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Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook have wildly differing approaches to business and to building organisations. Each has optimised their approach according to their unique character traits. This was surely not possible without deep inquiry into what drives each of them, where they err, what their core beliefs are on leadership and what impact they aspire to have in the world around them.

When I work with CEOs in this way, I first like to challenge them with a question relating to safety: “Are you safe to lead?”. The question usually receives a quizzical, yet obvious, nod that implies, ‘Of course!’. Yet, they should think a bit more deeply before responding.

It is impossible to be a safe leader without having a deep understanding of why you do what you do – why you respond in certain ways – why you choose or are drawn to certain choices over others, and how you respond when under pressure.

When interrogating the quality of self – what drives you, your blind spots, what your core beliefs are about leadership, and what impact you aspire to have on the world – the answers will not be obvious or forthright. They will require interrogation and revision and will need to be updated over time.

Leaders who have done their ‘inner work’ – who have worked on their awareness and management of self – tend to stand out. There is sure-footedness to them that is easily felt, and their words and thoughts land with impact. You will definitely know of such people; they make you feel at ease, they attract success, they are sought after and they are revered. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Craig Jelinek of Costco Wholesale Corporation and Laurence Fink of BlackRock come to mind.

Modern leaders simply have to do this work on themselves. There are significant upsides to be gained: an easeful experience of work and life; high quality of talent following you and discretionary effort being offered to you by your people.

Should the modern leader not include this work as part of their personal development, the downsides can lead to blind spots dominating their choices, people questioning their authenticity and choosing not to follow them, and a lack of purposefulness in their endeavours.

Fortunately, the avenues available to work on one’s inner quality are plentiful. The market for skilled professional help (advisors, coaches and leadership specialists) is now fairly mature and there are no shortages of options available.

Here are a few tips related to choosing any structured advice:

  • Advisors should have a specialisation: make sure your needs are fully met by the advisor; that they are tailored to your particular needs.
  • Not all growth can happen through cognitive thinking – at times, you’ll need to immerse yourself in a transformational experience to bring about deep personal change.
  • You should have ‘always on’ access to your advisor and should not operate simply from session to session – personal growth does not happen in such sessions, which are simply the facilitators to a larger process.
  • Your educational content should be carefully curated – do not get lost in the avalanche of information available on the market. You will notice when you have accessed excellent quality content because it is too rich to ignore.
  • You should spend at least two hours each week on spacious [should we rather say ‘concentrated’] thinking, reading or reflection. This is not to be confused with ‘free time’ – it’s a focused time slot that requires intention for the benefit of shaping your performance.

The key take-outs:

  • Who you are, not what you do, is the predictor of your success or failure.
  • A high-quality personality profile tool is a requirement to fully understand yourself.
  • The journey toward self-knowledge is a long one. It requires constant attention and is ideally aided by a qualified learning partner in the form of an advisor.

Evocative questions:

  1. What is the central motivator that shapes your behaviours?
  2. Which of your character traits do you resist acknowledging?

If this article has triggered any important realisations and you like to have a conversation, reach out to Lockstep’s CEO, Rowan Belchers, directly at rowan@lockstep.co.za

Jonathan-Rowan Belchers

Jonathan-Rowan Belchers

“I’m driven by the truth that one remarkable leader can change the fortunes of many. And I’m committed to championing those leaders across all continents.”

With an enduring passion for high performance and exceptional leadership, Jonathan-Rowan has advanced the footprint of Lockstep since founding it in 2006. A graduate of both Harvard and Berkeley and a certified business coach, he has 20+ years in the leadership advisory sector and lectures at a number of foremost business schools. He is an artist at heart – an avid reader, musician and painter.

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