An Obvious Choice. Right?
If you had the choice of either sending a manager to a day long training on the Situational Leadership model or increasing their level of self awareness and ability to identify their own strengths and weaknesses by 20% which would you choose?
You can give a positional leader training in all the behavioral methods and leadership models available but if they don’t know themselves they will struggle to know, connect with, and lead their teams.
A Quick Story (to skip the story go to the next bold heading)
Jason was a pretty solid guy. 6’2” maybe 220 lbs. the police department interview room felt smaller than normal with him in it. Not just because of his physical size. He took up a lot of room in every way. When I met him he had already been convicted of multiple domestic violence related charges against multiple women.
As we talked about whether or not he would be a good fit for the intervention program I was working with at the time he expressed genuine frustration and confusion about why he continued initiate aggressive and sometimes violent confrontations with his girlfriends.
I walked him through some of the common risk factors for DV and briefly discussed the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (I’ve written about ACEs here). As I was going through that material I noticed his eyes begin to well up. After a moment of silence, he told me his story.
Jason’s father maintained iron control over everything the family did. He had to know at all times where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with. It got to the point that his father would lock him, his mother, and his younger sister in the house when he left for work in the morning.
How You Experience Power Impacts How You Use Power
Most of us don’t experience the kind of abusive power and control that Jason experienced. However, it’s a mistake to think that our past experience with power doesn’t impact how we understand and use power in the present. Our mindset around relational dynamics, social hierarchies, and the function of power and leadership is ingrained in our neural pathways during early childhood and throughout adolescence. The brain develops in what neuroscientists call a “use dependent” way. I’ve written more about the neurological impacts of our past here.
You don’t have to know anything about neuroscience to know intuitively and by experience that your past exerts enormous influence on your life in good ways, bad ways, and neutral ways. How you use power is guided by your mindset and beliefs about power. Your mindset about power-and most other things-is formed during your childhood and early adolescence. To sustainably change or build upon the way you use power in positional leadership, you must go back in time to at least some extent and explore the environment of your formative years.
Powerful leaders have a deep sense of where they came from. They have developed the skills to objectively self reflect. They don’t just know what they want they’ve spent time learning why they want it.
After more than a decade in senior leadership in the faith world, the nonprofit world, and the corporate world I’ve given up on trying to change people’s behavior. That almost always ends in some kind of coercion. I’m much more interested in inspiring people to explore their internal world and become the person and leader they want to be. And that starts with understanding the environment that created their current mindset.
If companies really want to develop powerful leaders they have to focus more on incentivizing and guiding self exploration. When you take an insecure leader and help them zoom out to see themselves as part of a bigger story, you actually empower them to find their place, either in building on a positive legacy or finding peace with and being catalyzed by a challenging background.
Leaders who use power well know themselves. And the first layer of identity is found in the past. Next time I’ll cover two other important areas of exploration: pain and potential.
how do companies incentivize self exploration and intentional self development? That’s another thread I’d like to pull on soon. Share your ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear them.