The maxim “Know Thyself” is inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. I stood there several years ago together with some &samhoud colleagues while attending a philosophy course in Greece. This inscription in Delphi prompted a number of in-depth lectures by leading philosophers (and delightful conversations around the swimming pool) devoted to authenticity, one of the three core values of our organisation.
Authenticity is currently also a hot topic when it comes to leadership. Over the past few years – as a result of the financial crisis too – I noticed that organisations were focusing extensively on short-term results, task-oriented management, cost-cutting and achieving shareholder value. At the same time, the crisis also gave rise to a countermovement, a call for different behaviour, other business models and new ways of managing more geared to authenticity, meaning and inspiration. I was interested in the extent to which this innovative movement, which focuses on long-term value creation for multiple stakeholders, was gaining a foothold within Dutch organisations and discovering in particular whether it would yield something performance-wise. I therefore initiated a long-term study last year that examined (new forms of) leadership, effectiveness and performance.
Once I had distributed my first survey among 50 or so leaders and their immediate team members by means of a 360-degree-feedback system, I briefly thought again about that simple yet profound phrase “Know Thyself”. It refers to the core of authenticity, even though many models, self-tests and (semi-) scientific questionnaires related to this theme have been developed over the past few years. Before conducting any other analyses, I decided that I wanted to find out whether the leaders in my study actually knew themselves. And whether this would influence the effectiveness and performance scores they had obtained.
For each leader, I very simply calculated the difference between his/her responses to the 360-degree-feedback measurement and the responses of his/her team members. These questions were about the leadership style exhibited by the leader. I then looked at the effectiveness and performance measurements that the leader had scored in my survey. These related, for example, to what degree team members are prepared to go an extra mile in their work, average team performance and team members’ appreciation of the leader.
What was immediately apparent? Leaders with the smallest difference between their responses and those of their team members in the 360-degree-feedback measurement had the highest scores in effectiveness and performance measurements! Good leaders therefore do indeed know themselves and also benefit from this in the organisation.
We key in on this in the leadership projects that &samhoud supervises among customers. We support leaders using a three-step approach that fosters greater self-awareness and better performance.
1. Be open to feedback, if you do not receive regular feedback from your team members (or peers, customers, your boss or indeed your own family members), ask them. Use a 360-degree-feedback tool as an ‘ice-breaker’ or personally engage in a discussion with the people around you.
2. Reflect on the results, examine the common thread, speak to your feedback providers if issues are unclear. Please note: take your time to do this! Leaders are generally asked to take decisions quickly instead of reflecting. This may feel unnatural at times. Try also not to over-rationalise during this phase, but to really understand the feedback and absorb it.
3. Determine your personal breakthrough based on the feedback you received. What is your greatest point for improvement? Make this concrete, involve your surroundings, communicate about it and discuss the progress you have made (and return to step 1…).
You will see that taking these steps will set in motion the process of self-reflection and connection with yourself as well as others. You do not have to travel all the way to Delphi in that case, although I can wholeheartedly recommend the experience.