Leading from the inside out The 4 things that will make you a world-class leader

by | 31 Aug 2022 | 4D Essential Communication Skills, 4D Leadership Development, 4D Mastering Challenging Conversations

You’ve heard the old saying that people quit bosses not companies. The thing is it’s true. Put simply – successful leaders make successful teams make successful workplaces make successful businesses. And while there are many collaborative, technical and strategic elements that go into creating a successful business, when it comes to being a successful leader, there are 4 things that you – and only you – must do for yourself. Four things that no one else can do for you. You can hire in for problem solving, strategy planning, specific skill sets and talents, but as a leader you cannot hire in for the 4 most important elements of your role.

Once you are clear on these 4 key areas then you can start to focus on these personal leadership skills every day, ensuring you are doing everything you can to become the very best 4D Leader you can be. And goodness knows we need great leaders right now.

Many leaders want to focus on strategy, problem solving, targets and results. Those nice, tangible aspects of business that we can pop into a flow chart or Powerpoint slide. But the true art of great leadership cannot be squeezed into an excel spreadsheet. It is not in your analysis, or in your projections or in your MBA that you will find the qualities of a stand-out leader – it is in YOU. More than that, it is 4 key aspects within you. 4 things that only you can control, 4 things that only you can choose to develop and 4 things that if you focus on will take you to an elite level of world-class 4D Leadership. These 4 pillars of outstanding leadership are:

  1. A high level of self-awareness and positive self-leadership
  2. A healthy ego
  3. Strong, trusted networks and relationships
  4. World-class communication, presentation and storytelling skills

During a challenging period of my life some time back when I was in my twenties, when things around me felt dark and difficult, someone said some simple and very wise words to me that I have never forgotten. “No one can come in there and get you out. You have to do it yourself.” And I understood in that moment that while friends, colleagues and family could cheer me on from the side-lines, there was personal work that only I could do myself. Work around my self-understanding, my responses to life and people, my relationships and the impact I chose to make in the world. That lesson has stayed with me ever since. And so it is that over many years I have sat with many leaders and witnessed their different levels of leadership development and success. The differences so often depending on whether they can find the courage to drop their defences, to take a clear look at themselves, whether they can take the tough 360 feedback that can feel like body blows to the gut, whether they can breathe, recover and get themselves back to centre. Then rather than retreating into old habits and defences, whether they can unfold their arms, sit forward and ask the question ‘so now what?’ I am moved even as I write these words remembering the courage and humanity of those leaders who have chosen to work on these 4 key areas of their development and who have gone on, time and time again, to great careers and inspiring levels of leadership. I also feel moved as I write this, because these moments are some of the most exciting moments of our work at 4D Human Being. Moments when we know that the work can really begin. Moments when the doors have suddenly opened up to incredible growth, life-changing development and inspirational leadership. Today as I remember so many of those leaders I recall them with so much admiration for their courage, their determination and for the hard work that they put in, the work that they understood only they themselves could do to break through to the next level, to become the leader and the person that they – and I – knew they could become and to live the life that they really wanted to live.

So, let’s take a look at these 4 key areas and offer up some insights and tips on how you might take your own 4D Leadership to the next level.

1.Self-awareness and positive self-leadership

“A growing body of empirical research suggests that self-awareness is associated with successful leadership”

We probably wouldn’t argue against improving our self-awareness.  But we may think we are more self-aware than we actually are. In a five-year study, organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found that 95 percent of people believe they’re self-aware. Yet only 10-15 percent actually are. So there is more most of us can do in this area! And it is worth it…

“Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.”
– Dr Eurich

How many of us have sat through meetings with leaders who are totally unaware of the impact they are having? I have even observed team meetings where I have watched as the whole team carefully managed the leader as all of them had more awareness of the situation and the leader’s clumsy impact than the leader did themselves.

Self-awareness is rising on the list of critical capabilities that leaders need. This means having clear knowledge of your external impact and internal workings. When it comes to internal workings it is key that you as a leader are aware of your own relationship with yourself, with your biases, your patterns, your conditioning and beliefs – what renowned British psychologist John Bowlby called our Inner Working Models. In other words, the blueprint laid down for you by your early caregivers that serves as the template for your future relationships and responses. It is also important that, as leaders, we develop positive self-leadership meaning we create a healthy, positive internal relationship with ourself rather than a harsh critical one. As this dictates both how we ‘lead’ ourselves and of course, how we will lead others.

