The Essence of Your Leadership

By Chris Chittenden

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.”

… Theodore M. Hesburgh (1917 - ) US clergy & university administrator

Those who come to coaching, come to learn and develop themselves in some way. One thing I have observed over time is that these people will fall loosely into two categories: those who recognise the core of who they are and who they want to be and want to develop this and those who come along to pick up tips and techniques. Whereas there is no doubt value in the second approach, the first approach seems to be far more successful as it provides for a more coherent approach to a person’s development and personal growth.

Leadership is much the same. When we ask people to speak to the essence of themselves as a leader, the vast majority of people will generally search for words and come up with some nebulous ideas of what leadership is all about. The essence of their leadership is appears to be not readily there for them. This presents an interesting challenge when it comes to their leadership approach. How can a person create coherence for others when they do not have a ready to hand coherence themselves? What follows from this lack of coherence is nearly always at best a disjointed attempt to create direction and meaning for those who are meant to be led. At worst, it manifests itself as a complete lack of contextual conversations about direction and meaning and a single focus on what has to be done.

So why do so many leaders not readily know the essence of what they are doing when it comes to leading others? After all, you would not seek to build a house without first establishing and then maintaining the foundations and frame. It just doesn’t work. One obvious answer is that people charged with leadership do not know where to start. There are so many different theories about leadership that it seems that leadership must require a very complex approach, yet in many ways leadership is very simple. People want to know where they are going, how they are going to go about getting there and how they fit into that. They are seeking direction and meaning in the everyday experience of their work.

Here is a simple way of starting to think about this. The Human Synergistics constructive styles of Achievement, Self-Actualising, Humastic Encouraging and Affiliative form the basis of what people fundamentally seek in an organisational culture, so why not use them as the foundations of your leadership. Here is a simple exercise to establish your leadership essence. Just provide a one word answer or theme to these four questions and see what this might provide as a foundation for your leadership:

  1. What is one word that relates to what are you seeking to objectively achieve?
  2. What is one word that describes who are you seeking to become?
  3. What is one word that describes how you perceive your own and other’s learning?
  4. What is one word that describes how you want be in relationship with others?

Give it a go and you may well be able to define the essence of your leadership! You may even like to follow this thought process further and ask yourself, “What possibilities are available to me to live my essence now?” Who knows a new leadership approach may show up in the process.

More articles on Leadership

© 2009 Chris Chittenden