Why is personal leadership so important?

By Marc Vanschoenwinkel · November 25, 2018 · Posted in: Leadership Development

Who you are, what you think and believe, what you feel, how you act, all off this is vital for the success you have as a leader. Truly understanding this and being conscious about what this implies for you and those you lead will boost your personal development and effectiveness as a leader.

In our practice, we often work with executive teams.  Looking at team dynamics and culture, we are able to make an accurate assessment of the team leader. Time and again we are astonished by the extent of the impact a leader can have.

Senior executives are responsible for leading the company’s most crucial teams. If they are not aware of their impact, the effects of this ignorance can be crippling. Let’s have a look at one striking example of how this works.

How Tim (almost) torpedoed his second chance.

Tim was Chief Technical Officer of one of the world’s largest producers of consumer goods. The CEO of the company disapproved of Tim’s unit, finding it overly reactive, resistant to more temporary and agile ways of working and simply not sufficiently performance-driven. However, based on their shared history at the company, the CEO decided to give Tim a final opportunity to turn things around.

When we started the coaching process, Tim seemed well aware of the seriousness of the situation. He responded to our sessions with great energy and really seemed to give it his all. He came to a lot of insights, had very clear intentions and knew what actions needed to be taken. He was also fully aware of the changes he needed to implement in his behavior towards his team. Nevertheless, Tim failed to act on what he had learned and did not execute a single recommended action. Correspondingly, the team’s performance continued to deteriorate.

In a follow-up call with us, the CEO expressed, unsurprisingly, that giving Tim a second chance had probably been a mistake.

We had to dig deeper into Tim’s personality.

Clearly, a more confrontational approach was needed. We had to dig deeper. We started pealing away the layers of Tim’s personality using the psychological levels of change. One thing in particular stood out.

The CEO had talked about  Tim’s failure to drive performance. Tim’s interpretation of this criticism resulted in him adopting a restrictive and controlling leadership style.

When analyzing his personality and psychological levels, we found that one of Tim’s core values is respect for others. He could not reconcile this value with the behavior that he believed was expected of him.

Clashing belief systems.

When we spoke with the CEO, we asked him: “Which is more important, a high-performing senior technical team or Tim being restrictive and controlling?”

Obviously, the CEO wanted a high-performing team. Respect was one of the CEO’s core values as well. Yet, it was his belief that respect is achieved through clear instructions, close follow-up and relentless oversight.

Tim’s belief system couldn’t have been more different. He strongly believed that respect means empathizing, listening and helping people to solve their problems.

Mental algorithms for HOW the world works.

Values are fundamental and nearly always positive, while belief systems or convictions can be both positive and negative depending on the context. Moreover, convictions or beliefs are subjective and personal. In short, they are like personal mental algorithms for HOW the world works.

Once you can see and accept this, you will find it possible to start revising your faulty convictions and finding new ways of realizing your goals and fundamental values.

The way forward.

The CEO and Tim were aligned on the objective (a high-performing team) and the core value (respect). After our intervention, they could see the common ground they shared and also where their main difference was. This realization led to a revealing and candid conversation where both expressed an awareness of how their “mental algorithms” were established during childhood. This connection and awareness created the psychological space and safety Tim needed.  He was able to find new ways to lead his team.

Tim recognized that he had to be firm and clear about the company’s business priorities and objectives and assertive in defining a playing field to allow his team to
act autonomously and proactively. He also started to experiment with different ways to follow up with his team to find an approach that suited his personality as well as reflected operational needs.

Tim learned how to balance personal autonomy and respect for people with taking a clear and decisive leadership role. Now that his leadership was in line with both his values as well as the business context, things took a turn for the better. Over the course of just weeks, the team’s performance improved dramatically.

Isn’t this a bit soft and fluffy?

You would think that, by now, businesses would be wise to the fact that their people are their biggest investment. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. In our practice, we often find ourselves having to convince business leaders of the need for a more coherent approach to their people.

In our databases, we have a range of examples and cases in which approaches that are often described as “soft and fluffy” have delivered real, tangible results.

And remember, even CEOs need to be willing to look into their personalities and behaviors. Often, executive coaching involves coaching the boss of the boss.

If you’re interested in executive personal development, check our Personal Leadership program.

Marc Vanschoenwinkel, Partner holds a deep and rich international track reckord. He’s our expert in facilitating Leadership Development programs and executive coaching. He is Founder and Senior Consultant at Compassion To Lead.

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