Thought Leadership

The Power of Knowing Yourself as a Leader

By Robert Hughes

Every journey starts with a map. For leaders, it's a mental map — one that helps them understand where they've been, where they are, and where they want to be. However, on its own, a mental map is not enough. The true power in developing a plan is to write it down, creating a living document you can use to focus on your past, present and 'desired future. This anchors leaders to their core values and shapes their future goals.

The plan begins with the leadership statement — three to five sentences describing how you truly see yourself as a leader. For example: “As a leader, I am collaborative, empowering, open and decisive. I believe in the power of teams and leveraging everyone's expertise and talents. I'm completely comfortable not being the expert in the room. I have strong values and will always do what's right.”

Writing it Down

Before the writing process begins, leaders must self-reflect to examine the values behind their values. For instance, ask yourself why you hold certain values above all others; think about how your experiences have led you to where you are. Also, what pivotal moments or experiences in your life affected you? Who has influenced you the most?

Consider the following factors as you do your reflection:

  • Past: How did I get here? Review your past to gain an awareness and understanding of how other people, events, experiences and circumstances influenced and shaped how you think and act.
  • Present: Where am I today? This is about gaining an understanding of your present self. Take stock of what's working and what isn't and develop a willingness to change. Having a growth mindset with an openness to receiving feedback is critical to comparing one's self-perception with the perception and perspectives of others.
  • Future: Where do I want to be? With knowledge of your past and a deep understanding of your current state, you will be well positioned to focus on your future self. You'll be able to identify and focus on growth areas that will enable you to look to the future and work toward becoming your best self.
Turning reflection to action

Once you complete your reflection, it's time to act. Begin by writing down the results of your reflection. It can be as simple as bullet points or as elaborate as an essay, but it should feel effortless if you've done the work. Moving forward, this document will guide you toward becoming the leader you aspire to be.The narrative can and should be reviewed, updated and revised regularly. Whenever you feel lost on your journey, turn back to it to stay focused on your growth. Creating and maintaining your narrative isn't easy, but when it's done correctly it will serve as a valuable tool to guide you in your career.
Robert "Bob" Hughes is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Executive Education and Senior Program Director of Kellogg Executive Education. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel and served most recently as the Chief of Force Management and Integration at the Department of the Army, Washington D.C. Col. Hughes served as the first Senior Army Fellow posted at Kellogg, where he spent a year forming the strategic partnership between Kellogg and the U.S. Army.

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