We received numerous requests from people in our network to follow up with more detail on last week’s article on personal leadership development plans during COVID-19. We have been asked to provide examples of the most effective leadership skills that a student could STOP-LOOK- and CHOOSE to develop in themselves. What follows here are what we consider the three essential middle management skills.
There are so many positive leadership qualities and attributes that could make the list. For purposes of this article, Hallett Leadership is highlighting three, which may appear to belong more in the class of human qualities than leadership skills. While they are qualities, they are also skills that can be learned and developed in anyone with the desire. These skills that are as valuable – if not more so – than any mastery of software and technical domains.
These three skills are: self-awareness, authenticity, vulnerability
As we set out on the path of forming ourselves anew, or of up-leveling our skills so that we can be more effective in our careers, we may have already created a brilliant vision of our desired outcome that inspires us in the morning.
However, our success in achieving this desired outcome depends in a great part upon our ability to honestly and accurately evaluate ourselves and our current situation. Self-awareness lets us perceive what has been working up until the present moment, and most importantly, what has not been working. Therefore, of the essential middle management leadership skills, self-awareness is primary – opening the door to the others that follow.
The person who insists that everyone else is wrong, or that they’ve simply had bad luck, or have been victimized by bad people, lacks the self-awareness (not to mention humility) to see what they are doing that is keeping them from their desired future.
The Status Quo Operates On Autopilot… Until We Interrupt The Sequence
Our current life and career situation, “the status quo,” is a formidable entity to contend with! By the laws of inertia, things will simply go on the way they are going, until the world changes and we crash into a wall, or fly off a cliff… choose your favorite metaphor.
At this time of writing, all of us – planet-wide! – are living through a profound status quo disruption – personally, socially, politically, economically, and so on.
Self-awareness helps us interrupt the status quo’s automated sequence before time and entropy do it for us, and offers us the choice of initiating a new sequence. One such sequence is STOP – LOOK – CHOOSE.
STOP means stop the automatic behavioral responses. LOOK means see and evaluate all the options that are available. CHOOSE means select the best option given the best information you have in the moment.
STOP – LOOK – CHOOSE supports us in deciding what we want to keep and discard from our lists of what is working and what is not working.
With our inventory of working / not-working items in hand, we are equipped with the information we need to advance on to the next stage of formulating an informed vision for the future that is grounded in reality.
Better Choices, Better Results
Self-awareness affords us the highest-resolution, most truthful version of reality that we are capable of perceiving at any given moment, and therefore leads us to better choices.
Better choices lead to better results.
The terms “authenticity” and “authentic self” are used fairly frequently these days. So what do we mean by “authenticity?”
Every single one of us projects an image, or public identity, out into the world. We created this image from fixed beliefs we acquired along our respective life journeys. Beliefs and assumptions regarding what the world is like, what other people are like, even what we ourselves are like. These beliefs are not necessarily true, and within this context the images we project of ourselves are largely untrue – but we have nonetheless relied upon these projected images to help us through the trials, tribulations and minutiae of daily life. It is how we have gotten things done.
The challenge is that we forget that we ourselves are not the same thing as our projected images.
Who are we then?
We humbly defer to the great debate between philosophers and theologians for a detailed exploration of who we are at the root. Within the context of becoming a better leader, we propose that who you are beneath the image or identity you’ve constructed is your “essence” or “true self.”
This is the person you were as a small child – before being conditioned into fixed beliefs and behaviors. You remember that person? The one who expressed their feelings without reservation or shame, who played in the mud and curiously explored their interests?
Without going into how joyful, fun, meaningful and exciting life can be when we are authentic, there is immediate career utility in this soft skill – unburdened by the need to keep up a projected image, our energy goes toward living, pursuing our ideal, and by our lived example, empowering others to do the same.
In other words, we become leaders.
Authentic People Make Adaptable, Inspirational, and Indomitable Leaders
Authentic leaders are much more likely to roll with the punches and not become constricted or angry inside when they experience a setback. Like children, they simply ask: okay, that happened, so what do we do now? Such people retain access to emotional states that are conducive to problem solving and creativity.
There is also a correspondence between authentic leaders and their ability to inspire their people to action. Think Moses, or Malcom X; William Wallace or Ghandi; Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey. Such people command currents of authority for numerous reasons, known and unknown to us… for this article, we rest on the plain assertion that authenticity is a signature of high performance leadership, and a pillar among essential middle management skills.
As children, we used to express our feelings – laugh when we were joyful, cry when we felt hurt; we had no reservation telling someone we loved them, or that we wanted to become friends with them because we liked them and thought they were cool.
Then we grew up. Somewhere along the way we got to thinking that we were something different from the loving and lovable beings we were as children. We lost our vulnerability.
Vulnerability, the third of our essential middle management skills, grows from authenticity. It might even be considered another facet of authenticity. One way of thinking about it is like this: authenticity is a way of operating in the world, while vulnerability describes a way of receiving what the world is offering us at any given moment.
The legendary TED talk on vulnerability by Brené Brown is definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.
Fear Of Being Hurt
Adults are much more likely to close up when feeling fearful or hurt. Rather than speaking up, they might observe from the sidelines and assess, judge, or worse, nurture resentment. These learned behaviors are protective measures, and they are the opposite of vulnerability. Why do we express ourselves this way?
We fear being hurt (again.)
We Are Imperfect… What If We Let Others See This?
The truth is that as human beings, we are imperfect. Leaning into vulnerability allows others to see us as we are, our fine qualities and our imperfect qualities. It may open us to being hurt.
Why be vulnerable then? What’s the payoff?
Connection. Vulnerability affords us the opportunity to forge authentic and deep connections with other people. Relationships that nourish our lives, personally and professionally. After all, everything that ever comes to us in this life, whether we attribute it to God, or luck or fate or karma, comes to us through another human being.
Aside from the utility of vulnerability in helping us form relationships that help us in life and career, such relationships and the experience of living with vulnerability contribute to a richer, more meaningful life experience.
Vulnerability Is Its Own Reward… But It Also Predicts High Performance Leadership
By being vulnerable, high performance leaders encourage openness, trust, courage and commitment among the people they are leading. People will want to follow a person who is not afraid to let their imperfections and vulnerabilities be seen. They can also be inspired to lean into vulnerability themselves – and communities of people who do this forge interpersonal bonds and cultures that can weather any kind of storm or challenge.
No matter what you have included on your KEEP / CREATE NEW list of your personal leadership development plan, we invite you to reflect deeply on each of these middle management skills of self-awareness, authenticity, and vulnerability.
You may even notice as you reflect on the degree of their presence in your life, you are already beginning to activate them.
Hallett Leadership has just launched virtual leadership coaching for individuals interested in making powerful new strides in their careers. If you are ready to discuss what a formal leadership development plan would look like for your individual situation and career, please get in touch.