The Leadership Journey – 14. Who Are You?

Now, I have hair that is steadily greying, and I do wear spectacles when no one is looking. This allows me to look back at my life, and my own journey.

I have never been a great fan of much management or leadership literature, as I find it to be very prescriptive. Moreover, much of it is general in nature, as are leadership models that are often thrust down on us by global headquarters. These often don’t take several things into account. For starters, there is no one prescribed model. The behaviours that are acceptable in the West, and not acceptable in the East, and in the East, what works in India does not work in China.

Second, leadership styles and requirements are also driven by context. There are many people who talk about Winston Churchill being a superb war time leader, but a horrible peace time leader.

Third, the question of who is a leader, is often defined by where you stand in the hierarchy.

Fourth, from whom do you learn?

I can go on and on, but let’s stay here for a moment.

We live in a changing world. When I was a young manager, and I use the word manager deliberately, I was leading a team of sales representatives. The first time I had to do this, I was young, and my team members were all about 20 years older than me. We had a tough situation, and these chaps were hardened warriors who’s only aim, or so I felt, was to trip me up. Our organisation was formal, and I had to address my seniors as “Mr X” etc. I had to be invited to address them by their first name, and was expected to give my – politically worded – opinion only when asked.

When I moved on to another organisation, everyone was expected to participate in discussions, and we were all on a first name basis. My boss was earthly, loud, cheerful and egoistic. He built a little cult around himself, as did his peers. He moved on, and another gentleman came in – intellectual, sarcastic, moodily cheerful, and he too built a cult around himself. All this time, I grew in the organisation, and my team size grew. Yet, I was still a manager.

It was only when I became a General Manager, did I become a “Leader”!!

Now, during this time, I was trying to find my style. I read about Hannibal, Sun Tzu, management leaders like Jack Welch, and I kept trying to adapt my style to my bosses, and to these famous “leaders”.

Finally, and I don’t remember the trigger, my journey turned inwards, and I started to ask myself just who the hell I am? 

The question I asked myself was: “Who are you?” 

When I started to ask myself this question, I started to change, and I wonder why it took me so long. I cribbed about the lack of mentoring support in my younger years. However, those were the times of the Alpha Male Leader (and, this still exists despite all the literature that floats around the world, and all the solemn conferences on New Age Leadership), and we were expected to be tough managers, and to get the job done. The soft, woolly stuff about finding yourself was considered to be a waste of time, and company’s resources.

Howeverv, not only does leadership get defined by the context of the actual situation, it also gets defined by your own upbringing, your emotional turmoils and your own personal eccentricities and beliefs.

While I do think we should learn from leaders and people we admire and, this is essential, I also came around to the belief that you must know who you are, and this is a question you need to ask yourself from time to time.

As you answer this question, with honesty to yourself, you can then start to mentor people, and you can then find your own, authentic leadership style.

This is the first step on the journey, and it is good to examine this step from time to time. Time does not stand still, and neither do we.

Who are you?

2 Comments

  1. I find Churchill a fascinating leader and character because the very flaws that made him so difficult a person was exactly what he and Britain needed in war and didn’t need in peace. How this equates to leadership in this business world I don’t know but its interesting to note how timing of leadership can be so important…and so lucky or fateful.

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