Your Leadership Inheritance
I was a lousy leader. I learned that when one of my employees, a guy named Steve, threatened to quit because of my dictatorial leadership style. He confronted me after one of my tirades because of my project team’s subpar performance.
“Listen Treasurer,” he said, “where do you get off talking to us like that? Do you think that by berating us and making us feel small you will earn our respect? All you do is harp on everyone’s mistakes. What’s your goal, dude? To make us afraid of you? At what cost? People hate working for you. If you talk to us like that again, I’ll walk. I respect myself too much to let you treat me that badly.”
The truth only hurts if it should.
That night I kept playing the conversation over and over in my head. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that Steve was right. The truth was; I had no idea who I was as a leader. Instead, I had resorted to adopting the leadership style of my predecessors. I wasn’t a leader. I was just a reflection of my previous bosses. I was me being them. My behavior was an echo of theirs, all linking back to my original leadership role model: my dad.
What Have You Inherited?
A lot of leaders, sadly, have no earthly idea who they really are as leaders. They respond to people, situations, and challenges like puppets whose strings are being pulled by past bosses. Many default to the behavioral style of their parents. If the leader’s dad was a short-fused hothead, so too is the leader. The behavioral inheritance leaders get from their parents is deep, and often includes one’s religion, political persuasion, and social temperament. Yet, many leaders never question whether this inheritance is worth keeping, or whether the inheritance fits their own lives. Instead, they go on, obliviously, reverberating with the behaviors of other people.
You Being You
It is perfectly okay to choose to lead like those who have led you, especially when you admire the leaders you’ve been led by. It is not okay, though, to adopt the leadership style of others without ever considering whether you should. It is a dereliction of leadership responsibility to remain ignorant to what drives your own leadership behavior.
A lot has been written lately about the need for leadership self-awareness. Before leading those on the outside, it’s important for a leader to know what makes him or her tick on the inside. On the road to self-awareness it is critically important to know why you lead the way you lead. Here are some useful questions to promote the development of your own leadership style:
- What do you truly believe about leadership? Who impacted these beliefs?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 equating with “level-headed” and 10 equating with “explosive”, how would you rate your temper? How is your own temper similar or different to the temper of each of your parents?
- What else about you might be a reflection of your parents? You religion? Your political preferences?
- How would you define your own leadership “style”? How did you develop this style? Where did it come from?
- What about your style no longer suits you? What actions can you take to close the gap between the leader you desire to be and the leader who you are today?
I’ve been a practitioner of leadership development for over two decades now. The starting point of my interest in the practice of leadership was being confronted by the cutting words of my employee, Steve. His words inspired me to become a better and more authentic leader. More importantly, I learned the value of finding one’s own true leadership voice instead of adopting the leadership style of one’s predecessors. Pretending to be someone else will always compromise the leader you were meant to be. When it comes to leadership, you’re better off being you then pretending to be someone else.
Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company. Treasurer is the author of Leaders Open Doors, which recently became the #1 training book on Amazon.com. He is also the author of the internationally bestselling book, Courage Goes to Work. The book introduced the concept of courage-building. He is also the author of Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace, an off-the-shelf training toolkit that organizations can use to build workplace courage. Bill’s first book, Right Risk, draws on his experiences as a professional high diver. Bill has led courage-building workshops for, among others, NASA, Accenture, CNN, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.