Signing up for the Atlas Corp fellowship has been a life-changing opportunity. It is an opportunity to reflect on what kind of a leader I aspire to be and work towards being that person. My first Global Leadership Lab Immersion, a training program for all fellows enrolled in the fellowship ran under the theme, “Discover Self”. This is a time to reflect on myself and also to reflect on the leadership I have been subjected to be it in my community, my employers or my country and the world at large.
The reflection journey was full of highs and lows with the low moments drowning the highs. It is discouraging to note the world over is in a leadership crisis and has lost the true essence of leadership. Leadership that is ethical, leadership that is engaging, leadership that is selfless, leadership that self introspects, the list goes on and on. However, it is motivating and exciting because the future is young, soon the winds of change will be blowing in our direction as the upcoming leaders. It will be our opportunity to turn the tables and be the change we have been yearning for all along.
But what does authenticity in leadership entail and how does developing self first make you a better leader or even just a better citizen of the world? During the training sessions which were led by the world-renowned coaches and retired leaders from international organizations and fellow fellows, we explored various ways of developing self and ensure we are ready for the challenge. Our sessions included topics ranging from Emotional Intelligence, Leading with Integrity, Individual Leadership Branding, Learning from Failure and lastly Self Vulnerability. In these sessions I discovered leadership is no mean feat, one needs to be on top of their game all the time. Before one is ready for more challenging leadership roles there is a need to overhaul self and be in sync with self first before attempting to understand and lead others.
Fellow aspiring leaders, are you ready for the challenge; are you ready to be the leaders who will change the world and make it a better place for the generations to come? Here are a few tips towards developing self and becoming an authentic leader as learned during the first training session.
Leaders are supposed to emotionally intelligent, this is the ability to control the emotional and rational aspects of our brains, make the connections as human beings and be self-aware. As a leader one should be able to be vulnerable to some situations, studies have shown that this enables leaders to show their human side. Some may regard this as a weakness but it has proved to be a great strength as it allows you to have that human connection to your team. Leaders should know when it’s appropriate to talk and when to keep quiet and observe.
Secondly, leaders are supposed to lead with integrity, which was described during our module as adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. This is the ability to do what is right even when no one is watching. This is the utmost killer of integrity in our day and age of social media and technology. There is a need for gratification and to be seen to be doing something even when you had the option to silently do what it is right. Society has been accustomed to the notion that if they didn’t see it on social media it didn’t happen. But this has put too much pressure on our leaders to even execute some of their duties immorally and unethically so they can get social media gratification. We have made sure that the left-hand knows what the right hand is doing all the time so as to try and convince the world that we are doing something. Oprah Winfrey once said,
“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
As in the words of Karl Moore and Chatham Sullivan, integrity is further described as that particular quality of character that occurs when a person stays true to their commitments. This means that a person—and in some cases an entire organization—has a point of view about what matters. They declare something of value and they stick to that endorsement. They do what they say. They stand for something, even if, and especially if, they stand to lose something in the process.
One of my mentors always told me that self-branding starts from the way you dress, it should always tell a story of the kind of person you are before you even say a word. To me, self-branding is a process of developing and maintaining a reputation and impression that is unique to me and that I comfortably identify with. In the self-branding journey, there is no case of mistaken identity neither is there a one size fits all. I should be able to stand out in society as a unique brand with values that I stay true to, which often are non-negotiable because there a unique combination of identifiers. Self-branding enables a leader to be able to connect with people and it forces one to be self-aware.
A leader should be able to learn from failure, have the ability to set aside egos and be humble enough to even consult even the less experienced employee within a team. One write once said,
When you encounter failure, tackle it head-on and learn from your mistakes. Realize that every idea that pops up in your mind isn’t going to work. Take the time to organize your thoughts after a failure and realize what you did wrong. Above all else, be willing to learn and grow.
Most failures happened because we have big egos that are not willing to self introspect and accept that we have failed and learned from the failure.
Lastly, leaders should allow themselves to be self vulnerable. This is the ability to show people you’re not perfect, you make mistakes, and you don’t have all the answers. In other words, it’s showing people that you’re human. This is important in leadership as it builds authenticity and trust, improves communication and has proven to be a catalyst for innovation and creativity, as well as, enabling teamwork growth and cooperation.
It takes a split second, or just simply one wrong or an uninformed decision to destroy a good leader or even a good legacy for that matter. During the training sessions, we were tasked to find solutions about a certain real-life case study. In the case, millions of dollars were at stake and a decision had to be made in the nick of time yet we had insufficient information needed to make the decision. We were deliberately given insufficient information yet pressed for a decision. Many other things were at stake which included maintaining a good reputation whilst making an unpopular decision, closing the year with a million dollars but with a high chance of destroying your legacy. Many lessons for upcoming leaders like us could be drawn from that case which included having the courage to stand for the unpopular opinion as well as the ability to know when to prove vulnerability and be able to tell the team you are not ready to make a decision even if a million dollars were at stake. Often times leaders are pressured to make decisions, with insufficient information risking destroying their legacies.