‘Positive self-leadership refers to the capacity to identify and apply one’s signature strengths to initiate, maintain, or sustain self-influencing behaviors’.

It is vital as a leader to know your blindspots and sensitivities. It is also vital to know your strengths and values and how to live to them. Positive self-leadership means being self-compassionate. Self-compassion means replacing your inner critic with your own inner cheerleader. Being self-compassionate is not a soft and fluffy new-age suggestion, it is key to helping you reduce your stress, make better decisions, and increase your resilience. Positive self-leadership also helps you develop a growth mindset focussed on possibility, it helps you be more self-motivated and able to set goals that inspire you. A good self-relationship encourages you to embrace failure and learn from it. It means you have your own back. It may feel like your inner critic motivates you, but being driven by fear is a short term strategy that leads to imposter syndrome, burnout, anxiety and stressful, conflicted, poor relationships with others.

Here are two tips on how to nurture more self-awareness and positive self-leadership:

  1. Mirror Back: It is easy to look at what we do and don’t like in other people’s behaviour. Start making it a daily habit to turn the mirror back on yourself. How did YOU show up in that meeting? What impact did you have on that client? What was YOUR part in the disagreement. Remember when you are sitting in a traffic jam, complaining about the traffic…YOU are also the traffic!
  2. Back Yourself: Shift your inner critic to your inner cheerleader. Watch out for the inner voice that is negative or self-blaming. Give that part of you a rest and get your inner cheerleader off the bench. What might your inner cheerleader say to you that supports, soothes or encourages? ‘Ity’s ok, no one is perfect’ or ‘Don’t worry we can work it out as we go’ or ‘You can do this’…create your own inner cheerleader slogan to increase your positive self-leadership

Check out 4D Executive Coaching, 4D Leadership Development and Team Performance for more on taking yourself and your leaders to the next level.

2.A Healthy Ego

An elder was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them:
“A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, and superiority.
The other stands for empathy, truth, faith, humility, friendship, joy, kindness, compassion, hope, and love.
This same fight is going io inside you and every other person too.”
They thought about this for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather…“Which wolf will win?”
The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

This story rings true for leadership as well. Becoming a truly great leader from the inside out depends largely on which wolf you choose to feed every day. The threatened frightened wolf or the wolf of connection and humanity. How we manage ourselves every day, how we direct our thinking and how we respond.

Whether you are an individual contributor leading yourself and your own ideas, whether you lead a team, a region or a huge corporation, we all share this choice around how we choose to view and respond to the world.

We all have an ego, we are all human and the idea of totally ego-less leadership is a challenging one to say the least. I would go as far to say unrealistic. But leadership with a healthy ego – now that is something worth working towards. While an unhealthy ego is reactive, defensive, fearful, angry, blaming and unable to show humility, a leader with a healthy ego can embrace conflict and difference, remains curious and open, is able to acknowledge other’s feelings without fear of defeat. A leader with a healthy ego is able to demonstrate self-accountability as well as encourage others to do the same. This leader can capitulate with grace when wrong, remaining excited and engaged with the new possibility they have discovered. Equally they can move through their own ‘wins’ with as much grace, able to validate the importance of other opinions and challenges to their own thinking. We often talk about big and small ego. But when it comes to great leadership it really isn’t the size of your ego that matters – it’s how reactive it is. In other words, how healthy or unhealthy it is. The leader with a healthy ego does not lead from fear but from courage, connection, passion and possibility.

“Much research has accumulated over the last couple of decades that people’s career success directly correlates to how well they can manage their responses…research in emotional intelligence…indicates that self-management skills are more important to career performance than intellectual bench strength… A leader with a healthy ego admits mistakes and learns from mistakes. In fact, leaders with healthy egos are very committed to learning – they don’t think they already know everything.”
Art Horn, ‘From Beyond Ego – Influential Leadership starts within’

Great leaders understand that controlling their ego is a personal challenge that is critical to success, and it’s something they have to do for themselves, every day.

