4.5 Belief Systems
EGL Newsletter Volume 4.5
Are leaders born or developed? This has been a common question you will find in much of the research around leaders. You will find that the answer is “Yes”, as it is quite certain that some people are born with certain natural tendencies towards leadership, and we also know that our process of natural and social development strongly impacts our abilities to lead. As for those of us who work in the realm of leadership development, I am obviously fascinated by the nurture side of that question. I have worked with hundreds (quite possibly that’s in the thousands now) of leaders during my career, and my experience is that most of the truly effective leaders are developed. We are certainly born with certain traits and qualities that make aspects of leadership very easy, but the skills of using those and the wisdom of the situational aspects of leadership are most certainly learned.
Consequently, my current book project is looking at the most basic element of leadership, Inspirational Presence, and how we go about developing it. Obviously, it is very multi-faceted and changes as we go through life. Each of our life experiences not only contributes to our overall presence, but also influences what we learn from that point on. Each experience creates a new point in our perceptual filter, which then creates a different view of how we experience life. So, if we have good experiences that teach us that life is good and rewarding, we build beliefs around that and tend to find more of it in the future. By the same token, unpleasant or difficult experiences can teach us limiting beliefs, that then has us find more of those experiences in the future.
At the Gaian Group, our leadership practice has many techniques for uncovering these areas and for reframing old limiting beliefs. This enhances our ability to influence others. Of these, most of these become apparent in our language patterns. Some are very obvious, like when we hear a person say “I’m not a very good leader”. The more subtle are in areas like “I find this work very challenging” or “I really have to drive these people”. Each of these indicates either an underlying belief about self or other. The good news is, that we may have had some bad experiences in life, but we are not destiny bound to repeat them. We have the power to change our experience.
Working with our belief systems tends to create much more powerful and lasting results than simply focusing on behaviors. Granted, behaviors matter, and we find that our belief systems drive far more behaviors than we might typically identify over a course of coaching sessions. Getting to the core enabling or limiting beliefs creates positive shifts in all areas of life. In the examples above, there is a deeper and more problematic commonality. Each limits the speaker’s ability to inspire him/her self and others. This is where it becomes a critical leadership issue. Our ability to lead is directly related to how much inspiration and passion we feel in the context where we are leading. If you feel rotten about what you are doing, what do you think your leadership style will be like? On the other hand, if you are genuinely enthused about what you are doing and where you are going, it will be as contagious as the chickenpox in a 3 rd grade classroom
So, take a few minutes, take some notes, and change your life.
Each of us has a core set of beliefs about how we move groups of people along. Most people have not spent a lot of time thinking about this, but have modeled some significant person in their life (consciously or subconsciously) who significantly impacted their life. This may have been impressed at a time when we personally felt our greatest emotional high of success. Many people find this in their early years in sports, or in academics. They find a success strategy that worked on them at that time, then adopt it to use later in life to attempt to achieve the same results. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
One factor that cuts across all styles of relating to people is the ability to create resonance with groups of people. We have all felt that, when a group of us were “pulling as one” or “in the flow”. I have experienced that many times in life, in many different situations, and the memory of any of them immediately floods me with a sense of well-being. Most people have a similar experience.
Today, we will look at some of the leadership work put out by Dan Goldman in Primal Leadership. This is a worthwhile read, particularly if you are interested in some of the “whys” behind how leadership actually works. In his book, Goldman talks about six distinct approaches to leadership. These are visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pace-setting, and commanding.
The first four – visionary, coaching, affiliative and democratic – create the kind of resonance that boosts performance. The other two – pace-setting and commanding – actually create dissonance and should be used with caution. This is not to say that pace-setting and commanding don’t get results, as they do. However, you will find that they are not sustainable. The results tend to spike upwards and then fall back off. They require continued input of energy to continue the results.
The most effective leader will embody all six of these styles at different times. Learning the ability to flex is one of the most critical parts of leadership. We have all worked with the visionary whose long-range ideas were fabulous, but never gave the most basic of action steps to accomplish. We have worked with the democratic leader who tended to be handcuffed when the situation required high direction. Each style has its major gift and the time when it should not be used.
As a leader, taking the time to learn these types of style differences along with the timing of when you might move between them is critical to long-term success.