Career Success Begins with Leadership

UPDATED: January 20, 2009
PUBLISHED: January 20, 2009

We cannot touch and feel “leadership,” though we can see and often hear the results of it when it is effective or ineffective, of good character or poor ethics. There are literally hundreds of leadership programs available for executives, mid-level managers and new leaders. Many of these address developing the abilities of leaders in the areas of strategic and critical thinking, enhancing relationships, negotiating, managing risks, people, change, conflicts and financials, making the right decisions, managing work-life balance — all of which are no less difficult to transact than the technical skills required in any strategic leadership function.

But beyond fundamental academic or technical skills, people need to learn how to identify their strengths and combine those with their passions in ways that empower them to establish and achieve a vision for their lives. They need to learn how to manage their time and to set, pursue and systematically reassess their progress toward achieving goals that empower them to realize their potential. Equipping people with the tools they need to seize control of their futures is a powerful step toward securing a strong future for these individuals, and also our nations as a whole. The best solution to our countries’ problems lies in helping people, especially our future leaders, to learn to live reflective, purposeful lives.

Helping our leaders to learn and understand who they are is important. Through their triumphs and trials, they will have the processes and tools to know how to draw from inner strength and act with discipline. This understanding will help them cope with the pressures of addressing the issues and opportunities of globalization and consolidation, the changing go-to-market strategies, the explosion of available information or more sophisticated, knowledgeable clients and customers. And, for those just trying to survive each day, they must have this strength and understanding to develop the means to access fundamental necessities of living, and to persevere beyond their circumstances.

The earlier we initiate this process of self-discovery, the better. Our new hires often become the leaders of corporations, organizations, communities and government. In serving as executives and managers, these leaders are expected to serve as community influencers and corporate representatives who heed the needs of those experiencing poverty, health crises or lack of education, all the while assessing any political and governmental discrimination, criminality or other implications. Giving them self-knowledge and a vision at the outset of their careers gives them the freedom to choose the direction they desire and the environments in which they want to work and live. It helps them from stumbling into the quicksand of life’s disappointments.

To be successful, people must have a vision of what success looks like for them. With a well-understood, deep motivation for their personal and professional pursuits, their priorities will come into focus. They will not be thinking about procrastinating, taking a detour from their calling, or sabotaging their success. When people are truly focused and engaged, they become the masters of their destinies. They are truly free.

Gaining self-awareness—and then doing something about it—is not a task everyone is willing to take on. Many people are content with things the way they are. People may desire greater success, but they don’t want to exert the effort to improve themselves. One possible reason for this is they don’t even realize they have the power to do something about it if they wanted to. If you’re not aware there’s a problem, or you don’t think you have the ability to change your circumstances, you will stay where you are. The good news is that by the act of looking inward to seek our true selves, we are taking responsibility and moving toward self-actualization. You can only start to maximize your potential once you know exactly who you are, and what is important to you.

Leadership abilities and characteristics must be well-developed in order to lead effectively. Yet, there is a fundamental dimension missing from this equation. It encompasses leaders discovering the core of who they are — and who they can become. There is a constant in leadership. It is the freedom of the individual to know precisely who he is and what drives him, and on this platform become clear on how he must lead, exercise his abilities, display his character, make his choices and serve his constituents. Exceptional leaders are able to adapt to new tasks, to new roles, to new environments, and still be productive. They realize that with the management and growth of their “internal strength,” they can and must positively respond to the external environment, which is often outside of individual control.

A leader’s depth of internal knowledge and strength stands the test of time, congruently, consistently, and no matter the nature of the circumstances. This leadership foundation can be one of the most elusive to discover, unless the process and tools for doing so are made accessible. Once accessed, the ensuing discoveries are keys to opening doors for developing new abilities and characteristics, as well as creating or recognizing new opportunities.

Leadership is everything, whether you are leading a life, a community, an organization or a business, or you are in school. If you want ownership of your life, business and its privileges then progress and transformation should begin with you.