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!

Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership

Reflection "I", VisualAge Flickr

Photo Credit: Reflection “I”, VisualAge Flickr

There is one prerequisite for managing the second half of life;
You must begin doing so long before you enter it.”

– Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker brought an insightful voice to management studies in the 20th century. One of my favorite articles by Drucker is a Harvard Business Review piece called “Managing Oneself.”

Drucker argues that there is an explicit connection between excellence in management and the cultivation of understanding of oneself. To extend this, we might argue that effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership. Or, put as a question…

How can I lead others well if I am not first leading myself well?

A commitment to such a question leads to critical self-management questions. Drucker raised the following self-management questions in his article:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. How do I learn?
  4. What are my values?
  5. Where do I belong?
  6. What should I contribute?

Of these questions, I would argue that knowing ones strengths and values is a top priority for leaders.

Attending to Our Strengths

Regarding strengths, Drucker notes, “To do things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself,” and “only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” Understanding strengths allows us to build on the positive dimensions already present in our lives rather than working to improve deficits. On this point Drucker notes, “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” In the pursuit of leadership excellence, building on strengths is a first order priority for those engaged in self-leadership.

Attending to Our Values

But strengths are not the only story. Strengths must be grounded in the things that matter most to us and our communities—our values. On this point, Drucker notes, “What one does well—even very well and successfully—may not fit with one’s value system.” Strengths and skills must be guided by values. Values should form the basis for understanding and applying our strengths. Strengths applied without values can quickly lead to ethical and moral violations in leadership. Strengths applied in congruence with deeply held values provide a basis for our natural talents to serve rather than abuse the communities of which we are part.

Effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership! Are you attending to your strengths? Are you attending to your values?

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I’d love to hear how you have engaged effective self-management and self-leadership in your life and work!