In the following chapters of this article, I explore my journey as a leader. A “journey” influenced through personal experiences, opportunities and people. After all, leadership is far more than a critical role in an organisation or team. Instead, it is a construct we face in every aspect of our lives; and yes, a good leader is also a good follower. Because, how can one set expectations through leadership, if that individual doesn’t concede what captivates followers to follow a leader. Even more so, how can one do any of that, if that individual isn’t fully aware of how he/she leads and follows him/her self? An increasing nuber of studies have emphasised the importance of self leadsrship and the critical influence it can have on the development of the individual, as well as the development of others. Having experienced the impact of self leaderhsip myself, i assert that self leadership is one of the key components that comprise a “goog leader,” which is why I begin my reflection on Self leadership.
“Leadership is the practice of intentionally influencing your thinking, feeling and behaviours to achieve your objectives.” – Bryant and Kazan (p.16, 2013)
Being able to influence your thinking, feelings and behaviour, especially over a sustained period, clearly requires intrinsic objectives aligned with your values. Displaying short term discipline is one thing, and many people possess the ability to achieve it. However, sustaining continuous self-discipline, to reach objectives with long term demands, can only be made if there is a genuine connection with your goals. After all, self-leadership is a natural reward strategy that promotes a “commitment to, belief in, and enjoyment of the work for its own value.” (Prussia, et al., 1998) Thus, for a leader to set self-leadership expectations and adequately fulfil them over a sustained period, he/she must genuinely understand everything about her self.
That is why Authentic Leadership has played a massive role in my performance as a leader and undoubtedly will continue to influence my future development. Bill George (2016), a renowned advocate of authenticity, describes authentic leaders, as individuals who clearly understand who they are, and thus the impact they have on other people.
In my perception, “understanding who you are” refers to clarifying your core values and ensuring they are applicable and compatible in every part of your life. Doing so is essential, as engaging in activities intrinsically aligned with your values will allow you to set realistic self-leadership expectations that are sustainable in the long term. (Khan, 2010)
A primary tool that helped me become, and remain, true to myself is a Desires VS Fears analysis. The value in this tool lies in its ability to guide leaders in setting goals and expectations that are appropriate and truthful to them. Therefore, by aligning desires to values and by embracing fears as an opportunity to develop skills, a “desire vs fear” analysis gives you an accurate indication of what you should engage in. At the same time, experience has shown me that authenticity is by no means restricted to a tool that helps a leader lead, but rather a tool that also dictates your quality of followership. After all, if there is no genuine connection between you and the activities you engage in, then, it is defined, based on motivational constructs, that good followership will only be short-lived.
Examples of authenticity and leadership
During the first 24 hour challenge, our team comprised of members with no previous mutual collaboration. In short, this meant that it was highly unlikely that all members would fall into a role where they could demonstrate and play to their strengths. The value here is highlighted in the second 24-hour challenge. This time, based on previous experience, our mutual understanding of each other’s strengths and capabilities allowed us to delegate tasks and responsibilities suited to each individual, which in turn maintained high motivation and work ethic from the start.
This example, clearly highlights that a good leader, or follower, needs to form a minimum standard of relationship with his team in order to identify the intrinsic aspirations of each member.
I can relate to this, with my current engagement in Solvi Solutions. My business partner and I, have formed a strong personal and professional relationship over the two years in TE, leading to high levels of authenticity. As a result, our mutual knowledge regarding our intrinsic motivations, values and interests allows us to delegate and lead each other, in any situation, with confidence in delegations, but most importantly trust. Ultimately, leading to sustained motivation, and thus sustained quality of leadership and followership.
Examples of authenticity and followership
I have experienced this with my project choices as I transitioned from first to the second year. In the first year, I participated in the 90’s disco event, a team project that wasn’t in line with my intrinsic values or passions. Although not being a leader here, I experienced what it’s like to be a follower. As a result, my contribution was minimal and only extended to the minimum standards required of me, ultimately resulting in poor followership. Thus, making it increasingly clear that to be a good leader, one must first understand his/her followers, to strategically delegate tasks and roles that are intrinsically aligned.
