When you find a new leadership resource—a clever quotation, the latest book by your favorite guru, or a great case study—what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like me, you immediately want to apply it to your own leadership repertoire. “No problem,” you think, as you attempt to assimilate what you’ve read or seen. Of course, if this was always easy, you’d soon reach that elusive point of satisfaction—your full leadership potential (cue laugh track).
We all know that personal development isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s rarely easy. As they say, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” My father is very fond of reciting that line to me. So what makes it difficult to take a list of five or ten desirable leadership qualities and make them your own? Well, all too often, we fail to address the role of personality.
Show me two leaders, and I’ll show you two people who likely face entirely different challenges when it comes to adopting a specific leadership quality—say, to be more approachable. Take, for example, Ellen. She’s an analytical, logical leader—what we call Deliberate—who has an innate skepticism of others’ ideas. This makes her seem unapproachable to others, even though she’s not a particularly forceful leader. On the other hand, consider Brian. He’s an outspoken, entrepreneurial leader—what we call Pioneering—who has an underlying desire to be important. This desire causes some intimidating behaviors that make him seem equally (but differently) unapproachable.
The question is: How can you use knowledge about your personality to become a more effective leader? My colleagues and I have found that by showing leaders how to identify their “default settings” through self-assessment, we can help them explore the psychological drivers that may be holding them back. While it’s important for leaders to understand their areas of strength, many people report that their early-career mistakes were a direct result of their leadership “blind spots”—those areas that come much less naturally to them personally.
We all know the shock of seeing another car in the rear-view mirror—just in time—while trying to change lanes. And there are times when we don’t see the car at all until someone is honking wildly at us. Sometimes, we simply can’t see what’s there, and this is definitely the case when it comes to the greatest challenges we face as leaders.
Learning about your personality as a leader—even the complex, less-than-desirable aspects of it—could be the most important step you take in your personal development. What you don’t know can hurt you as a leader, and these days, there are many great assessment tools out there. By harnessing the power of psychological research and self-assessment, my colleagues and I have developed some simple tools to help you create a more efficient path to better leadership. The goal is to lead like you, only better!
Emma Wilhelm, M.S., is senior writer and product developer at Inscape Publishing, where she helps to develop innovative training and development products. Along with Jeffrey Sugerman, Ph.D., and Mark Scullard, Ph.D., she is coauthor of The 8 Dimensions of Leadership: DiSC Strategies for Becoming a Better Leader (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Emma left the corporate world for several years to pursue a career in higher education. She enjoyed her time on small college campuses coaching athletic teams, teaching undergraduate courses, and advising student leadership groups through NCAA and YMCA programs. Emma holds a B.A. in English Literature from Carleton College and a M.S. in Exercise and Sport Studies from Smith College.