The Strongest Aspect Of Leadership is Not About Them. It’s About You!

OK, maybe that headline is a form of trickery, counter-intuitive to everything CiO espouses and guides in coaching clients and its blog posts, but it is true.

Of sorts.

Hear this out.

Whether you have an official leadership title or not, leadership is about people. It is about getting the best results out of your environment. It is about getting the best out of others. It is about providing value where possible. It is an ever-evolving and growing mission to seek out the best in everything one comes across.

There sure are a lot of external factors which leadership touches and impacts, aren’t there?

“For some leaders the appearances on the surface might outvalue the detriment in their depths.”

Related Post: What is Leadership?

But it’s still more about you than anything else.

True leadership can’t exist if a leader is taking care of everyone else but themselves.  Of course there can be leadership where the leader is effective with, and for, his or her followers without anyone knowing that anything is amiss inside the leader. Maybe pride or fear will guide the leader down that road regardless of the fact that they don’t feel 100% inside. And some leaders are completely fine with that. For some leaders the appearances on the surface might outvalue the detriment in their depths.

Many coaching clients will share stories of the lengths to which they will go to get through their workplace and day, exhausted from maintaining appearances just to keep everything going smoothly.  Progress might seem like it’s being made on the outside, but the tension debilitating them on the inside slowly, but eventually, catches up to them. Therefore, they need to determine and work out how to address the tension they feel inside while they continue to ensure that the mission of their organization or group is being met. This self-work is a high priority.

Some internal tensions stem from environmental factors such as not feeling respected, listened to, or acknowledged. While other instances include internal conflicts such as no longer feeling passionate about a cause, organization or mission. In each case, the client knows enough to continue moving forward with enough energy and outward poise to carry out the mission, although they’re feeling somewhat defeated on the inside.

“…clients need to determine and work out how to address the tension they feel inside while they continue to ensure that the mission of their organization or group is being met. This self-work is a high priority.”

Let’s compare this message to a classic example that illustrates this point exactly–airplane safety instructions. Have you ever been on an airplane and heard the instructions outlined by the flight attendants? At a certain point they speak about what to do if the air cabin oxygen or air pressure adjusts dangerously to the point where the hidden oxygen masks drop in front of each passenger’s face. What do they tell you to do?  Put your mask on first before applying it to a child or another dependent who might be with you.

Why is that?

They don’t want you to be overcome or succumb to the physiological effects of those changes in oxygen or air pressure before being able to apply the mask to that dependent with whom you’re traveling. If you try to apply the mask to another person first, it might take you too long to the point where the effects of the cabin changes catch up with you and you possibly pass out.  It’s a lose-lose situation if you only try to help the other person without helping yourself first–you lose out because you pass out or worse, and they might lose out if you’re not able to get the mask on them before you pass out, leaving them to meet the same fate.

It’s the same thing in this leadership appeal. Not making sure you’re taken care carries consequences for both you and those around you.

Related Post: Who Does a Leader Turn To?

The selfless act of helping others might seem as if it should be the first instinct, and it is admirable, but it can be a disservice and detriment to others and to oneself much in the same way illustrated in that airplane example.

First, others can suffer because they are not getting the best that one can provide if the leader gives away all their energy. Although in a workplace or other group example they’re not being stripped of value they currently have, they are not getting the full benefit from someone that is not leadership healthy. They are not reaching their optimal performance because their leader–their coach–has not allowed themselves 100% leadership health.

Second, the leaders themselves suffer because although selfless leadership is great, the greater good should not benefit at the expense of the leader’s own sanity, focus, mission, value, goals, etc. Those are the components of Leadership Health.

“…helping others might seem as if it should be the first instinct, and it is admirable, but it can be a disservice and detriment to others and to oneself…”

These components are different from stress. Although dealing with stress is important, stress is mostly driven as a result of the work itself. Leadership Health is more tied to the other pieces not driven by the logistics and details of the work. Stress exists as a function at the micro level,the nitty gritty of the 9-to-5 rigmarole, whereas Leadership Health exists at the macro level, taking into account the entire picture and what worth it carries in the leader’s mind.

So, based on these points, no one should claim that leadership is or needs to be completely selfless.

If Leadership Health exists at the right level, the leader gets rewarded by feeling healthy and energetic about how they feel before they even begin their mission and then get their second reward after they have seen the fruits and results of their labor and mission in the environment around them.

Leadership Health has nothing to do, necessarily, with the physical well-being of the leader. It doesn’t start at the health of the heart or inner-workings of the physiological body; that’s the personal health. Leadership Health has to do with the personal fulfillment of being a leader. Keep in mind though, that poor Leadership Health can lead to poor personal health.

It all comes down to what level of achievement you want your environment–you, your followers, and your environment–to reach and whether or not you are compromising and restricting your Leadership Health in doing so? Do those goals reconcile to what you need to be a great leader? Be careful not to restrict your true self.

“…no one should claim that leadership is or needs to be completely selfless.”

If you feel the need to grow, do so. If you feel the need to feel unsure, do so. If you feel the need to reach out for help, do so. If you feel as if your heart is not in it and you need to seek something different out to tap into your passion and drive, do so.

Mind and body have to be right before action can be taken and be effective. Furthermore, your heart has to be in it or neither your mind nor your body will be. Mind, heart, and body have to be in it together. They won’t be perfect, but that’s OK as long as progress is being made and you feel them moving forward. Everything is a work-in-progress.

And this appeal and advice is not for everyone. Of course there are people that carry out their leadership–who they are and what they do–out of necessity, but how often are those people truly fulfilled? No, for our argument we need to state that there’s more to the environment than just a facade of appearances, that more reward is needed and should be sought. Appearances are temporary, constantly seeking rewards is continuous.

The desired result is to make everything around us on the outside better by making sure that everything within us is strong and healthy enough.

Don’t be that person, that leader, that gives it all away.

It doesn’t begin in what you express to those around you but, instead, begins deep down inside you with what value you extract from the work around you and the behaviors you carry out.

Ok, so maybe leadership isn’t about you, but it certainly begins within you.

So…What About You?

  • Have you ever felt as if you were giving up too much to keep up appearances?
  • What were the benefits to doing so? What were the consequences?
  • How have you learned to take care of yourself first?

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