“Who you are” is not necessarily a question to be answered nor is it a problem to be solved. Rather it is an incremental, sometimes dramatic understanding to live into, deepen and shape as life progresses. One way to think about it that has been particularly useful to me is to consider my common or default response to other people when I am under stress. More and more, Karen Horney’s work has been essential to this awareness, opening up a channel through which to better understand my reactions which then gives me the opportunity to make different choices.
If you lead other people I believe you must do this work. Use the language below to get started and then go validate your impressions by gathering feedback from those you lead. If that’s too big a stretch right now, start smaller, with those who know you best and from whom you are willing and able to hear the truth. It is a simple and powerful equation: your leadership effectiveness is determined by how well you know yourself and by how effectively you apply that knowledge with and for those you lead.
Under stress, do you:
Move away from people. Do you disappear, choosing to go it alone and handle things your own way because of your need to get it just right? Do you steer away from chaos or complexity because the lack of control you feel is overwhelming and disarming?
This is the leader who shuts the door, relying only on herself to find the perfect solution to the problem.
Move toward people. Do you become compliant, seeking the approval of others as a way to avoid confrontation? Do you fit-in and follow expecting others to solve the problems you face?
This is the leader who asks everyone for ideas, especially their boss, in their desperation to disperse ownership of the problem.
Move against people. Do you exert control and power, using others to get what you want with little regard for their needs? Do you go after achievement at all costs and expect recognition for your efforts?
This is the leader who leaps into action, controlling people like chess pieces in a game of “win or lose.”
All leaders, all people, have a default position under the pressure of anxiety and stress. When you find yours you begin to break free from the rigidity of an old pattern. You begin to develop the fluidity of choice necessary to be the leader your team needs you to be.
DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.