Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation (Leadership Practice 2)

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

Last week I highlighted the first practice—Modeling what Matters. This week, we turn to the second practice—Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation.

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Serving as a foundation for authentic modeling of what matters (Practice 1), the next servant leadership practice is Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. One of the unique features of this practice is its emphasis on self-evaluation sequentially prior to the leader’s evaluation of others. While it may be easy for leaders to recognize faults and mistakes in others, leaders must first engage in in the hard work of looking in the mirror and engaging in a self-evaluative process of reflection.

The Leader’s First Look

This practice is consistent with the biblical admonition to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Engaging in honest self-evaluation requires leader humility. It requires a capacity for self-awareness. It requires a willingness to reflect on personal faults and shortcomings which shape the organizational environment and the experience that followers have in the organization.

Being (and Growing as) Humans

Shann Ferch argued that “one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to discern one’s own faults, to be broken as the result of such faults, and in response to seek a meaningful change.” Leaders are not exempt from such important human characteristics. The issue is not whether or not leaders have faults and make mistakes in their leadership practice at times. Rather, the issue is whether or not leaders have the capacity to reflect on these mistakes and engage in honest self-reflection and self-evaluation. Leaders who do this are able to learn from their mistakes and then grow as persons and as leaders.

Greater Influence Necessitates Greater Reflection

Emphasizing the importance of honest self-evaluation, research participants noted among other things the danger of leader blind spots and unquestioned assumptions. One participant noted, “Honest self-evaluation is utterly important for leaders,” and that, “the blind spots of leaders tend to be far more destructive than the blind spots of non-leaders [because leaders] … impact more people.” In other words, the scope of one’s influence matters. While honest self-evaluation is vital for all people, it is critical for those with significant influence.

Self-Evaluation and Role of Trusted Friends

Research participants further noted the dangers of unconscious self-exaltation and the drift toward arrogance and individualism. They argued that honest self-evaluation is best accomplished when trusted friends are invited to provide the leader with feedback on their growth edges. In addition to effecting the leader’s personal growth, the absence of honest self-evaluation on the part of leaders decreases the capacity of teams to change and attain goals in an effective manner.

Looking in the Mirror 

It’s one thing to read about self-reflection and self-evaluation as a leader. It is another thing altogether to actually do the work of honest self-evaluation.

Have you taken time recently to pause for self-reflection as a leader? How are you evaluating your engagement with those on your team? Are you doing this evaluation on your own, or have you invited a trusted friend to provide honest feedback so that you may better see your leader blind spots?

Though pausing for self-reflection and self-evaluation may feel like you are simply not getting your work done, the research study that backs these reflections prioritizes leader self-evaluation as a first-order priority for leaders. Pausing for reflection and evaluation allows you the opportunity to make mid-course corrections in your leadership, contribute to higher levels of follower job-satisfaction, and contribute to the increased effectiveness of your team.

Take time for an honest look in the mirror today.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

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How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!

Cease Striving — Calling Leaders to Rest

Rest Here, Esther Simpson, Flickr

Photo Credit: Rest Here, by Esther Simpson, Flickr

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” – Ps. 46:10

Getting Things Done

As leaders, we tend to be achievers. We tend toward making things happen… toward work… toward activity… toward doing… toward performance… toward striving.

Of course, these characteristics have some very positive dimensions to them. Things tend to get done. Teams tend to perform. Organizations tend to run well. But can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to this leadership tendency?

Too Much of a Good Thing…Cease Striving

For Christian leaders, it is important to remember that leadership does not just happen by human effort and work. The reality of God’s existence changes the leadership equation for our lives as leaders and for our organizations. Christians believe in a God who does not simply sit back and watch His people work. Rather, Christians believe in a God who not only watches, but He is also engaged in the work itself.

The verse quoted above calls us to be still, to cease striving, and to know that God is God (Ps. 46:10). We are called to trust that God is at work even when we are not. We are called to trust that God is in control even when we feel we are not. We are call to take the attention off of ourselves and our striving, and transfer that attention to God who is actively engaged in our lives, organizations, and world.

He Gives to His Beloved Even as They Sleep

Beyond Psalm 46, there are many other passages in the Bible that remind us as leaders that striving is not always the answer. Sometimes the answer is resting rather than striving, because God is at work even when we are not.

One of my favorite passages on this point is Psalm 127:2…

It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep
.”

What a powerful reality. God gives to us, even when we sleep. God works while we rest.

Some versions translate the end of this verse as “he grants sleep to those he loves.” The reality is both concepts are true and powerful. He gives us sleep. He gives to us and our communities while we sleep.

Resting in the One Who Works

As leaders who work hard during the day, we should take time to “cease striving” and to rest. We should cease our work and go to sleep in peace knowing that:

  1. God grants sleep to his beloved, and
  2. Even in our sleep, God is still working on behalf of those who are resting in Him.

Good Theology = Good Rest

What powerful theology for those in need of rest. As leaders, we need to be able to shut down and rest. We need to be shut down and spend time with friends and family. We need to be able to shut down and sleep.

Leaders who believe the entire story of leadership success is written by their own effort will struggle to find the rest and restoration they and their people need. As we trust that God is at work, even when we are not, then the rest we need as leaders will be found by relying on the one who graciously works on our behalf.

Are you finding your rest in the Lord? Are you waiting on the one who is able to work for you? Are you finding refreshment by resting in the one who gives to His people even while they sleep?