Risking Your Identity to Grow

My colleague Tim Edris and I have the privilege of coaching a senior leadership team through a year-long program called Leader to Leader™ to increase their individual and collective leadership effectiveness. We know empirically that even small increases in overall leadership effectiveness can have a significant positive impact on the business.

These Leaders are Willing to Put Their Identity on the Line if it Means They’ll Grow

Many leaders say they want to be more effective. This group means it. Not only are they investing a significant amount of money and time, they are putting their very identity on the line for the sake of leadership growth.

As developmental thought leader Robert Kegan puts it, “We spend a lot of our time (at work) doing a second full-time job that no one is paying us to do: keeping our identity and self-esteem intact”. As leaders, once we become aware of this, we can challenge ourselves to drop the job of protecting our identity so we can focus our full energy on growing our people and the business.

So what does this getting real actually look like in a Leader to Leader™ (L2L) program? Repeatedly pushing one’s self outside their comfort zone with a heavy dose of candid feedback from peers.

At our most recent session, one 20-year veteran of the business and a valued technical contributor, set the tone for the peer coaching session by admitting to the entire senior team that he lacked clarity in his role on the org chart with the accelerated growth of the company. He also told the group that he had a tendency toward being passive about his own career path. By sharing this, he challenged himself to take charge of his own leadership path. His admission cut through all the clutter and was grounded in a bedrock of honesty. His peers gained insight into his struggle and realized they also needed to be 100 percent responsible in helping him gain clarity and a defined role.

Another leader, newer to the team, had the group laughing when he shared that he had put a ton of energy into not being perceived as an egotistical ass when he had first joined the company and that sadly, the very thing he had tried to avoid happened anyway! His 360° feedback, while very strong in some areas, showed him that his drive, ambition and need to be right were impeding his effectiveness as a leader. Most leaders don’t like to reveal their foibles. This leader risked his safety in order to be authentic with his colleagues. He owned his failure to lead as effectively as he could and he opened himself to support from his colleagues going forward.

As you can see from these examples, leaders who want to grow:
a) reveal themselves honestly,
b) challenge themselves to take personal risks to create outcomes that matter, and
c) open themselves up to A LOT of feedback.

You can also see that we’re really proud of this group. This work is difficult after all (and life-long). One leader’s final comment went along the lines of “this is the most vulnerable I have felt in a very long time”. A living example of Pain + Reflection = Progress. More to come!

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