"The First Quality of a Great leader – Self Awareness."October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge
The first step in becoming a great leader is to choose to be a great leader. Most people become leaders through default. Due to some unexpected turn of events a person finds himself or herself in a position of leadership and then is more or less forced to lead the group.
If you are a leader of any sort, think back to the time in life when you first realized you were a leader. For me it was during high school when I realized that my friends often turned to me for direction and that if I did not plan interesting activities for a night out or a weekend, it was going to be pretty dull with everyone sitting around wondering what we should do.
Also, I have a tendency to not like the plans others come up with for me so, I learned early on to come up with a plan for myself. There have always been others happy to follow my lead.
However, stumbling into the role of leader does not automatically make you a great leader. It does not even guarantee you will be a good leader. You might even in fact be a poor leader and still have plenty of people willing to follow your lead.
As Reggie McNeal who’s talk inspired this article said," There is no shortage of poor leaders. There must be a factory somewhere that pumps them out by the thousands."
So if you find yourself in a leadership position, you still get to choose what kind of leader you want to be. This article is for those who choose to become great leaders.
According to McNeal, the first step in choosing greatness as a leader is to become self-aware. While I am very familiar with the quest for self-awareness, this is a subject that many Christians seem to steer away from. I was very happy to hear Reggie bring out this point as important to spiritual leaders.
In order to develop ourselves spiritually and intellectually, we must know where we are and what we have to work with. Becoming aware of our selves and our own consciousness is critical to making advancement in any personal development process.
So how do we become self-aware? For leaders, often we look at the ways we are different from other people. Why do we lead and others follow? Realizing that there is a difference in the way we are made is one step toward self-awareness.
Another part of self-awareness is to embrace our own personality and its particular quirks. Many times we look at personality quirks as flaws or imperfections, but we also need to remember that this is the way God made us. He gave us our personalities for a reason. And while we are free to choose how we express ourselves at any time, we would benefit from looking at the strengths of our natural personality before trying to change to something different.
Much of your personality and relationship styles you inherit from your family. The way your family handled conflict and stress in your early years will have a huge impact on how you choose to handle conflict and stress as an adult. If your family was one to suppress extreme emotions, then a muted response to crisis will feel more natural to you than to someone who grew up in a setting where screaming, yelling and crying were the common way to deal with stress.
And while as an adult leader you can choose how you will deal with each situation as it arises, you will benefit from being aware of what is your natural tendency and knowing why it is there.
To be a great leader, it is necessary to give clear instruction to your followers. And while you may feel that your instructions are perfectly clear because you understood exactly what you wanted to say, your followers might be looking at life through different lenses and not think your instructions are clear at all.
For example, if you tell someone who grew up in the country to walk the dog he may simply open the door and shove the dog out. But give the same instruction to someone from the city and he will likely gather up the leash and poop scoop and then hook up the dog and take him to the park.
Great leaders also understand that people need a champion. While people might be shy to take action on their own, they will be much more inclined to take action if they know there are others who will back them up. They are even more willing to take a risk if there is a strong leader to not only encourages them but also demonstrates the actions to be taken.
Great leaders are also subject to some pitfalls that are unique to leaders and take special actions to overcome. Knowing and understanding these weaknesses is an important part of self-awareness.
One of the most common problems faced by leaders, good great and poor alike, is burnout. If we do not take proper precautions along the way, we all get to a point where our leadership ability is compromised because we just don’t want to do it anymore.
To combat and possibly prevent burnout there are some critical fact6ors that you need to incorporate into your life style.
The first is to set aside a time of spiritual renewal. You must realize that the power you give to your followers does not come from you but through you. Also, if you are a spiritual leader, the time normally set aside for your followers to be renewed is not the time that you will be renewed. You must set aside a different time.
This renewing of the mind and soul takes the form of recreation, meditation or maybe just sleep. Many leaders are sleep deprived and consequently make poor decisions. Take time to sleep if you need to. But be sure to make time each week for the renewing of your own spirit or your leadership ability will suffer.
The second factor you can incorporate into your life is simplification. Many great leaders are reduced to poor leaders by trying to do more than they can handle. While there is an endless array of good programs to choose from to lead, there are a very limited number of the ones you have the tools and ability to do well. Focus on the ones you can do well and let someone else step up to lead the others.
One of the factors I see missing in spiritual leaders lately is a quest for quality. My background is industry where being the best in your market was the only way to guarantee tee success. The term "unique selling position" was constantly in our minds. In most cases however, I don’t zeal this same zeal to be the best service provider for spiritual leaders. I see more of a tendency to try to provide a greater variety of poorly done services than to provide a few really great services.
Truly great leaders will focus on what they do well. They will be aware enough of their own strengths, interests, talents and skill to know what they can do well. Great leaders learn to eliminate the other tasks, delegate them or share them.
A great leader must also realize that while service to others is important, taking care of your own self must come first. You cannot give to others unless you take care of your own needs first. While we may teach that it is not all about you when motivating people to serve, to be a great leader you must realize that it is all about you! Your need to lead and to serve must be met in order for you to honor God for creating you to lead.
Being self-aware also means learning to know your limitations and weaknesses.
One of the most common limitations of moving from being a good leader to being a great leader is perfectionism. The desire to be right is common among good leaders because it is easier to get people to follow you when you are right more often than you are wrong. However, the quest for perfectionism handicaps progress. There will be failed experiments. There will be things that are not as they first appear. However, the great leader takes all this into due consideration and moves forward. He is not afraid to make a mistake if necessary to make progress.
Another stumbling block to a great leader is arrogance. It is by definition very difficult for a leader to be self aware of arrogance. Usually someone will have to point this out to you. When they do, take head and listen. Don’t be too arrogant to ignore good advice.
The most crippling limit to being a great leader is indecision. People expect their leaders to make decisions for them. That is why they have leaders. Often leaders must make a decision before all the data needed for that decision is available. A great leader cultivates his intuition and demonstrates his ability to make decisions quickly and effectively.
The choice to be a great leader is often based on ones talents. While skill can be developed with training and practice, each of us has certain innate talents that God gave us at birth.
By recognizing these talents and taking advantage of them, we can push our leadership skills to a new level of greatness. To be a great leader we must learn to work with and exploit our natural talents and interests. In fact these natural talents become needs in our lives. We have a built in need to express and develop our talents to be truly satisfied with life.
The final step in becoming aware of your self and choosing to be a great leader is to look at your experiences in life. Know that God has followed all the advice of the great self help writers and he created you with the end in mind. He knew what he was trying to accomplish from the beginning. All of your life experiences are pointing you toward that goal.
That goal is etched into the fabric of your soul through you interests, desires, talents and experiences. The things that happen in life are not merely coincidence, but are training lessons for you as you progress on your path of personal development. Both the good times and the bad have left you with experience in how to face both similar and different situations in the future.
When I read the biographies of great leaders, the one thing I continue to find over and over again are stories of how they overcame great suffering and setbacks on their path to being a great leader.
You may not have consciously chosen to be a leader. You may feel like it was just an accident that you have been put in a leadership role. But you must trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be at the moment. Now you get to choose what kind of leader you will be. The first step in that choice is to determine who you are and where you came from. You must become aware of yourself.
Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009
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