Leader has voluntary followers
The first person, whom I consciously saw as a role-model and a leader was my high-school chemistry teacher, Mrs Vain. (A little side note: in English “Mrs. Vain” may sound funny or confusing, but Vain is her last name and it means meadow in Estonian.). She studied psychology in the University of Tartu while being a teacher and she liked sharing her psychology-knowledge with us. What I loved about her was that she interacted with us – students – as if we were equals to her. She listened to us, discussed different topics with us and valued our ideas. This made me, as a teenager, who was usually sceptical about grownups, listen to her and to take her seriously. Because she was studying psychology, I decided, that I want to study it too, to become as cool as her.
Knowledge and skills are not the same thing
Psychology studies were like a street-school for me, in a sense that I needed to learn important survival skills of coping with different personalities who have the power to pass or fail me. I met many inspiring professors and at the same time I found out that not all psychologists are great role-models as persons. I graduated with my head full of interesting scientific concepts, theoretical frameworks and test results, but I felt unsecure – I had no idea, how to use them in the real world and I had not become my role model, Mrs Vain, in the process.
I was quite successful from the outside perspective because I had gotten a prestigious job as personnel development manager in Tallinn Airport already during my studies and later on, I got even cooler position as HR business partner in a successful IT company, but I felt that the true learning had just begun and the necessary skills needed to be developed through trial and error method.
I learned a lot during this period, and I made mistakes as well. In result I became quite successful in supporting individuals and teams. At the same time, I felt that I am acting mostly based on the gut-feeling and I don’t still understand how this complicated machine called “human” actually works. And even more, how people work together and what buttons need to be pushed to achieve the expected results. It sounds manipulative, but I sincerely thought that if I have a vision, I only need to know what buttons need to be pushed in others to get the team moving towards it. My intention was good, but I was naïve.
Self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-leadership as the “magic buttons” of working with people
Looking for the button of getting the teams to achieve goals put me in contact with Stephen Schuitevoerder, process-oriented coach and facilitator. When I witnessed his work with the groups, it looked like magic to me, and I saw him as a wizard. He knows the buttons, I thought to myself! Thanks to Stephen I got into a four-year master’s and diploma program in process-oriented psychology at the Process Work Institute, which drastically influenced my worldview, understanding of life, humans and most importantly – myself. I realized that when wanting to work with other people, the first question is how well I know myself, how deeply I accept myself as I am and how consciously I use myself as an instrument that creates change in the world. Self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-leadership are the first tools that you need in any work, but especially when you influence other people in the process.
When supporting others in their personal development processes, it is extremely important that the supporter has done thorough work with themselves. Then they are a “calibrated instrument” for their clients, in helping them with self-awareness and self-leadership. Otherwise they will bias the client consciously or unconsciously towards their beliefs and values.
It is possible to cope with low self-awareness and low self-leadership skills in a leader’s position for a while, using external power tools like status, position and money, that can give the leader the privilege to make decisions and influence processes. But in the long run it is not possible to rely on external power-tools, because people will feel that they are manipulated with and they either leave or manipulate back. The higher is the self-fulfilment need of the individuals that you lead, the more you need to know and improve yourself as an instrument.
How to learn the magic?
Several leaders have told me that they read a lot, watch leadership and personal development videos or listen to podcasts and this is how they develop as a leader. I agree that it is valuable and depending on the self-reflection abilities of the person, it will help them to work with others better. But it doesn’t help them too much from the perspective of self-awareness, which is the pre-requisite of using yourself as an instrument efficiently in achieving your goals. If you haven’t learned how to operate yourself, and you are not aware about your buttons and hooks, then at best you are just not using your full potential, but at worst others will push your buttons and you will get hooked in processes that you don’t want to be in, feeling that you are not leading your life, but your life is leading you.
Another idea that I have heard is: “I participated in a personal development course or I met with a coach and now I am self-aware.” Yes, definitely those experiences raise self-awareness, but when someone claims that they are self-aware, it always makes me question, what does it mean. A person who chooses the path of growing self-awareness, understands soon, that this path will continue until the end of their life. And to reveal a little secret – the more dedicated you are to it, the more interesting it gets!
It is possible to grow self-awareness on your own. Meditation can help, also reflecting on your experiences and learning from them works well. My personal experience from personal growth journey, as well as from my experience with clients is that having a professional “calibrated” helper, who has done their own work on the same path accelerates and deepens the process. The helper could be a coach or a therapist or someone else, depending on your goals and needs. Besides becoming more self-aware, you will learn to accept your weirdness and “flaws”, and you will find a way to turn them into your strengths, and you will learn practical tools for self-leadership in situations that trigger you.
As a result you will have more clarity about who you are and what to you want to achieve; you are more authentic in relationship to others – you don’t need to wear masks or pretend to be somebody you are not; you are able to use your personal power to achieve your goals, and you don’t need to rely on external power-tools like position or money; you will find it easier to accept others as they are. This makes others trust you and want to follow you!
Learning the magic cannot happen in isolation. Like the saying that it is easy to be enlightened as a solitary monk but try to keep this state when interacting with other! Sometimes it is helpful to withdraw and contemplate on your own, but if you want to work with people, then it is wise to link your personal development process with real life from the beginning, and to use the insights and tools from the development sessions in your everyday life and work as immediately as possible.
If this topic made you think or wonder and you want to know more or test, if I could be your partner as a coach, then please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of us prefer personal trainers and others like group activities. I am starting a professionally focused personal development coaching group called “Sisemine kompass” (Inner Compass) in February/March. Current group is in Estonian and you can find out more about it here: http://sunergos.ee/en/inner-compass/
I am also contemplating starting a group in English in the near future, so stay in touch if you want to find out more.