Early in my leadership experience I signed up for a one-day seminar on how to deal with difficult people. I had a number of people in my sphere of influence that I needed to “set straight” and this seminar promised to help me do just that. I showed up ready to learn tools to put these people in their place. I had my paper and pen poised to take down the new arsenal I was sure to receive.
What I learned about 30 minutes into the seminar, however, was that I possess one of the two most difficult personalities in the work place. Mind blown. Not what I had in mind as a take-away. In fact, laying bare my part in creating the difficulties I was experiencing was so far from my mind that I probably would have thought to create a walkway to the next continent before this idea came to mind. Really - that far away. Instead of figuring out how to adjust others, I was slapped in the face with the reality that I must observe and seek to understand myself, my motives, my behaviors, and my part in relationships before any positive changes could be realized. The old adage is still true: it takes two to tango.
Little did I know on this eye-opening day in 2011 I was receiving an early lesson on a leadership theory that had been gaining ground since the early 2000s called authentic leadership. This theory contains four constructs: self-awareness, relational transparency, internalized moral perspective, and balanced processing. All of these constructs are powerful in their own right, and when used in combination create a bastion of support for extraordinary leadership through ordinary people.
Even though I didn’t read my first article on authentic leadership until some time after this seminar, I was introduced quite abruptly to its first construct of self-awareness. It became clear to me that I could not be “with” my team or even those difficult people until I understood myself and how I was contributing to or tearing down relationships. Let me be clear: I am not a proponent of deep self-enlightenment that comes from “looking within” and “finding my inner strength.” The process of self-awareness is a raw, open process that requires not only your willingness to be honest and open with yourself, but also requires feedback and frank input from others.
This is the part where you sit up a little straighter and oxygenate your frontal lobe, because this is the big take-away: Self-awareness cannot be actualized by locking yourself in the bathroom with a full-length mirror. Others must be involved. It’s a team effort. There must be accountability and responsibility. This cannot be achieved without an external reference point. Something or Someone must provide a standard against which you are willing to not only honestly compare yourself, but also open up for harsh realities on where you fall short, where you can find the ability to overcome, and who are your people to give you the support to get back up and try again when you fail. I intentionally used capital words to show that an absolute Truth is paramount to this process; relativity is nothing better than shifting sand when trying to build a fortress.
Others are key players in relationships, and so am I. I will share in my next blog basic things I do to become more self-aware. Join me in learning about self, creating positive relationships, and being “with.”