Leaders whose influence sticks in others is rare. Would you agree? How many times have you been frustrated because you can’t get people to follow your lead, go your way, or “see” what you can so clearly recognize?
My book Sticky Leadership makes the point that Learning to Love Uphill is a characteristic of sticky leaders. The leadership reality is that even when things are going great (coasting downhill) we know that the next hill (challenges and setbacks) is coming. Even though we may deny this truth, we know that as day follows night, challenges are a cyclical part of every leader’s life. There is always another one coming.
So sticky leaders embrace uphill. They learn to love them. Sounds odd doesn’t it? What does it take to do that? To be honest, I’m still working on walking my own talk. In my younger years I won awards for being a worrier. Yup, my employees actually gave me a plaque. One who worries clearly hasn’t embraced the uphill. Now I talk about learning to love it. I’ve seen it work. Embracing the uphill climb eludes me at times, but when I can live in this zone, something changes that allows my influence to stick.
When it works, I want more.
Lately I have been pondering the subject of character and leadership, and what it takes to love uphill. What is character, how do we develop ours, and what role does character play in effective leadership?
To be honest, my interest in the subject has been fueled by a book recently recommended that has become a current favorite. The Road to Character by David Brooks is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it to all sticky leaders.
Reflect on your current uphill challenge and ask yourself: “To what extent is my character helping or hurting my ability to embrace the uphill leadership climb I’m facing?” If you want some insights about how character is created and refined, read this book. What I’m discovering is that chronic leadership challenges I experience may be due to my own character issues.
In his book, Brooks looks into some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders and explores how character is built and refined through internal struggle and a keen sense of personal limitations: character. By reading this book I can see example after example where embracing the inner struggle is how we can develop a strong inner character. See if you agree that the leaders you truly admire who sustain their reputation over time lead from the inside out. The energy and focus of their leadership energy comes from their inner core and what goes on inside of them. Leadership begins deep within each of us, and this is why our own ability to conquer ourselves and the weaknesses or habits that cause us to sabotage our leadership best intentions is necessary.
Here are a few insights I’ve gathered from David’s book, and suggest you ponder for yourself:
- The circumstances of our origin, including our family system can be a fuel to drive our character development. It is up to us and our decision to use our history to refine us and who we aspire to be that is important. There is ample evidence that coming from a dysfunctional family system doesn’t have to be a limiter to developing strong character. Often our adversity becomes an advantage when we use it as fuel and motivation to something better than we grew up with.
- There is no single path to a strong character but common themes seem to be making a conscious investment in putting our energy into doing right, doing better, and overcoming the things inside us that we have decided no longer belong.
- Suppressing those things within us that get us into trouble seems to be a common theme of those reaching for something better than who they have been. The habits, sins, and fears that keep us from becoming our best must be tamed, eliminated, or resisted. It appears that character refinement takes conscious energy and diligence over time. This goes against popular leadership literature that offers ten simple steps to perfection with a silver bullet of immediate transformation. The work of character development doesn’t look or sound easy, or even sexy, just important.
- Making character development a priority involves a regular self-scrutiny that seems to parallel the work of refining the right practices and thinking sticky leadership requires. Our eyes must learn how to focus inward to ourselves in addition to scanning the horizon and looking deeply into others. This is a skill that can always be improved with practice.
Finally, reading this book, and thinking about the clients I’ve worked with over many years I’m left with hope. Becoming a sticky leader isn’t a one-time event or a momentary insight that immediately enables us. While such experiences can help, true sticky leaders consciously put themselves on a learning and development path that involves daily diligence, encouragement, and practice.
May your Leadership Always Stick,
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