Mastering your Inner Game of Leadership

post from Ron Garonzik and Rick Lash:

In 1938 archeologists in Israel made a remarkable discovery
– a cache of 2,500-year-old letters between officers and their commanders. They
provide a unique window on the impact overly controlling, self-centered leadership
styles can have on others: “Regarding the letter you sent, the heart of your
servant is ill, when my lord said: Don’t you know how to read a letter?
  As God lives, for every letter that comes to
me, it is read.”
  Even Moses had a
reputation as a micromanager who couldn’t give up control or delegate; his
father-in-law Jethro telling him “This thing you are doing is not good – you
will surely wear away you and those who are with you”.
  From ancient times to today’s boardrooms,
overly controlling leaders who act to serve their own needs can create toxic
work environments where decision making, creativity and engagement grinds to a

What are the enduring qualities of great leadership?

Starting in the 1960s, the late Harvard psychologist David
McClelland and a group of researchers wanted to understand great leadership and
why it matters. They discovered that the highest performing leaders weren’t
more achievement driven or more people focused. 
Rather, they possessed a unique motivational profile – a very pronounced
need for power or influence. But in the very best leaders McClelland discovered
three critical characteristics that acted as controls on their use of power and
control that made all the difference – greater emotional maturity, high self-management
and a participative, coaching leadership style (think of great professional
sports coaches).  McClelland called these
qualities ‘socialized’ power.  These
outstanding leaders were not in the game for themselves but for the good of the
institutions they served.  They funneled
their strong need for influencing others not to meet their own self-serving
needs like higher status, greater control or being liked, but rather to make
others more capable and to further the mission of their organization. 

In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article Ego is the Enemy
of Good Leadership, the authors note that as leader take on greater responsibility,
they can become susceptible to ‘hubris syndrome’ – where power goes to their
heads and the leader comes to see world as serving their own needs.  In our early careers a certain amount of ego
is essential to drive success.  But an
ego unmanaged can lead to self-centered behavior, coercive actions, a need for
overcontrol and an inability to listen or appreciate other points of view –
career derailers if unmanaged.  The good
news is that socialized power can be developed, but rarely is it mentioned in
preparing high potential leaders for senior leadership roles.  Little time is spent exploring why
self-management is the first step in learning how to lead others or learning
the basics of good team leadership – like creating clarity and setting performance
standards so people know what good looks like – and how to recognize and coach
others to succeed. 

Letting go of your ego

Most leadership development relies on what Hermina Ibarra,
author of numerous leadership development books, calls the “plan-and-implement”
model.  We identify a gap or skill we
want to strengthen, then set a goal and plan for closing the gap.  That linear approach works well for
developing competence, but for making deeper changes like increasing socialized
power requires a different, more iterative tactic, what Ibarra refers to as
“test-and-learn”.  We start with a new
experience, try out a new behavior, reflect on it and then use the insights to
change our assumptions and goals. 
Test-and-learn leads to deeper growth in how we see ourselves and helps
to make profound shifts in our mindset. 
Here are a few test-and-learn ideas that can help build your socialized
power and change your inner leadership game:

·         – Work on a project where you can’t count on your
expertise to get you through.  Relying on
others will help you develop an appreciation for what others have to offer and
see the world from a different perspective. 
Think of the valuable lessons learned from the show Undercover Boss
where a CEO has to “flip hamburgers” and learns to appreciate the emotional,
physical and personal challenges of her employees.

·         – Coach or mentor someone who has the potential to
be a great leader.  Socialized power is
all about gaining deep emotional satisfaction by serving others and enabling them
to be successful.

·         – Make socialized power an important value in your
life by reading about leaders who you deeply admire. Look for evidence of what
they did, thought and felt that exemplifies socialized power. 

·         – What are the key experiences you have had in
your career and life that exemplify your leadership values? Which are good
examples where you demonstrated socialized power?  Which stories do you need to elevate and put
more of a spotlight on? Which stories are no longer useful?  Practice telling those stories to others.

·        –  Consider expanding or changing your social
network to include others who can see and reinforce the socialized power in you
(rather than just the great achiever).

Great leadership is timeless.  Whether in ancient times or responding to a
global crisis, the very best leaders act to make a positive difference and have
learned to let go of their ego.  And they
do it by developing their emotional maturity and self-control while actively
engaging others.  Clearly these aren’t
things one just learns in a leadership course of by reading leadership books
(although these can help) but through stretching experiences, developing
others, challenging deeply held beliefs and building new relationships, all of
which help strengthen our desire to make a difference, serve others and in the process
become better leaders.

Ron Garonzik is an independent consultant with
more than a quarter century o
f global leadership development experience
supporting organizations large and small, public and private.

Rick Lash is an independent consultant
and senior associate with 
Verity International and is a recognized
leadership development expert and executive coach. For over 35 years he has
worked with Fortune 500 organizations in Canada, the United States and
internationally. His most recent work focuses on the power of leadership
narrative for creating authentic leadership.