To the contrary, coming into the second year, having a stronger understanding of “who I am,” allowed me to make better decisions in terms of what projects I engaged in. For instance, during the time of team selections in the client project, I openly pursued and professionally argued that I should be placed with Technimeasure. A company wanting to improve their digital marketing. Considering that digital marketing is one of my core interests, and with the lessons learnt from the disco event, I was confident that by securing this client team, I would set myself up for good leadership and followership. In the end, this was the case, as my feedback demonstrates that my project deliverables were of high quality throughout as opposed to the “minimum standard” of work in the disco event.
I noticed that this has significantly developed my ability to manage and sustain personal effectiveness and resilience.
Similarly, it was only at the start of the second year that I began to embrace my fears, such as pursuing public speaking opportunities. Presenting in a broad audience during the 24-hour business challenge improved my public speaking skills drastically while gave me an unprecedented boost of confidence. As a result, this confidence had set the foundations for my leadership role in the second 24-hour challenge whereby no means would have happened, had I not confronted my fears.
Thus, revealing that my ability to lead and develop as a leader, in the long term, requires aligning my desires to my career/projects. While, at the same time, embracing my fears to grow as an individual. After all, it’s evident that “leadership comes with the mastery of the self, and so developing leadership is a process of developing the self.” (Kouzes & Posner, 2008)
In reflection, my experience has proven that the impact authenticity has on my personal effectiveness, but also the effectiveness of others. It’s only during times of complete openness and authenticity that I experienced high personal performance and engagement.
“Learning the secrets and skill of great No.2s remains the surest path to becoming No. 1.” – David Heenan and Warren Bennis
It has become increasingly popular that followership is a crucial component of effective leadership. Although due to its nature, the popularity of leadership prevails, we can’t neglect that followership is a fundamental component to successful leadership. After all, there is a simplified agreement that followers nurture leaders and help them remain on track with their expectations and goals. (Asghar, 2016)
The first time I experienced the importance of followership was during the army. Indeed, the military is an environment where you will undoubtedly discover the essence of collaborations, trust and most importantly, followership. But, comparing this experience with a business context on TE, I have come to realise that the quality of followership is mostly dependant on the leadership style employed. For instance, in the military, I was subdued to authoritarian leadership styles, which in turn resulted in low motivation and aspiration for involvement. (Lee, 2009) In other words, I was a poor follower in the context of sharing knowledge, discussing ideas and demonstrating a high work ethic. It is thus crystal clear that I restricted my leader from my full contribution, my unspoken expertise, ideas and, overall, my help.
Looking at my experiences on TE and particularly my followership role within Champ UK, I can see that it’s an entirely different reality. With Champ, I have the opportunity to explore followership under a coach-style leadership. (Harper, 2012) That being a leadership style where the leader works closely with the follower to uncover and identify how his/her expertise is best suited in the organisational context. Indeed, by having close discussions with Orson, we were able to establish a clear sense of each other’s values leading to clear expectations. (Winston, 2002) In other words, I have full autonomy to work on and deliver my expectations. This level of independence has maintained my motivation throughout and, at the same time, ensured Orson that I will work to my fullest extent. Furthermore, I have noticed that the leader-follower relationship I have experienced in Champ allows both parties to meet their expectations effectively. After all, by giving autonomy, Orson can focus on meeting competing demands, and I will be working on meaningful work.
Therefore, it’s clear that followership is fundamental in helping both the leader and the follower, in meeting their expectations. This vital learning is something that will determine my future success as a leader or a follower and will decide the pace of my development.
