By Meike Beckford
This month, I wanted to share something from the beginning of my MBA that helped me reflect on my leadership journey so far. First, an approach to documenting and unpacking your experience so far and then some more general reflections on authentic leadership.
Learning from your lived experience
- Start by writing your personal definition of leadership. Not the dictionary definition, but what it means for you.
- Next, draw your leadership timeline. Start with a simple line across the page to represent your timeline and start adding significant leadership experiences, whether your own, or ones you’ve observed. These could include positive and negative experiences and range across family, education, professional and other community experiences that have shaped you and your view of leadership. Note what you took from each one, such as values, mindsets and good/bad practice.
- Find a friend/mentor/coach and talk through your leadership timeline. Ideally you would both do one and can then share each other’s. They may help you draw out themes, underlying values and turning points – they’re not there to ‘judge’ your timeline but help you make sense of your experience.
- Write your ‘rules of thumb’ (heuristics) for leadership. What rules have you set yourself to guide you as a leader?
- Review your definition of leadership from step 1. How has this been shaped by the experiences in your timeline and the rules of thumb you follow?
This approach acknowledges that we have both an experiential self and a narrative self – the experiential self is there in the moment, feeling and reacting to what is happening, but very quickly the narrative self intervenes to review and re-write the experience in order to make sense of it. This will be influenced by your previous experiences, values and views of yourself and others and may well be some way off the ‘truth’ (if that can be objectively defined).
It will be edited to fit into the stories you tell yourself (like the ‘I’m clumsy’ story Damian from Effective Challenge shared last month) and may reinforce positive or negative assumptions, behaviours and views (have a look at the Chimp Mindset from Prof Steve Peters for more of this, including your goblins and gremlins!) Working on our own timeline and definitions may give us an opportunity to make this more conscious and reflect on what is and isn’t helpful so we can make a choice about how we use that to go forward, perhaps allowing us to adopt more of a growth mindset for the future (try this TEDx talk from Carol Dweck for more on that).
This the first step in Bill George and colleagues’ approach to ‘discovering your authentic leadership’, which is:
- ‘Learning from your life story’ and conscious of how you ‘reframe’ this
- ‘Knowing your authentic self’ – being ‘willing to be vulnerable’
- ‘Practicing your values and principles’ in your actions as a leader, even under stress
- ‘Balancing your extrinsic and intrinsic motivations’ (from outside, e.g. praise and recognition, or from inside, e.g. your goals and life story)
- ‘Integrating your life by staying grounded’ – being consistently yourself in different areas of your life, building resilience and managing stress
- ‘Empowering people to lead’ at all levels in a long-term, sustainable way
Their approach (which you can read more about in the Harvard Business Review) requires self-awareness, reflection and emotional intelligence. It is not about finding a narrative/style and sticking to it, but an overall mindset based on an awareness of where you are coming from and your core values/priorities alongside an openness to growth, to give you the best chance of ongoing development and effective leadership in a genuine, authentic way.
What is authentic leadership for you?
My thanks again to Lancaster University Management School, in particular in this piece to Steve Kempster, Chris Saunders, Neil Ralph and Robyn Remke.
Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer (2007) ‘Discovering your Authentic Leadership’, Harvard Business Review.
Steve Kempster (2009) ‘How Managers Have Learnt to Lead: Exploring the Development of Leadership Practice’