Here are some tips to leading with a healthy ego:

A) Trigger Test: The first thing we need to do in order to have a healthy ego is to recognise what triggers us into reactive behaviours. There are 6 common ego triggers you can test. Ask yourself the following questions:
Is it important to me to be considered or seen as:
Competent? The best? Liked? Good? Right? Respected?
Which one is your strongest trigger? Add you own and recognize your hot buttons or triggers. Write them down. Of course there may be a few different ones – depending on context and relationships.

B) Conflict to Curious: Once you have taken a moment and calmed down, the quickest way to eliminate fear-based behaviours and get back to a healthy ego is to get curious. About your response and about what’s going on for the other person. So rather than going to conflict go to curious. Rather than ask for a fight, ask a question. “Can we explore this further?” “Can you tell me more about your idea?” “That is so far away from my view, I’d love us to explore your thinking.” “I wonder if we go right back to what we are both wanting to achieve here – shall we talk?”

Check out 4D Leadership Development, 4D Executive Coaching and Mastering Challenging Conversations for more on helping your people and organisation develop a healthy ego.

3.Strong, trusted networks and relationships

Strong leaders build strong networks. There is plenty of research around the power of building strong and diverse networks. If you haven’t already – check out Margaret Heffernan’s Ted talk on the power of social capital and Christakis and Fowler’s famous work ‘Connected – The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How they Shape our Lives.

Building strong networks and making or strengthening connections is something great leaders need to be thinking about regularly. Even if the relevance of a particular connection does not seem immediately obvious. Outstanding leaders understand the value of investing in their network and building a bank of strong, unique connections as a daily practice. Strong networks are a rich resource of people and information and are vital for three key reasons:

  1. Getting things done day to day – a strong, varied network means you have more talent and skills available to help you achieve your current tasks and projects
  2. Personal – a diverse and interesting network benefits you personally in terms of referrals, new or relevant information, personal and career development, mentoring or sponsorship opportunities
  3. Strategic – building a strong network means you are more likely to be at the leading edge of learning about current or future trends, market forces, new business directions and possibilities

Plus, having a diverse, vibrant network helps you when it comes to leadership systems thinking – bringing you a wealth of facts and ideas that allow you to connect new ideas and become a thought leader.

A great leader is not only well networked but is inclusive and nurtures their relationships in a positive and motivating way. This is vital for successful leadership today. In many ways leadership IS relationships.

Research shows that positive relationships between employees and managers increases activity in areas of the brain associated with an openness to new ideas and social orientation towards others.

Positive relationships and connected, inclusive leadership create an environment in which people can connect with those around them, helping employees to feel more valued and better understood. Feeling valued and understood are two driving factors in increasing employee engagement and commitment, helping to attract and retain top talent.

What’s more, we know that someone’s experience of their manager accounts for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.

There are so many stories from our years of executive training and coaching at 4D that demonstrate the power and importance of leadership as relationship. I remember one leader had to give a very difficult message of mass redundancies to 400 employees. And because of the strength of this leader’s positive relationship with the workforce, many of them actually thanked him afterwards saying “I’m so glad it was you who told us that.”

I remember the boss who demonstrated such trust in her relationships that when she was off on holiday she said to her covering VP, “I want decisions made and I expect you to make mistakes, probably at least three out of four, and I don’t want you to contact me.”

I remember a team member feeling he had massively screwed up going to his boss saying he was going to leave. And his leader, embracing failure, said “are you kidding me, you think I’m going to let you go somewhere else with all the experience and learnings you’ve just had.”

And at the other end of the scale there’s the leader who aggressively and wrongly berated a team member publicly in front of other colleagues. The leader never apologised and in a short time he had lost half his team.

Creating more positive relationships as a leader means you are creating more inspiration and influence. If you as a leader increase your effort by 20-30% that is not going to make a huge difference to output and you’ll probably end up burnt out. But if you are able to inspire your team, colleagues or whole organisation to up their game by only 10% each – now you’re talking significant change in terms of culture and results!

Here are two tools and tips to help you strengthen your network and build more positive relationships.

