According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘whole’ is defined as ‘in an uninjured, unbroken, intact, or undiminished state.’ I am left wondering how many leaders, or people in general, fit that description.
Every week, I meet, hear or read about yet another case of someone whose performance is compromised because they are somehow broken or psychologically injured, albeit to varying degrees. I also meet people who are thriving, out performing against goals, and who are highly effective in their personal and professional roles.
So what is the difference? My observations have led me to the conclusion that the most effective people are those who are extremely ‘tuned in’ to themselves. They understand themselves and the effect they have on others extremely well.
They also understand how their environment affects them and they seem relentless in creating the circumstances which allow them to perform at their best. Whilst self awareness is not a new concept in leadership effectiveness, being ‘whole,’ perhaps, is.
In working with senior business leaders, it is all too common to see people attempt, unsuccessfully, to live compartmentalized lives: the work life and the personal life. With the best of intentions, I see people dividing their lives into two delineated buckets which they then try to balance. The net result is that the two lives, rather than sharing attention, compete for it. Sooner or later compromises are made on one or both sides, and frustration and dissatisfaction ensues.
So, can a person be ‘whole’ in this demanding modern world?
In my work with senior business leaders, I have noticed a number of traits that are common to those who live contented, successful lives.
- Achieve balance: Not a new concept and one much talked about in the work environment. But those who truly understand what this means to them – and set about attaining it – are the ones who enjoy success.
Note that I said ‘they’ understand what it means to ‘them’ as individuals. ‘Balance’ does not mean the same for everyone. The challenge is defining it on an individual level and then documenting it, respecting it, and staying true to it.
Ask yourself: What does a balanced life look like for me? Having identified that, then ask, ‘What do I need to do to achieve it?’ For some, it could be as simple as an hour of yoga a day or hitting the gym. For others, it could be gardening. No two people are the same. The point is to identify the ‘intention’ – what life do I want to live — and then to focus attention – the doing — on achieving it.
- Know your values: What is important to you? What drives you, what motivates you, what makes you do what you do and do it the way that you do? Know your values and respect them.
I once worked with a very smart, talented women who had enjoyed a successful 22-year career in a Fortune 500 company. When she experienced a burn out so severe that she stopped working, I asked her what had happened. She said that her values had changed and added that she had tried to ‘bury’ that, because her entire success had been built on her old values.
I might propose that her values had evolved; not changed. And that is to be expected. It comes with getting older and wiser. Know your values and be true to them as you live your professional and personal life.
- Be yourself: That sounds overly simplistic, but it is all too easy to become the ‘Senior Vice President’ or the ‘CEO’ and forget the person performing that role.
As people climb the corporate ladder, they are often taken by surprise when people they have known for years suddenly treat them differently and behave differently around them. And people we don’t know well treat us in ways we either don’t understand or fail to notice. Whilst inevitable, it is the role of senior leaders to understand these behaviours so that they can build the trust and confidence of the people around them.
The success of senior leaders is largely dependent on the success of the people working with them. And it is only when people are completely honest with each other that goals can be achieved and success enjoyed. This means that people must feel safe to take risks, make mistakes and be accountable. Successful organizations push the boundaries and the people within them are encouraged and supported to do the same. Genuine, grounded, senior leaders create that environment.
Knowing yourself and what grounds you is a defence against becoming ‘the role.’
- Be vulnerable: What do I mean by that? It means being able to admit mistakes; asking for advice of anyone and everyone, regardless of their position in the hierarchy. Being conscious of your limitations and surrounding yourself with people who add strength to your strengths is smart. But one must be vulnerable to be able to admit where one is not strong.
The majority of great leaders I have had the privilege to work with hold themselves to very high standards; and they called themselves out when they don’t meet them. Whilst that shows vulnerability, it is a powerful demonstration of inner strength, wisdom, and tenacity. It sets the standard for others to follow.
- Get a coach: Everyone needs support. Finding a coach you can trust, be absolutely and completely honest with, expose your belly, tell all, allows you to be grounded, whole and effective.
An efficient coach is one who asks the right questions at the right time, so that you become more self aware as time passes. A good coach is one who ‘tunes you into yourself.’ They may call you out when they see you heading off course, and they will help you to find your own way back.
To summarize, being ‘whole’ is grounded in self awareness, humility, vulnerability and tremendous inner strength. All of those things can be attained only by knowing oneself extremely well, being true to those things which make us happy, and living the life we want to live. The only person who can make that happen is you.
Many thanks to Tina for sharing your approach to wholeness! If any of our readers would like to reach out to Tina, she is the President and Principal Consultant with Oxford & French Consulting Group.