What's the best way forward?

Improve your leadership skills by raising questions

What's the best way forward?

GOOGLE the word "leadership", and the search engine will give about 155,000,000 references for it on the Internet.

Leadership is one of the most studied, investigated and talked about topics, and it affects everybody.

Even if you are not a corporate leader, you often are in situations at work or in your personal life that require you to show leadership.

According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman, the author of the bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, a key part of leadership is a leader's self-awareness.

In other words, a leader must be in touch with his internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions. I call it simply the art of knowing "where you are".

Imagine someone calls you on the phone, and you invite him over. He asks for directions on how to get to your place.

To do so, the first question you must ask is: "Where are you?"

If you don't know where he is, your leadership in giving him directions will be useless.

All direction, advice, counsel or assistance comes, first, from an understanding of where someone is.

In your own life, it is the same. To get to where you want to go, you must first know where you are.

This "art of waking up", as one writer called it, marks a leader as someone people want to follow.

Mr Nathan Hobbs, principal consultant at Business Psychology Consultancy, puts it this way: "Self-awareness is at the centre of all learning and development and is an important skill needed to manage our own behaviour alongside colleagues in the pursuit of an organisation's goals.

"It is at the heart of effective leadership. Increasing self-awareness enables any member of staff to reflect more knowingly on their work performance and identify means of self-improvement."

People naturally respond well to those they respect and trust.

Emotional intelligence is not just about "being nice". It is about getting results in the midst of working with and through others.

Once you are aware of the working styles of the leaders and teams around you, you are able to assess, assimilate and accommodate those styles which best enhance your own style.

In essence, you build trust and respect. Becoming self-aware is about observing, learning, and teaching yourself.

As you become self-aware, you begin to become aware of others and discover better strategies for leading and working with your team.

Researchers Robertson and Walt report the findings of a recent multinational study of nearly 100 chief executive officers, conducted by the Andersen Consulting Group.

The research findings report 14 skills considered essential to effective leadership now and in the future.

Some of these skills include the ability to:

* think globally,

* create a shared vision,

* embrace change,

* live the right values,

* demonstrate personal mastery, and

* share leadership.

Similar to other noted writers in the field, Robertson and Walt write that no one set of universal guidelines exists in the area of leadership development.

Leadership, they say, "is grounded in a high degree of self-awareness and the ability to leverage on those personal strengths that set each individual apart".

They further suggest that the ideal outcome of self-awareness is a "congruence of individual strengths and the job".

The challenge is that self-awareness cannot be taught.

I cannot tell you what is going on inside of you. You are the only one who knows.

One of the simplest and most powerful tools to help each person understand himself better is to work with questions.

On a personal note, one of the marks of freedom for myself and my "growing up" was that I found I had a choice to change the questions I asked myself.

The simple act of changing the question from "What is wrong with me?" to "What can I learn in this situation?" freed me from self-doubt and insecurity, and gave me a confidence I had not known before.

Imagine for a brief moment what it would be like if people in your organisation were more aware of themselves.

What if they all understood their strengths and weaknesses?

What if they didn't have to blame others and accepted responsibility when things went wrong?

What if they could ask questions of any situation to better understand it from a different perspective of those involved?

If these things began to happen, a team or organisation would know itself and as a result have more confidence in its ability to succeed in a changing world.

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