Some leaders are born and some are made. Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, perhaps we can all agree that leaders have certain characteristics that, if not by nature, develop by nurture. Personal leadership is all about being aware of the traits and qualities that make an effective leader. These traits and qualities are borne out of the mental, social, and emotional development that occurs over time given the chance, the training and education, and the experience to lead a team.
There are four pillars of personal leadership that are necessary to develop and nurture the leadership qualities that make us ready to lead others: (1) Emotional Intelligence or EQ, (2) Authenticity, (3) Integrity, (4) Excellence
Authenticity in leadership is about being in touch with your genuine self, being empowered by it, and living it. Each of us has a soft side, the capacity for empathy, the tendency for compassion. There is a misconception that being a leader is to be strong, insensitive, ruthless, and uncaring. It is a false notion that to be effective you must be able to make tough decisions not influenced by feelings or compassion for others.
On the contrary, hard decisions need not come from a place of apathy. Implementing unpopular decisions need not be cold and heartless. Difficult decisions need not be made with indifference. There is a powerful middle ground between making tough business decisions and leading with heart. Being true to oneself is making real connections with people and allowing vulnerability to be a place of strength rather than place of weakness.
Daniel Goleman (1995) identified the five domains of emotional intelligence (EQ) :
1. Knowing your emotions
2. Managing your own emotions
3. Motivating yourself
4. Recognizing and understanding other people’s emotions
5. Managing relationships, i.e., managing the emotions of others
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) could be the backbone of authenticity. Having the personal power to know and manage your own and others’ emotions give you the fuel to remain real and authentic. It is understood then that social aptitude begins with the ability to manage oneself, emotionally and otherwise. There are instruments to test your EQ and if you do not score well, it does not mean you are not going to be an effective leader. It only goes to show that you still have room for improvement and development. The first step is awareness, what happens next is up to you.
Integrity is a tricky word. There are as many definitions as there are perspectives by which it is used. One definition, according to the dictionary is “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” Leadership, like everything else, emanates from a place of values, your personal values. How you allow them to play out in managing yourself and others, to a lesser or greater degree, determines your level of integrity. It also determines the level of your likeability by others when you share more of the same values with more people with whom you interact. Relatively speaking, the level of trust that people bestow upon you depends on how much you live and lead by these shared values.
Finally, the fourth pillar of personal leadership is excellence. This is not about superiority over others. This is about being the best that you could be in your field. Skills and competencies develop through time and continue to develop as long as you keep on “sharpening the saw” as Stephen Covey puts it. Continuous learning is not just a corporate mantra; it is a personal commitment to your personal success. It might be taking a course, reading a book, or attending a training class. It might be learning from experience in related field to complement what you already have. Whatever it is, personal excellence is seeing yourself as the “goose that lays the golden eggs” that need to be fed and continuously nurtured to remain healthy and able to take up more challenges as they come along.