“Knowing how the environment is pulling your strings and playing you is critical to making responsive rather than reactive moves.” – Ronald Heifetz
My journey through TE has shown me that business environments, and thus leadership contexts, are dynamic. Even more so, when it comes to entrepreneurial settings where unpredictability and unforeseen circumstances are the only certainties. (Duff, 2016) Therefore, reflecting on experiences, I identify that my prominent leadership style and approach was one of the “adaptive” leader. An “adaptive” leader must be able to identify successfully, according to each acquaintance, what character traits and values he must highlight to form a meaningful connection. (Harding et al., 2011)
For instance, during my PAL leadership role, I experienced few, but still, challenging experiences where I had to connect and work with different groups of individuals. And to do so, I had to adapt my personality and engagement to match the ones of the individuals. An example is during the level 2’s Forest and Back. The usefulness of adaptability was highlighted to me when comparing my interaction with two teams side by side. A first few introductory minutes and observation of each team was sufficient in understanding what approach I should take with them whether that is a theoretical, practical, jokingly, serious, supportive, coaching approach. As a result, this allowed me to connect and form stronger relationships witch each member; something that would not be achievable had I not adapted to the cognitive traits of each individual. Therefore I can assume that the “adaptive” leader approach makes me a better leader, as stronger relationships translate into more explicit cognitive understandings of my followers. This, in turn, inspires the reciprocation of authenticity, and as highlighted previously, the more authentic a leader or follower is, the more sustainable will be his/her commitment to expectations.
So yes, the adaptive leader approach has helped me become a better leader by forming authentic relationships but, what happens once you build those bonds. Experience has shown me that these relationships vary in their level of authenticity, and thus the leadership approach must suit the level of variation. Kouzes & Posner (2008) conceptualise these variating approaches through 4 constructs, with 1 being situations where low authenticity is present and 4 being the highest.
Specific Guidance & Supervision - Authoritarian Leadership Style
Explaining & Persuading - Leaders that give orders but are open to suggestions
Sharing & Facilitating - Letting employees make decisions
Giving full autonomy for others to make decisions etc.
For instance, let’s look at a comparison of leadership within a team of newly formed relationships (low authenticity) and a team of mature relationships. (High authenticity) During the client project in year 2, I led a subgroup of 3 individuals — a team with no prior experience or relationships. In reflection, I notice that my prominent leadership style reflected a “telling” and ” Selling” approach. “Telling” was particularly visible during times of pressure. As a result, especially during times of a “Telling” approach, my team felt demotivated and in many ways scared to speak up or share any input. To the contrary, in team contexts of high authenticity, it is evident that my approach falls directly in line with Kouzes & Posner’s (2008) study. For instance, the strong personal relationship I have formed with Joe within Solvi Solutions has led to a high level of trust and understanding of each other’s cognitive values. It is thus easily identifiable that our approach is one of “delegating.” That is giving full autonomy to each other to make decisions that have high responsibilities.
With this in mind, in my experience, it’s clear that the quality of a leader’s leadership is highly reliant on the level of cognitive connection between his followers. It is thus clear to me that my future development as a leader and quality of leadership highly depends on the mutual quality of relationships within my team.
"Authenticity" & "Thought Leadership"
1) Leading client project sub-group
2) Academic leadership role
So far, we have reviewed and identified the link between self-leadership, followership and leading others, giving a clear indication that high self-awareness and healthy relationships are fundamental in practical and sustained leadership. Yet, this does not guarantee its long term sustainability. Consequently, this leads me to questions such as: What helps facilitate effective leadership and followership in a sustained fashion? What are the underlying factors, critical to effective leadership?
Through George Bill (2006) and Kouzes & Posner (2008), we have established that authenticity is a quality of high reciprocation. It is thus independently clear that it is only appropriate for teams in any context to embrace a culture that inspires, promotes and facilitates the exchange of this quality. After all, authenticity is the essential quality in reflecting the cognitive and intrinsic motivations of each employee. And since intrinsic motivations are what will help each leader and follower: (Zhang, & Bartol, 2010)
…it is only appropriate to say that effective leadership demands a process that will facilitate and sustain long term intrinsic behaviour.
The Process of Psychological Safety
First of all, what is psychological safety? Well, I believe the unpopular definition by Delizonna (2017) stating that “it is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake,” captures the essence of its meaning effectively. That meaning being an environment that inspires honesty and non-judgmental, but honest, feedback to all team members.
Psychological safety is a concept I have experienced first hand on TE, and I can confidently state that it has a positive impact on both my leadership and followership.