  • Reciprocity Bank: the law of reciprocity means that people find us far more likeable and will be more willing and co-operative when we have done things for them. Filling your Reciprocity Bank with connections as a daily or weekly habit is a powerful way to build trust, liking and influence in your network. Can you identify what individuals or groups would value highly and make a commitment to offer them gifts in this area? Examples would be new information, articles, new introductions, referrals, support, advice, some positive PR online or in person, resources, rapid responses, quick turnaround…add your own and commit to filling the reciprocity bank in your own network.
  • Appreciation: “A whopping 79% of employees will quit their jobs due to lack of appreciation from leaders.” A simple way to build trust and good feeling in your relationships is to regularly appreciate people around you. Take some time every week to write a note, leave a voice message, send a certificate, give a gift, publicly recognise someone you appreciate. What specific qualities, strengths and achievements can you appreciate? Make a point of appreciating people who you find more challenging…there is always something we can appreciate if we look for it.

For more on this, check out 4D Executive Coaching, 4D Confidence & Impact, 4D Leadership influencing & Networking and 4D’s Philippa Waller Tedx Talk on How Every Connection and Interaction Shapes your Reality.

4.World-class communication, presentation and storytelling skills

3 out of 4 employees see effective communication as the number one leadership attribute. Yet, less than 1 in 3 employees feel like their leaders communicate effectively. A leader’s ability to communicate well has a direct impact on employee satisfaction, motivation and productivity.
“The utmost essential key to great leadership is communication” (Towler 2003)
Communication used to be considered as a soft skill which had no impact on organizations. Communication skills was never even a major factor in hiring. But this has changed. Today we know that communication has a huge impact on business.
Great leaders are world-class communicators. They have clear values and ideas and are brilliant at communicating these to influence and inspire others. These leaders communicate in all 4 Dimensions. They are physically present, emotionally connecting, intellectually clear and have a strong intention. They are able to energise and engage others in person or online, they are able to communicate good and bad news with commitment and care, they are approachable and understanding. Through their communication skills they create trust which creates a good work environment which leads to motivated employees which promotes co-ordinated teams which results in excellent productivity.
As a leader have a think about how much time you spend communicating and presenting. It is probably 50, 60 70% or more of your time. As a leader, whatever sector or role you are in – really you should be thinking about yourself as a professional communicator. This includes presenting and storytelling. The leaders that can find it difficult to break through to the next level are often really good at doing and implementing. While they want to motivate their team to hit targets, they can resist the idea of inspiring possibility, sharing a dream or creating a vision that does not yet exist. But to be a truly exceptional leader you need to dream the dream, paint the picture, and communicate the vision that your people can step into.
“No doubt about it, the best speakers are good storytellers. The best writers are good storytellers. The best leaders are good storytellers. The best teachers and trainers and coaches are good storytellers. It might even be argued that the best parents are good storytellers. While storytelling is not the only way to engage people with your ideas, it’s certainly a critical part of the recipe,” says Rodger Dean Duncan, a contributor to Forbes magazine in January 2014.

Here are two tips to take your communication, presentation, and storytelling skills to the next level:
a) Focus First: it may sound obvious but great communicators put their focus on the needs of the audience or other person. Like a brilliant host – a brilliant leader, communicator and presenter thinks about how much information the audience actually needs, how they want to make other people feel. They set a clear intention and put their focus first on others.
b) Personal Touch: To make your messages memorable – or sticky – include a personal story, example or anecdote. Distil down the theme or core meaning of your business message – such as we need to be courageous or we need to pull together and tell a short story from your own life that speaks to this theme. It doesn’t have to be an epic crafted story, it can be a simple memory or moment. The time you went bungy jumping or braved a costume party. The time you got lost and needed someone else’s help. However small, real life, personal stories are the way to becoming an inspirational and memorable speaker.
For more on world-class 4D communication and impact, check out 4D Executive Coaching, 4D Communication Skills, 4D Presentation Skills, 4D Business Storytelling and the 4D Interactive Keynotes.

A great leader with good self-awareness, a healthy ego, strong relationships and world-class communication skills will inspire people to believe in them, follow them and go the extra mile for them – even in the toughest of times.

As a leader you can get help with strategy, structure and solutions. But to be a truly great leader – and not only a great leader but a great friend, partner, husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister – these are the 4 things that you must do for yourself. So, give yourself the gift of focussing on these 4 key areas so that with positive self-leadership, a healthy ego, a trusted network and communication skills that inspire – you truly can live and lead in from the inside out.

If you are interested in exploring further – do get in touch, we’d love to talk. And you might like to take a look at out new 4D OnDemand platform too. Have a very happy rest of your day.