Monday, October 23, 2006


Leaders have an incredible capacity for self-observation. They have “it.” It is hard to say what “it” is, but “it” is certainly an intangible quality that separates people into two categories: Those who have “it” and those who do not.

When professional coaches are deciding whether to draft and invest in a star collegiate player, they haul out their clipboards, tape measures, and stopwatches and put a number to everything. But it’s not just about the numbers. There are hidden qualities that differentiate. Some have “it.”

As I have reflected on “it” over the years, I have come to this conclusion about “it”s makeup: Whatever “it” is, it begins with the prefix self-. People with this makeup have mastered the uniquely human ability to “get outside themselves” and look back. They self-correct based on what they see.

“It” may overlap what Proverbs refers to as wisdom. “It” brings prosperity and a good life. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of “it.” Fools don’t get “it.”

It appears that the emerging science of emotional intelligence (EQ) has stumbled onto “it.” EQ (as defined by Daniel Goleman in Primal Leadership) has identified four intelligence domains and associated competencies, two of which begin with “self-“:

• Emotional self-awareness: Reading one’s own emotions and recognizing their impact; using “gut sense” to guide decisions
• Accurate self-assessment: Knowing one’s strengths and limits
• Self-confidence: A sound sense of one’s own self-worth and capabilities

• Emotional self-control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses under control
• Transparency: Displaying honesty and integrity; trustworthiness
• Adaptability: Flexibility in adapting to changing situations or overcoming obstacles
• Achievement: The drive to improve performance to meet inner standards of excellence
• Initiative: Readiness to act and seize opportunities
• Optimism: Seeing the upside in events

While emotional intelligence eventually extends to others, it begins with personal mastery. Before you can effectively manage others, you must learn to manage yourself. Your toughest management challenge is always yourself.

People who stay on the path of self-development for years achieve what Jim Collins calls Level 5 Leadership. John Maxwell refers to this level as Personhood, a level where people follow you, not just because of what you have done for the organization and for them, but because of who you are and what you represent. The two sides to this highest form of leadership, according to Daniel Goleman, are Professional Will and Personal Humility.

The cultivated self is a leader’s greatest asset. The first Army leadership manual coined the phrase, “Be, Know, Do.” The sequence is instructive. We first and foremost human beings, not human doings. Good leadership requires a well-rounded, well-balanced person. As Bill Hybels says, “The best gift you can give the people you lead is a healthy, energized, fully surrendered, focused self.” Leaders must lead from a healthy core. Unresolved character defects and personal problems have derailed many promising leaders. A leader must have enough personal recovery that he is comfortable in his own skin, and able to own both strengths and inadequacies. And he must be willing to grow along with the organization, as Edwin Markham penned,

We are blind until we see
That in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making
If it does not make the man

Why build these cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world
Unless the builder also grows.

When people follow a leader, they don’t follow a skill set, a technique or a message. People follow a person. They may appreciate a skill, or a technique or a message, but they are going to follow you, and by that I mean who you are, more than what you say or do. Who are you?

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