Leading others is an important exercise in stewardship of an organization’s resources and requires the ability to represent a lot of things to a variety of people. If asked who is the most important person someone leads a variety of answers would likely arise. Many of these answers would be focused around who are the key stakeholders in the organization and who’s added influence on top of yours can enable and multiple your vision as the leader. That’s not a bad answer and certainly not wrong in its approach. There is, however, someone both research and common sense demonstrates that is far more critical to leading well than strategic stakeholders. That person is yourself.

There is a vital connection between how people follow someone who they see leads themselves well and in alignment with the purpose and vision of the organization and those who do not. It is a strong enough factor that it can become the differentiator in overall employee productivity. Think about it this way; would you give your best to a leader who lived out the passions and principles they teach or someone who says one thing and does another? The answer is obvious for most of us and becomes the difference in employees who come in, answer their inboxes and process paperwork each day and those who come in ready to actively join problem-solving and the challenges around moving the work forward strategically.

The question naturally comes from the curious leader, “How do I know I’ve got alignment in this area and that people see that I believe what I preach?” Much of it boils down to seeking to exhibit basic traits of good character mixed in with the practice of some emotional intelligence. Here are a few questions should address to make sure there is strong alignment here.

  1. Be willing to ask the question in the first place. It probably would be shocking to see the percentage of people who would believe that this is even an important subject or that they even need to explore it because they know they aren’t seen that way. The irony is the person who thinks they don’t have this problem probably does. Believing how you see yourself and not being willing to consider how others might is the first symptom of hubris and believing one is beyond making mistakes. Hubris always finds its way back to the leader and at some point will inevitably cost that leader something that should have been avoided.
  2. Be willing to ask your supervisor to evaluate you on it. Every leader ideally has a leader who is interested in their success and is actively coaching them as they work toward annual goals. Be willing to get supervisor input on an important question like this. Sure, there is some risk in that the supervisor may share or even uncover something that is not your best aspect but this gives you the chance to proactively address it with them as part of your professional development. That’s a far more preferable route than the supervisor having to come to you to address it or finding later this has prevented you from being able to move forward in the organization.
  3. Be willing to ask those you lead to evaluate you on it. This one can get a little tricky as most of us if asked by our supervisor if their behaviors align with what they ask of others would be hard-pressed to answer no. An anonymous 360 review can help get useful input and can be done either by an HR person or through some type of other third party. Again, the input may not be what you want to hear but people in the organization will quickly see a connection between having their opinion solicited and steps they see toward improvement. Believe it or not, though it may seem a temporary setback, most will find that any movement on actions that people were critical about will actually have a multiplying effect on your ability to lead.

Bottom line is by and large if you have treated people with respect in most cases they want you to succeed as their leader. By assuming a small amount of risk in opening some vulnerabilities most leaders will find themselves in a better place to influence those who they lead. Being blind to the possible perceptions people have of you as leader will never create paths toward improvement. We’ve got to be willing to take a lump or two in order to ultimately become more effective.