By Rodger Price
There are many effective ways to lead, and leaders all have a unique design when it comes to ability and potential. Some great leaders do it through their high energy and engaging personalities. Others do it through careful planning and significant investment in the people who choose to follow them. Still others do it through sheer determination and dogged persistence.
The key to enhancing your own leadership effectiveness is to understand your style and build upon your leadership strengths. Your character makes you who you are, and consists of traits that are very difficult to transfer from one person to another. This is why if you aren’t living an authentic version of yourself—if you are pretending to be someone else—success will not be easy or sustainable.
Understanding Your Character
Leading effectively involves understanding the six areas of your inner character, almost like cards in a poker hand. When you recognize and combine them in a way that will optimize your ability to influence others, then you hold the winning hand.
As a bonus, when you find work that aligns well with the things you believe about the world (beliefs), asks you to focus on what you believe is important (values), and uses the abilities that you are especially good at (gifts), then you will be leading from your sweet spot. You will be leading by your design.
Here are the six basic aspects of every person’s character:
1. Beliefs: What you know is true about the world but can’t prove to others.
Your beliefs are one of the most important aspects of your character. One of the ways to explore this area is to pay attention to what you do. For example, if you tend to take risks in most areas of your life, this suggests that you believe risk is usually a good thing. It would be wise, therefore, to be a leader in an area that rewards risk taking, rather than work in an area where risk is fought.
In another example, if you tend to trust people without knowing very much information about them, this suggests that you believe most people are trustworthy. In this case, you should work in a field where trust is rewarded, rather than a field where suspicion of others’ motives is rewarded, such as an insurance adjuster.
2. Values: What is most important to you.
An easy way to identify what is most important to you is to prioritize a list of common values that most people have. Examples would be timeliness, cleanliness, creativity, and manners. Most of us would agree that all four of these values are good to have, but how do these four rank to you personally? When I work with clients, I have a list of over 120 characteristics that most people value, and then I ask people to identify their top five. This information tells me a great deal about a person.
It’s also important to identify the difference between preferred values (what you say you most value) and actual values (what your behaviors reveal to those around you). For example, you might say you value “family” in your top five, but your calendar and the time you spend with your family would suggest otherwise.
Understanding your actual values and aligning your job with them can make your work seem like you are swimming in a river with the current. When you work in areas that don’t align with your top values, it will feel like you are swimming upstream.
3. Passion: What has captured your heart.
Passion fuels your efforts. To understand where you have passion when it comes to your career, ask people who know you well where they notice your passion coming out at work. Reflect on moments when you lose track of time because you are so engrossed in an activity; consider the tasks that you naturally gravitate toward, as opposed to those jobs you have a tendency to put off.
When you are working in areas aligned with your passions, you will feel motivated and energetic. For example, if you have a passion to help people grow, you will have the ability to do things such as developing a great team.
4. Gifts and Voids: Where you have a natural advantage over others, and where you have a natural disadvantage.
The best way to discover your unique gifts and voids is to answer the following questions: What skills have you learned quicker than other people? What skills do most people consider easy to master, but aren’t so easy for you? It might be striking up a conversation, or the ability to listen deeply and well. Maybe it is the ability to understand numbers, or even the ability to see humor in almost any situation.
People who know you can often see your gifts and voids better than you. Ask your trusted colleagues and friends where they notice your special advantages. And while you’re at it, summon some courage and ask them where you seem to have natural disadvantages.
When you align your work with your gifts and away from your voids, you will have an advantage over those who are not aligned well with their natural gifts.
5. Wiring: The way you naturally want to engage with others and the world.
Wiring is an area of human science that has produced a lot of tools to help people understand their natural styles. Whether you are looking at your behavioral style, your motivators, your emotional intelligence, or how you understand the world, these assessments can help you learn about your design.
The more you know about how you interact with people, the better able you will be to find work that fits with your personal style. This information will also help you to adjust your style when the situation requires it.
6. Brokenness or Dysfunction: Painful situations from your past that cause you to think, feel, and do things that are detrimental.
This area isn’t much fun to explore. All people have ways that they see the world and idiosyncrasies in behavior that cause them to be ineffective, or even worse, harmful in the work they do.
These dysfunctional areas are often linked to painful situations that happened early in your life when you didn’t have the maturity to understand what was happening. These situations shaped the way you understand the world and people; it’s very common then to carry these distorted perspectives throughout your life.
The best way to understand your brokenness, and hopefully fix it, is to take an honest look at areas where you’re doing things that you hate, and where are you aren’t doing what you should. Then the next step is to explore why. This usually takes the help of another person (a good friend, a leadership coach or perhaps a psychology professional) to listen and ask helpful questions.
Exploring your character, and leading in ways that are true to your character, can be a challenge. This is probably the reason why more people don’t put in the effort and do the work needed to get there. But the rewards of examining your character and aligning your career with the results definitely makes the effort worthwhile.