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A good leader knows oneself

May 12, 2015 – by Tjeertje Vlaskamp &samhoud consultancy

The phrase “Know Thyself” is written on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. I was there together with some &samhoud colleagues a few years ago during a philosophy course in Greece. This inscription inspired several in-depth lectures by leading philosophers (and wonderful conversations at the edge of a swimming pool) that focused on authenticity, one of the three core values of our organisation.

Authenticity is also very topical at the moment in relation to leadership. Due in part to the financial crisis, I noticed over the past few years that organisations have focused significantly on short-term results, task-oriented management, cost-cutting and the creation of shareholder value. The crisis has also spawned a countermovement, a desire for a different type of behaviour, other business models and new ways of managing, geared more to authenticity, meaning and inspiration. I was curious about the extent to which this innovative movement, focused on long-term value creation for multiple stakeholders, was making headway within Dutch organisations and particularly as to whether it would yield something in terms of performance. I therefore launched a long-term survey on (new forms of) leadership, effectiveness and performance.

After sharing my first survey among 50 or so leaders and their immediate team members with the help of a 360-degree-feedback system, I reflected again on that simple yet profound phrase “Know Thyself”. It refers to the core of authenticity, regardless of the multitude of models, self-tests and (quasi-) scientific questionnaires related to this theme that have been developed over the past few years. Before conducting any other analysis, I wanted to discover if the leaders in my survey actually knew themselves, and whether this would influence the effectiveness and performance scores they had achieved.

I simply calculated the difference between each leader’s responses to the 360-degree-feedback measurement and their team members’ responses. These questions related to the leadership style displayed by the leader. I then examined the effectiveness and performance measurements that the leader scored in my survey. This concerned, for example, the extent to which team members are willing to go the extra mile in their work, average team performance and team members’ appreciation of their leader.

What was immediately apparent? Leaders whose responses differed least from those of their team members in the 360-degree-feedback measurement achieved the highest scores in effectiveness and performance measurements! So a good leader does indeed know himself/herself and is also beneficial to the organisation.

The leadership processes that &samhoud conducts among customers take this into account. We guide leaders with a three-step approach that encourages greater self-awareness and better performance.

1. Be open to feedback, if you do not receive regular (honest) feedback from your team members (or peers, customers, your boss or own family members), ask them to do so. Use a 360-degree-feedback tool to ‘break the ice’ or personally engage in a discussion with people in your surroundings.

2. Reflect on results, examine the leitmotiv, talk to your feedback providers if something is unclear. Ensure you take your time to do this! Leaders are usually asked to take decisions swiftly instead of reflecting, which may not feel natural from time to time. Also endeavour to avoid over-rationalising during this phase. Instead, try to really understand feedback and let it sink in.

3. Determine your personal breakthrough using feedback you received. What is your greatest area for improvement? Make this concrete, involve your surroundings, talk about it and discuss your progress (and return to step 1…).

You will notice that taking these steps will initiate the process of self-reflection and connection within yourself and others. In that case, you need not go all the way to Delphi, although it is an experience I can heartily recommend.


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2 Responses to A good leader knows oneself

  1. Hallo Tjeertje, ik hoop dat ik in NL mag reageren. Interessant stukje, maar ik ben ook geïnteresseerd in de nieuwe kijk op Authenticiteit. Lees daarom het artikel van Herminia Ibarra in Harvard Business Review. Per mail stuur ik je een artikel hierover geschreven door Ben Tiggelaar. Daarmee is natuurlijk niet gezegd dat authentiek gedrag niet meer van waarde is, maar de tijd waarin we leven, de snelheid waarin dingen veranderen en de generaties waar we mee werken vragen juist om een snel aanpassingsvermogen en mogelijk geen gedwongen vasthouden aan authenticiteit. Ben zeker geen expert op dat vlak maar een andere kijk is altijd interessant lijkt mij.

    Zie ook:

  2. Tjeertje Vlaskamp Tjeertje Vlaskamp says:

    Beste Hwie-Bing,

    Dank voor je reactie en het doorsturen van de artikelen. Mijn artikel was juist een reactie op het HBR artikel van Herminia Ibarra waarin ik vond dat zij het begrip authenticiteit te star definieerde. Ik denk juist dat door jezelf goed te kennen en effectief met je omgeving om te gaan je authentiek EN flexibel kan zijn zonder te ‘faken’. Dit betekent niet dat je niet uit je comfort zone moet komen, integendeel.

    Artikel over Aziatisch en vrouwelijk leiderschap is ook erg interessant. Ik ben het eens met Ben Tiggelaar dat er meer varietiet in managementdenken mag komen en dat de meeste grote stromingen nu komen van Westerse oude mannen. Gelukkig zijn er steeds meer voorbeelden van inspirerende leiders uit andere delen van de wereld en neemt met toenemende globalisering ook de diversiteit in het managementdenken toe.

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