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Self Leadership

We have all experienced a moment of doubt in our right and our ability to lead. “What qualifies me to lead these other humans when I’m wrestling with some of the same things they are?”

We may have more experience. We may have more technical capability. We may have better leadership personality. But really there are moments when we doubt. And if there are moments when you have never doubted, then you’re missing something that’s critical to humane leadership, and that is humility and self awareness. But we digress.

Let’s say you’ve come to that moment and you realize, “How can I do this better? How can I be worthy of the role of leading these other humans in their work and in their unfolding of themselves in their work?” Because work is an opportunity, at its best, to get out of ourselves, our current state of self and to develop new capabilities, new skills, new competencies, new connections to the world. We do that by collaborating with other people. We learn from them, we learn about ourselves, and we learn new approaches by working with others.

So why would we then focus on ourselves and our own self leadership? Learning to lead while you are a leader is a little bit like learning to play the violin while you are on stage in front of an audience. It can be a painful and embarrassing and highly inefficient process for everybody involved. To avoid some of the more glaring problems that we see showing up in Dilbert or The Office, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity to practice on ourselves.

It occurred to us that

We lead ourselves every day.

For instance, I led myself to get out of bed this morning. I had to motivate myself to get out of bed. That either can happen naturally out of an internal, hope-based motivation, or it could be be some sort of a forcing function–I have a meeting, or I have a deadline, or I have shame– or more external fear-based motivations. So there’s one experiment that we can do on ourselves. We can learn a little bit about how motivation works by paying attention to what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Try this experiment to test your own motivation, to begin experimenting with your own self leadership: Tomorrow don’t get out of bed until you arise naturally out of an internal, hope-based motivation.

Notice what comes up. Do you feel ineffectual? Do you feel shameful? Are you doubting yourself as a competent, professional human being? Stay in bed until you find an internal hope-based motivation.  

How do you find it? I would just notice what comes up. I would just pay attention to the thoughts and the images that come. What are the things that you could work on today? What’s before you? What’s on your list? What’s not on your list? How do you want to show up in the world? Who do you want to be in this day? That’s an interesting way look at this anyway.

By doing this experiment, you may notice that you have a tendency to respond really well to external fear-based motivations and less well, and give less credence to internal hope-based motivations. You may notice the feeling that an external fear-based motivation leaves in your body. You may feel somewhat manipulated by that external force. Do you feel like a self-actualizing creative human being when you are responding to external fear?

While doing this exercise, you will naturally begin to notice what your patterns for motivating others are. By simply paying attention to what you’re doing to yourself, you will begin to raise your consciousness and thereby transform how you motivate other people.

At the Humane Leadership Conferences, we are developing a variety of very practical tools that allow us to dig into and learn about and extend and refine our approaches to leading ourselves and others. We have tools that allow us to look at motivations. We have tools that allow us to see how consciously we are cultivating our earned influence in the organization. We have tools that allow us to see in what ways we’re violating our own deepest values with some of our behaviors or thought patterns. We have tools that allow us to evaluate our own and others’ performance and to agree on performance improvements in a collaborative creative process, rather than a management by objective or a more confrontational or manipulative process. We have tools that help us think through difficult decisions in ambiguous situations and manage the associated risks of taking action, based on Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ thinking.

We take these tools and we use them in the privacy of our own self leadership laboratory. We can see what works for us in our own experience. We can internalize the confidence and the clarity that comes with using these wisdom-based approaches. Because of our self leadership experience, we have a visceral sense of the effectiveness and humanity of these approaches before we share them with those we lead.

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