Its gritty, vulnerable, and often uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, whether I’ve taught this to a group of underprivileged college freshman or middle-aged factory managers – the response is the same. This is a life-changing way of looking at leadership.
We start by digging into the first “c” of the Social Change Model for Leadership Development (SCMLD), called “consciousness of self.” We look at what a person consists of – their experiences, values, beliefs, natural abilities, and perspectives. We hone in on the notion of leading by strengths as articulated in Gallup’s “Strengths Based Leadership,” but give a nod to the importance of building skill and teams around weaknesses. We discuss filling your leadership toolbox with items representative of all the stages in the SCMLD, like citizenship and controversy with civility.
Yet, the part of the talk that strikes home for most people is when we look at author Bill George’s suggestion that great leaders must do “an inner work.” When writing True North, Bill found that great leaders take time to pick apart their own life story, grapple with their greatest crucibles, and put their struggles into context so they can move forward authentically. Only then can people trust them enough to follow.
This last part is the toughest, because it requires us to examine those things that hurt or challenged us most in life. As a college Vice President and successful business owner who was classified “at-risk” in middle school, I never could have gotten to where I am if I had ignored my problems.
In my 20’s, having endured abusive relationships and experienced multiple, severe traumas, I had serious trust and anger issues. The early years of my career included interpersonal conflicts that directly correlated with the turbulence I was feeling inside. I got some counseling, put myself through an anger-control program, and studied more self-help books than I care to admit. All of this allowed me to stabilize and the moment I did, my career began to take off.
Here’s the thing – what is happening in us comes out of us no matter where life takes us. It doesn’t magically disappear because we got a college degree, a new job title, or a bump in pay.
For me, I’ve learned to accept this is a life-long process. Even now, 16 years into my career, I still see pieces of the unhealthy me rising to the surface now and again, in totally surprising and unexpected ways.
Great leaders – as Bill George discovered when he interviewed dozens of them – never stop growing.
Great leaders commit to a life of “inner work.”
Too often, we think addressing our vulnerabilities and letting the walls come down is a sign of weakness, but quite the opposite is true. It is a process to be honored and encouraged.
Pamela Witter is a speaker, author, and professional fundraiser. She serves as VP for Development at Trocaire College and owns and operates a small business called Seed Planters. Her book Five Strategies to Increase Annual Fund Revenue will be released by Charity Channel Press in 2016. Visit her at www.BeASeedPlanter.com.