The leader inside all of us

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Jason sat there with the 360 feedback front of him, a bit in shock. There were multiple instruments, and multiple interpretations of the data. Some of it was great news, and some of it was news he would rather not hear. Was it true? Was it accurate? What to make of it all? At the end of the day, it was what it was and he was going to have to deal with it. No longer was denial, rationalization, or justification of his behavior an option. The mirror was right there — in front of him.

The journey inside for Jason, and for any leader, is perhaps the most difficult and yet most critical journey of all. For it defines who we are, rather than who we think we are. Perceptions are reality, and here are the perceptions that others have of us. They are to be respected and honored, for they show us our strengths, our blindside, and our opportunities. And at the end of the journey we rediscover someone really wonderful and able — it is the true human being and leader inside of us. It is a gift we can give ourselves — to discover who we authentically are.

The most difficult part of this journey is to be willing to take it. Then, once we’re there, new challenges emerge: to receive the feedback we solicited; to fully understand it and what it means; to move through and beyond our reactions to the data; and then to accept and integrate it into how we behave and lead going forward.

The greatest challenge we face along the way is fear — fear of the unknown, then fear of what we’ve learned about ourselves, and then the fear of what it might mean for our careers. Even beyond that is the fear of whether we can actually implement the changes we know we need to make, and how others will now perceive us.

To accompany us on the journey is our greatest asset — our faith in ourselves, our values and the solid ground upon which we stand, built our careers, and made commitments to the people we work with. In that faith there is optimism and hope, and the courage to see ourselves as fallible and wonderful — just like everyone else.

In the tug of war between our fear and our faith, we find out who we truly are — as human beings as well as leaders. In discovering our own humanness, we learn about our courage, our depth, and about empathy, compassion, and appreciation for the struggles we are all engaged in as we find our way.

So, Jason did find his way; quite well in fact .He faced his fears squarely, and discovered his strength, courage, and compassion. He embraced his past, his present, and his future. And in that journey he found his true self.

I deeply believe that there is a leader inside each of us, and that the greatest leadership gift we can give ourselves, indeed a conscious choice, is to take this journey.

Marshall is a senior partner for organizational leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. He is the author of “Building Trust at Speed of Change.” He can be reached at marshalle@ccl.org or 919-265-9616.