At the start of the second year, Team Limitless employed a rule and expectation to maintain a psychologically safe environment by applying honesty. In fact, by using honest feedback as a core team process, authenticity was inspired and promoted throughout all team members resulting in strengthened professional and personal relationships, which in turn has led to higher quality in collaborations. The critical value to highlight here is the “strengthened professional and personal relationships.” Let’s look at a comparison between the client project in the second and third year. As previously mentioned, in the second year, our personal and professional relationships were stronger than ever before, which allowed us to employ a flexible leadership openly welcoming the sharing of ideas. Or as Kouzes & Posner (2008) assert a “participating” structure. Moreover, coming into the third year and having the opportunity to practise psychological safety over a prolonged period meant that our relationships, and thus trust in members, have developed even further.
The result of this increased trust can be seen in the third year’s client project as members received full autonomy through a structure of “delegation.” (Kouzes & Posner, 2008) Therefore, I can affirm that the application and development of effective leadership and followership are highly dependable on the adopted culture.
Well, we have reached the end of my leadership reflection. Throughout this article, it is incredibly clear that my development as a leader has been heavily influenced by the leader within me. Discovering who I am, what I enjoy, and being honest with myself is indeed one of the most challenging tasks I have ever undertaken. However, as elaborated in this article, the journey of self-leadership is a necessity. After all, Israelmore Ayivor says that “the first person you have to conquer is you. This is because when at last you win over a million people, the first person to bring you down could be you. Discipline yourself!” In the context of my development, the critical value in self-leadership lies in authenticity. I need to establish a consistent practice of authenticity with personal reflection and honest feedback to ensure I remain aligned and aware of my intrinsic values, interests, aspirations. (This will help me sustain motivation, performance and dedication to my expectations as a leader; a quality that will hopefully be reciprocated) After all, authenticity is what has allowed me to be a good follower, by clearly understanding and articulating my intrinsic interests in order to work with aligned activities. And finally, experiencing followership, has equipped me with an invaluable perspective that will be crucial in my effectiveness as a leader. So what have I learnt? Well, good leaderships and followerships prevail and thrive in environments where authenticity is a core value and a consistent practise.
Harding, N., Lee, H., Ford, J., & Learmonth, M. (2011) Leadership and charisma: A desire that cannot speak its name? Human Relations 64, 927–950.
Duff, S. (2016) Leadership in times of uncertainty. Available from: https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/feature/leadership-times-uncertainty [Accessed 7 February 2020].
Zhang, X. & Bartol, K. (2010) Linking Empowering Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Influence of Psychological Empowerment, Intrinsic Motivation, and Creative Process Engagement. Academy of Management Journal. 53 (1), pp. 107-128.
Delizonna, L. (2017) High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here's How to Create It. Available from: https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it [Accessed 9 February 2020].
Asghar, R. (2016) Why Followership Is Now More Important Than Leadership. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2016/01/17/why-followership-is-now-more-important-than-leadership/#57c95e405d64 [Accessed 9 February 2020].
Harper, S. (2012) The leader coach: A model of multi-style leadership. Journal of practical consulting, 4(1), pp.22-31. Vancouver
Lee, T. (2009) The armed forces and transitions from authoritarian rule: Explaining the role of the military in 1986 Philippines and 1998 Indonesia. Comparative Political Studies, 42(5), pp.640-669.
Winston, B. E. (2002). Be a leader for God's sake: From values to behaviors. Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University, School of Leadership Studies.
George, B. & LinkedIn (2016) Bill George on Self Awareness, Authenticity, and Leadership. [online]. Available from: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/bill-george-on-self-awareness-authenticity-and-leadership [Accessed 22 November 2018].
Khan, S. (2010) Impact of Authentic Leaders on Organization Performance. International Journal of Business and Management. 5 (12)
Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2008) We Lead from the Inside Out [online].The Journal of Values-Based Leadership. 1 (1), pp. 5.
Clark, D. (2017) What You Need to Stand Out in a Noisy World. Available from: https://hbr.org/2017/01/what-you-need-to-stand-out-in-a-noisy-world [Accessed 9 February 2020].