Self-Discovery: A Key to Effective Leadership

Jen Swearingen is one of many individuals who joined the Multicultural Leadership Program to work on leadership skills, only to discover that the course was also a path to self-discovery.

As soon as they are selected for the class, participants begin a series of assessments to discover their strengths, personality type, and more.  Meanwhile, they are asked to submit a ‘nontraditional bio’ , avoiding a clichéd list of degrees and titles, and focusing more on who they are at the core.  It’s harder than you might think.

Once the learning events begin, participants start learning about the meaning of their own assessment results, as well as how to best work with others who are different from them.  Interactive class sessions focus on specific leadership topics, then facilitators support participants to reflect, “Who am I?  What are my strengths and passions?  What am I going to do about it?”  Through this combination of experiential learning and reflection, participants discover much about themselves.

But what does self-discovery have to do with leadership?

The importance of self-reflection in leadership was the highlight of a March 2012 article in the Washington Post penned by Army Colonel Eric Kail. He writes, “The concept of ‘reflection’ may sound self-involved, but it’s actually just the opposite.  By not reflecting, we engage in a narcissistic rationalization that makes us feel better about the events in our lives, yet keeps us from learning from them. There is a natural tendency to attribute all our success to ourselves, and all our failures to forces beyond our control.”

Aarti Santosh’s August 2012 article in The Hindu shares not only the importance of self-discovery in leadership, he gives specific examples of questions to ask oneself, for example, “Where did I fail as a leader in the past?  What could I do that would have made it better?” and “Where did I succeed?  What qualities or values did I show of which I am proud?” Through hard work, and continuous practice, this reflection enhances leadership skills.

And, finally, if you find your leadership role leaves you depleted and unmotivated, take heed of the September 2018 Harvard Business Review article.  It describes a study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology which showed leaders felt more engaged and less depleted on days when they took time to reflect on three positive characteristics which they felt made them good leaders. Not only did this provide them with more emotional energy to support their staff, the positive effects carried over to their after-work interactions as well.

Self-reflection, and the resulting self-discovery, can not only strengthen your leadership skills, it can help you stay motivated and energized as a leader.

Leave a Reply