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Before leading others first lead yourself

Leaders spend most of their time trying to give guidance to others, I believe we all agree that is what they should be doing every day.

Systems Think with Sam Hlabati

They in turn are also led by others, or at least guided in their day to day activities by some form of control.

The reality of leadership is that leaders can be tough on the expectations that they put on the people below them. This toughness can also become ruthlessness if not guarded against.

It is known that the nature of the relationship that leaders nurture within their teams determines the quality of camaraderie that will prevail.

Some thought leaders would say that the leader’s mood sets the tone in the team. To guard against the manifestation of cultures that impede the development of working environments that are friendly to team members, leadership gurus have always emphasised the need for 360 degree feedback.

This feedback is ordinarily handled by the leader’s leader who will then help the leader to improve in their flaws in interactions with the team.

All the efforts in the 360 degree feedback are poised to deal with how the leader interacts with the team and more importantly how the team gets to experience the leader. What gets expressed is what the team gets to say out, all driven by the courage they gather to say things openly (within the context of anonymous 360 feedback).

It is not always possible to get the people being led to freely give feedback to a leader. In political circles giving feedback may be criminalised, particularly if the feedback is centred on criticism of the conduct of the powers that be.

In the business environment, there are always the elements of the person giving negative feedback being victimised, covertly or overtly. The barring of feedback is sometimes codified in the codes of conduct that outline the concept of disrespect for the superior with those found on the “wanting” side lose their jobs as a result.

The leaders would always hide behind covert self-edification concepts of the “open door” policy.

The question that I have is why should leaders talk of the door being open. Figuratively, the only time the door is open is when the leader is sitting in their office, and then they open the door for their followers to come through with feedback. Guess what, stand up dear leader, close that open door and go to the people.

It is terrifying for the followers to just take a walk to the boss’ secluded office, get past the obstructive personal assistant and eventually see the boss who looks up from their busy looking desk to say, “What brings you here Jo, how can I be of assistance?”

In this instalment, we are going to focus on the concept of leading oneself, thus the leader becoming accountable to themselves, with or without their own leader’s feedback or that of their subordinates. This concept touches on the element of the inner self that remains hidden to the world which is the part that contains the actual raison d’etre for the leader’s thoughts, commissions and omissions.

The lack of control of the inner-self makes managing oneself very difficult. The trouble comes from the fact that it is only the leader themselves who can do the necessary soul searching that will uncover what lies in their own inner-self. John Calvin Maxwell, an American author, speaker, and pastor who has written more than 60 books, primarily focusing on leadership; says that leaders need to learn to get out of their own way.

Every leader is forever on the lookout for people who are threats, perceived or real, who pose a threat to their march to success. They do not stop to focus on themselves, asking the question, “In what way am I my own enemy; a threat to my own destiny”.

Maxwell points out that leaders tend to be very hard on others around themselves, judging each person by their actions, yet leaders judge themselves according to their intentions in most situations. Let us be practical about the concept inner-self reflection.

Do you know of people who have acted in the most inappropriate ways when you were dealing with them? I mean those people who were dump stupid, lazy or any other similar unacceptable behaviour showing unreliability. I am talking of that lot whose actions ticked you off in a big way. Eish that lot is just a bunch of losers hey.

Do you also remember the times people did not just get it that you were keen on making good of a situation and things did not just get to be what you had hoped for in the end, simply because you failed to get around to act on a couple of things.

It seems that some people out there do not just appreciate other people’s intentions. This takes us to the saying of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order (a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns) who is said to have written L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs (hell is full of good wishes and desires).

We commonly say hell is full of good wishes and desires, meaning that individuals may have the intention to undertake good actions but nevertheless fail to take action.

Okay, let us relook at the two previous two paragraphs, do you see that you may identified with both situations; thus the unreliable colleagues and on the other hand colleagues who just do not appreciate your intentions. Reverse the roles and be the other colleague.

In the instance when you initially thought they were unreliable, they could turn around and say that those are the times you did not just get it that they were keen on making good of a situation and things did not just get to be what they had hoped for in the end, simply because they failed to get around to act on a couple of things.

From their perspective, it may seem that some people out there, you included, do not just appreciate other people’s intentions. Do you see the irony.

The basic nature of leadership is that leaders need to guide those they lead. The leader themselves get to be led by those above them.

However, it is important to note that the guidance role of a leader becomes diminished as the role of the one being led becomes higher, at the highest levels of leadership, the guidance that is available dwindles to little if any direct control; what is left is guidance in the true sense of the word. In this instance, the individual holding the leadership role is expected to be totally self- governing. The only compasses that would be available would be self-conscience.

Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). E-mail samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati.

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