Modelling the Way: Unlock leadership skills through introspection

Modelling the Way: Unlock leadership skills through introspection

Tips for Leaders

Exemplary leadership is built on values. Those wishing to go beyond simple management and step up to lead must first discover—and then embody—the values they hold dear. Leaders also need to teach others to do the same. Encouraging your direct reports to take the same journey as you, in turn, encourages them to spread your organization’s values to their reports, in their own authentic voice, and on and on.

Clarifying Values
Leading by example begins with finding your own voice, uncovering what your values actually are, independent of any conditioning or bias which might be acting on you.

A little bit of introspection pays dividends by allowing you to act as your best, most authentic self in a variety of contexts. How you go about that introspection is up to you. It could happen through meditation or by training for a marathon.

This is because leadership is a personal expression; you need to be able to articulate what you stand for in your own words. In practice, there’s a direct correlation between employees who understand their leader’s philosophy and how favorable they feel about their workplace.

Affirming Shared Ideals
Managers who limply parrot the edicts of others without really understanding them end up working with whatever talent they’re given. Leaders, meanwhile, who are crystal clear about the values they exemplify will inevitably attract others on a similar mission.

The result is a culture of assertive collaboration. When people know where they stand, they act with confidence. Likewise, having honest conversations about what’s important helps people connect what they do with why they do it.

Shared ideals lead to:
  • Greater commitment 
  • Better staff retention 
  • Improved effectiveness as a team 
But be sure not to force this unity; a natural consensus is always going to outperform a team which has values imposed on it.

Setting the example
Uncovering and articulating your principles is a good start, but talk is cheap. You need to walk the walk, beginning with taking a fresh look at how you spend your time. What you choose to focus attention on speaks volumes about what’s important to you.

Managers find themselves in endless meetings, processing spreadsheets and appeasing their higher-ups. Leaders do so from the front, spending time with their teams in quality one-to-one coaching as often as time allows.

The same rationale goes for the language you choose to use. Language shapes reality, and corporate jargon creates a reality rooted in hierarchy: a universe of followers.

Using empowering terminology has the opposite, beneficial effect. Think about how you frame questions; this affects the mental journey people go on to find their answer. Make it a positive journey for them.

A two-way street
Of course, this goes both ways. Be honest and open with your team and insist they do the same with you. This produces invaluable feedback which you can factor into further self-reflection, refining your values and creating a positive cycle.

This, as much as any other point, is the crux of Modelling the Way: it can’t be done alone. Confront problems together, visibly and audibly turn them into shared learning experiences.  

This is pure storytelling, tapping into the human tendency to spot patterns. People who were there when X led to Y, who were involved in the process, are better placed to repeat success and avoid failure than those who are simply ordered to do X all day.

Ultimately, the standards you set as a leader should live on when you’re no longer there. Do something today, right now, to create systems or frameworks which ensure your teams aren’t totally reliant on you to succeed.

By doing this, the Roman Empire survived after Marcus Aurelius, and Apple survived after Steve Jobs. Modelling the Way is only partially about you. It’s also about viewing yourself as a microcosm of something great, something that echoes throughout the years.

This article previously appeared on Quest Leadership’s blog, Leadership Development

Chris Nel, a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® for 21 years, carries the message of The Leadership Challenge throughout Europe and South Africa as founder of Quest Leadership, a U.K.-based consultancy that works with corporate and charitable clients to deliver outstanding business results, implement strategic change, and embed values-based cultures. He can be reached at



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