Just over a decade ago, I survived a devastating car accident. The first lesson I learned after the crash was this: You’ve got to know your make and model. In other words, to really live, you must know yourself.
I didn’t know this as I was on auto-pilot at work, moving through airports, living life in a daze. I didn’t know this as my car hit the concrete median at fifty-five miles per hour and ejected me into the air. I didn’t know this as I was laid out on I-294 South. I didn’t have a clue about who I was.
Self-knowledge is the foundation for any type of transformation. You need to know what you’re made of, how fast you can go, and what kind of storms you can weather. Knowing who you are, down to the very core, is fundamental to effective leadership. I believe the effectiveness of your leadership is directly correlated to your level of self-awareness.
You must tell yourself the truth and gain clarity around your own weaknesses and strengths, what drains you, what drives your creativity, what your non-negotiables are and where your power comes from.
Here are some ways to help you get closer to yourself, therefore allowing for more meaningful and impactful leadership.
- Drop The Grand Charade
In my experience, I achieved more clarity and awareness around all the different elements of me once I dropped all the pretenses and started saying to the world, “This is who I am and this is who I want to become.” Before then, paradoxically, my ambition kept me feeling inadequate, always needing to compete and prove my worth.
After the crash, I started sharing my true self with more and more people. From stalled-out dreams and frustrations to my ideal lifestyle, I found that most people did not flicker. After a while, it felt so good to say out loud what I’ve kept inside, I started sharing everything with anyone who’d listen.
The more honest I lived, the more relief I experienced. I also began to see others had a sense of relief, too. I wasn’t pretending anymore, and suddenly, they didn’t have to pretend with me either. Instead of begging for their complicity, I released them from the grand charade and allowed for more authentic interaction.
I was being who I was meant to be—and people still wanted to be around me, still wanted to be friends, still wanted to be connected. And when you are connected, you can influence.
- Move Into Enlightened Leadership
An enlightened leader is one who knows who she is, what’s she’s here to do and what she’s in it for. When leaders have clarity and awareness around their own passions and purpose, there’s no longer a need to compete and prove. That competitive energy can now be repurposed and spent on helping others grow and find success.
Enlightened leaders will ask team members to share in problem solving, give them the resources to make it happen and then get out of the way. It’s allowing others to discover and deliver on their own talents and gifts and sharing the spotlight, or even giving it away. All these things raise employee engagement and retention which drives business productivity.
Let go of the reigns and let others step in and experiment with new ideas and concepts. Leadership isn’t just for leaders. I believe in leadership from every seat.
- Lift While Climbing
Historically, people on my team do quite well, career-wise. There’s a reason for that: good, compassionate, solid feedback.
Many leaders shy away from helpful feedback because its uncomfortable and feels confrontational. But when I became honest with myself about my own strengths, blind spots and weaknesses, I was then able to help others be honest about theirs. As I began to grow and expand personally, I wanted to create a team culture based on honesty—one conducive to growth, development, expansion, and acceleration, not just for me but for everyone around me.
Solid feedback can drive higher-level performance. President James A. Garfield was quoted as saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” We need to be open to the truth, both to ourselves and hearing it from others. Even negative truth can empower you.
As a leader, claiming your personal power—your truth—transforms your leadership and can drive work-team efficiency. Once you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll see change begin to take root as the people around you are inspired to do the same. I believe in lifting while climbing—everyone going up together. But as leaders, we need to take the first step.
Today I know whatever role I play—VP, speaker, coach, friend, sister, auntie—there is the possibility my story may impact someone enough to move in a new, more positive direction. I also realize that I am not perfect. I, too, am on this road of life, learning and collecting information to make myself a better leader each mile, and sharing those findings with others, no matter how vulnerable it makes me.