My own self-awareness emerged at a major consultancy where, with only a modicum of formal training, I was challenged to lead large client teams whose members knew more about their business than I ever could, to compete with colleagues in a relentless "up or out" system and to deliver lasting value for clients. The constant challenges, real-time feedback and ever greater expectations forced me to think about where I was going. I took notes nearly every night on what I was learning and how to do better. In the end, I was transformed by an awareness of my own capabilities and of world-class quality standards.
Once you've made the commitment to lead and gained an awareness of your leadership traits, you're ready to take the third step on the path to leadership: setting your vision. This is a different type of choice. It's not just about which challenge to confront, but a matter of what and who you want to be. What is your ultimate place in the world? Where are you now and how can you get to that place? Laying out your own development path that will take you towards your vision is the final step in becoming a leader.
My own vision emerged only after decades of searching and several years of writing and thinking. The process was messy. I received no crystal-clear visions and heard no voices. Many personal demons obscured my path, and false starts and mistakes tested my resolve. Yet those things also served to focus me on the essence of what I wanted to do with my life.
The beauty is that once you reach this place on the path to leadership, you can never really fail as a leader. Whether you succeed or fail in others' minds, accomplish or fall short in any of your endeavours, the act of working towards your vision makes you a leader. Theodore Roosevelt articulated this point perfectly when he said: "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."
If you can find your own landmarks and communicate your own messages on the path to leadership, you will take your leadership to a whole new level.
Christopher Hoenig is a director of strategic issues for the US General Accounting Office and has been an entrepreneur (CEO of Exolve), consultant (McKinsey & Company) and inventor; and he is the author of The Problem Solving Journey: Your Guide for Making Decisions and Getting Results
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