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Introspection as a pathway to authentic leadership

November 3, 2011

If we are not intentional and deliberate about leadership, there can be a profound gap between what we do and who we are. Imagine a seasoned manager meeting with a sales team to discuss a drop-off in the numbers that needs to be turned around before the end of the quarter. The manager knows everything there is to know about the product. She knows how to assess the market, formulate a strategy, change tactics in midstream, and give a motivational speech. But imagine that, consciously or not, she’s also thinking about her team in negative ways. Somewhere in the back of her head, she’s saying to herself, “Nobody in here is pulling their weight. I’m carrying all of you. But I need you to execute or I’m going to look bad in front of senior management and miss my year-end bonus.” Meanwhile, on the outside, she’s explaining, “Yes, the market is a challenge, but our customers need our product. Our sales team is top notch. Let’s go out there and hit one out of the park.”

It’s a simplistic example, but I hope it illustrates a point. The gap between what the manager is authentically thinking or feeling and what the manager is publicly telling her team undermines and distorts everything she is trying to accomplish. If you were in the room with her, you would see that her tone, expression, and energy are at odds with her words. At best, she’s presenting an appealing but ultimately hollow façade, one that others may not see through consciously but that fails to connect with them at an authentic level. She is not listening to herself or to the members of her team. She has done nothing to bring to the surface what is really going on in the minds of those she needs to rely on. Instead of trying to understand their questions, she has put her effort into trying to bludgeon and steer them in the direction she wants them to go. She may recognize that she has failed to make a difference, but she knows that she has at least gone through the motions. She is unconsciously operating from a context that if her team fails, it won’t be because of her lack of effort. It will be because of their poor performance.

Great leaders look at themselves first as the source of what is happening with their team.  Introspection requires courage, rigor and honesty.  Begin with revealing your fundamental beliefs about who YOU are and reinvent those beliefs to be consistent with the goals you are seeking to achieve.

About the Author:

Rayona Sharpnack, Founder & CEO of Institute for Women’s Leadership. In 1991, she  founded the Institute for Women’s Leadership after drawing from her careers in education, professional sports, and business, Rayona has become an inspirational teacher, coach, and mentor for executives. She is chairwoman of the Mentoring and Leadership Development committee at the Kennedy School’s Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard, and the author of Trade Up: 5 Skills for Redesigning Your Leadership & Life from the Inside Out.

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