Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Know Yourself

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general, had it right.  The first step toward victory is to know yourself.  In battle, it means to know your strengths (and how to leverage them) and your weaknesses (and how to protect them).  It means that before entering the arena, leaders must make an accounting for who they are and what they bring to the fight.
I believe this fundamental first step is absolutely the case in any leadership position.  Leaders must know themselves before they can lead others.  They must recognize how they are wired, how they respond under stress, and how they process information in order to be able to give and receive orders or to attempt to lead others.  Leaders must first and foremost be comfortable in their own skin, with a high degree of self-awareness about strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.  Once they do, they can recognize how they process information and clearly articulate expectations to others.

In Academy Leadership, we offer 3-day leadership workshops (Boot Camps) in which we spend the first day focusing almost entirely on "knowing yourself."  Two of the key components of this first day are the Energize2LeadTM profile and the development of the "Personal Leadership Philosophy."  They really are critical first steps on a leader's journey to know one's self.
Energize2LeadTM (E2L).  We are all wired differently.  Surprised?  Don't be!  You are lucky if 1 out of every 4 people are wired like you.  More than likely, it is not even that many.  In all likelihood, the people around you have different motivations, likes/dislikes, and respond to pressure in ways that you do not.  It is important for leaders to know this about themselves.  For example, my E2L personality profile reveals that I am energized when I can think creatively, make plans, and operate as an entrepreneur.  I'm not good at keeping records or following strict procedures.  Don't tell me how to do something.  Rather, tell me what needs to be done and why -- and I'll figure out the rest. 
Some people work well in teams.  Others are driven to execute.  Some people thrive in a regulated environment while others enjoy freedom and independence.  The point is, each of us has unique wiring that makes us who we are.  When we operate "with the grain," we take on jobs and work in environments that take advantage of our strengths.  Does this mean that a person like me cannot work in a regulated environment, or do detailed spreadsheets, or document processes?  No...but I won't like it!  I can get it done but will be exhausted when I finish.
When I take the effort to understand myself, I can gain a better understanding of those around me.  I can recognize how and why people are different.  At the same time, I can assemble teams in which people complement each other, where strengths and weaknesses can balance out.  One of the things we do in our E2L workshops is produce a "team sheet" that shows the combination of the hard wirings of the members of a particular team.  This yields tremendous insight on how the team is wired and/or who might need to take the lead on particular roles in order to get the mission done.  I know, for example, that for any team I lead, I better have a detail-oriented deputy to keep me on track.  Leaders who know themselves, know how to position themselves and their team for success.
Personal Leadership Philosophy.  Leaders who know themselves, take the time to explain who they are, how they operate, and what they expect from those they lead.  This is the beginning of transparency within an organization.  It leads to consistency from leaders who have clearly articulated their standards to people who can know exactly where their leader stands, how they wish to be communicated with, and what they value.  In simple math, transparency plus consistency yields mutual trust within any team.  No team can be successful, in any arena, without a high degree of trust for their leader.
In Academy Leadership (as well as in the Thayer Leader Development Group's programs at West Point), we emphasize the importance of the personal leadership philosophy.  We deliberately work with leaders to help them articulate their values, priorities, and idiosyncracies, putting their hard wiring on paper to share with others.  While painful to do (especially for engineers like me!), it is key to knowing yourself.  Written out, in about 500 words or so, it says to our teammates, "This is who I am and how I operate.  Hold me accountable to this standard."  Refreshing, isn't it?  No surprises, no hidden agendas.  You know exactly where you stand and what to expect from a leader who articulates his/her leadership philosophy and asks for feedback if they aren't living up to those standards.  Barriers come down, doors open, and people trust each other.  It happens when leaders know who they are -- and share it with those they lead.
So, what about you?  Have you taken the time to really understand who you are, what you value, how you are energized, and how you deal with stress?  Believe me, your teammates want to know this about you.  They want to be led by a warrior who strives for the best from himself, as well as from others. 
Sun Tzu said that a leader who knows the enemy and himself cannot be defeated.   I think that when we fail to take this critical first step, we become our own worst enemy.  We try to be something we are not.  We try to hide our weaknesses or blind spots, rather than accounting for them with the support and interaction of others.  Have no doubt, when the enemy is us, we can forget being successful in battle, let alone having people who will willingly join our team. 
Your troops deserve better.  Know yourself.  Take some steps to be the best YOU that you can.  That is the first step toward victory -- on any battlefield.  That's Leader Business.
P.S.  If you want more information about "knowing yourself," drop me a note.  I've got a big mirror that I would be happy to lend to you!


Anonymous said...

Awesome post! You must have had some frustrating times in the "regulated environment" of the Army... ;)

RedBlot Media said...

Hi Tom, this is a great post. Before you can develop your fullest potential, it is essential to know who you are, lest you forget and lose your identity.