the last few months, I have found myself in the midst of conversations and situations where what was eventually revealed was people not feeling valued, and, in several cases, no longer believing in themselves. It’s hard to imagine a sense of self being much worse, and, having seen the impact on these individuals, my mind goes to how we, as leaders, are responsible for contributing to this and for turning it around. In his book, Principle Centered Leadership, Dr. Stephen Covey provided one solution in stating, “Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it themselves.” And Covey was a big believer in people’s ability to really matter and to make a difference. He actually saw it as “the birthright of the human family,” which is quite a contrast from someone who no longer sees their own value, worth, or dignity.
In reflecting on these most recent situations, along with others that were similar in the past, a few patterns have become apparent to me and I feel that it is important to share. I believe that it is these behavioral patterns of the leaders themselves that greatly contribute, whether directly or indirectly, to the positive or negative sense of self experienced by others. After all, there’s ample research confirming the extent to which a leader impacts those around them, and how this not only effects how those impacted show up at work, but effects their personal lives as well. These include:
Inspire comes from the Latin word īnspīrāre, which means to breath life into another human being. The truth about leadership is that you cannot breathe life into others until you are first full of life yourself, an outcome of being your best self. In his book, The 8th Habit, Covey describes best self as “coming to understand your true nature,” while Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner call it “finding your voice” in their seminal book, The Leadership Challenge. Kouzes and Posner go on to talk about how an employee’s commitment, motivation, and pride are impacted more by the leader’s action and behaviors than any other single variable. The real question is, how often is someone’s own feelings of low value, worth, and dignity a direct result of their leader feeling this way first? In other words, if the leader has a low sense of self, are they then projecting this on those around them? The principle of “leaders go first” shows up in so many situations in work and life, and when it comes to believing in oneself and your own value, worth, and dignity, there is seldom a better place to start for the leader.
In his article, Measuring Personal Charisma, Emotional Intelligence, and Savior-Fair, author Ronald Riggio Ph.D. defines emotional sensitivity as “the ability to read and accurately ‘decode’ others’ emotions – to be ‘in tune’ and empathetic with those around you.” We have seen many examples where a leader has clearly found their voice and, more often than not, living, leading, and working as the best version of themselves, yet still miss the signals and aren’t ‘in tune’ with others. Usually this is an outcome of nothing more than a pre-occupation with business – a constant focus on tasks and things which, in reality, is the job of a manager, not a leader. The attention of a leader must be on the people. Riggio closes his article by saying “people with good emotional communication skills have more friends, are more socially successful, and can infect others with their emotions (what’s called emotional contagion); and that these people were more likely to be leaders than any others.”
Charismatic individuals are those who are skilled at choosing specific behaviors to make other people feel a certain way. And in the spirit of lifting someone’s sense of value, worth, and dignity, charisma is clearly a skill that is critical for leaders to be able to learn and apply. In her book, The Charisma Myth, author Olivia Fox Cobane says charismatic individuals possess three things: presence, warmth, and power. For Cobane, presence simply means having moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening and paying attention to what’s going on rather than being caught up in your own thoughts. Warmth is described as having goodwill toward others and is perceived as caring or a willingness to have a positive impact. Power is the perception that we can affect the world around us using influence to get things done. As such, charismatic leaders don’t leave us feeling that they are the best and brightest in the room, but rather that we are.
As leadership moves to the human side, away from command and control and towards stewards of the living, there is a question we must all ask ourselves: Human side to what end? I honestly cannot think of a better end than lifting the sense of value, worth, and dignity of those around us. It’s clear that our impact on others is palpable and can go either way. As such, I’d ask that we all tread lightly, be mindful, and ensure we are the leaders who rekindle inner spirits instead of extinguishing them.