Our society is faced with many conundrums, some as simple as which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or some a bit more complex in thought, such as are leaders born or made? The debate has ranged for decades and will continue to do so. For now, let’s focus on what I call ‘it’, the essence of leadership and a select few traits that embody ‘it’ which is the basis for both types of leaders, born and made.  The basis of leadership, which includes every style, is the premise that in order to lead others, you must first be able to lead yourself. I would also add to that concept of leading self, in order to lead self, you must know self. This statement is engulfed with self-deceit and self-deception. People are very good at self-delusion, self-grandeur, and even self-importance. As Dr. Rhey Solomon, Johns Hopkins, summarized, ‘to know oneself and to know one’s strengths and weaknesses is essential for a leader to be most effective.” And you must be effective to truly be a leader.

To start to know one’s self, we must start with transparency and honesty with ourselves. Again, this concept sounds innocuous and overly simplistic, however many do not have the self-awareness and self-confidence, let alone the courage, to truly be honest with themselves when they look in the mirror.  We cannot force others to be honest with themselves. That is a deeply personal choice. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that we as leaders truly do understand and know ourselves, we know our weaknesses, our strengths, our hot-buttons, as well as those little things that make us doubt ourselves or stir anger deep within ourselves. If we know those things, we are well on our way to truly knowing and understanding who exactly we are as leaders. At this point in time we must be able to start to lead ourselves. How exactly do we lead ourselves?

Leading ourselves begins with four C’s: consistency, commitment, and clarity while at the same time being courageous, constantly remembering who we are and where we struggle. In other words do as I say and say as I do or walk the walk and talk the talk. If we can hold ourselves to account, ensuring the fact that we are who we say we are and do as we say we are going to do, then in fact we are leading ourselves and in turn being an example to others around us. That example will exemplify ‘it’ and ultimately lead to the fifth C – our example will be contagious – everyone will want what we have!

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Then why do so many miss ‘it’? Many understand what ‘it’ is, many read books on ‘it’; however, ‘it’ is still incredibly elusive. If it is so easy, then why do people continue to miss the boat? Understanding what it takes to lead is the easiest part. The hardest part is actually doing ‘it’; the self-discipline and literal execution of leadership is the elusive part. In a society saturated with reality TV, 24-hour news cycles, and ever-evolving technology, all takes away from our ability to actually execute and see the transformation through. Our attention span has been reduced to five seconds. Think about it – research has shown if a website doesn’t engage you within five seconds, they have lost you. We as a society have lost our ability or desire to constantly reflect and meditate on immediate and past experiences, dissect them and learn from them, continually analyzing ways to further hone our abilities, in any aspect, has almost become alien to many.

So, what is the answer? When I was young my parents taught me that practice makes perfect. This old adage is still valid and still true. Society today tempts us with great entertainment and hyper-access leading many to the illusion that there is an easy way or a quick fix. However, there is nothing that will ever replace the hard work of reflection, contemplation, and meditation. While none of us will ever be the perfect leader – we are short changing ourselves by not taking the precious time we have and devoting some of it to developing our abilities and our leadership. Many of us are quick to say we want to be great leaders; we want our people to be motivated and ready to take the hill with us. We will be by ourselves on that very hill if we do not do the hard work and reflect the real reality of who we are and how we are doing.

~  Beth Lucy-Speidel