Leadership is personal and contextual. Leadership is a personal choice in a certain situation to take up an uneasy challenge. This explains why ‘awareness’ is at the heart of leadership. Awareness of the reality, also the reality of own’s own self. Self awareness is the basis of self-regulation. And self-regulation is essential to stay flexible in different circumstances.
Goffee and Jones call it “Know and show yourself – enough.”[i] Toon Bossuyt puts ‘courage’ central in his leadership thinking. And Dr. Jacques Rogge said during his leadership lecture at Antwerp Management School: “Self knowledge is probably the most difficult trait to have.” Also for Chris Lowney “self-awareness is the foundation of leadership”.[ii] The personal dimension of leadership explains why leadership development comes close to identity or personal development.
Awareness has different levels. Kegan & Lagey [iii] distinguish three levels of adult development. Each level has a different way of dealing with complexity. The ‘socialized mind’ is a team player: faithful, aligned, shapeable, true believer. Not all people reach this level. The second level is ‘self-authoring’: can take charge, own compass, sets direction, solves problems, independent, command and control. The third level is self-transforming: multiframe, holds contradictions, dialectical, leads to learn. We can easily link these levels of maturity to higher and lower levels of leadership.
[i] GOFFEE, R. & JONES G. (2006). Why should anyone be led by you? Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 244 p.
[ii]LOWNEY, C. (2003). Heroic leadership. Best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world. Chicago: Loyola Press, 330 p.
[iii] KEGAN, R., and LAHEY L. (2010). Adult development and organizational leadership. In NOHRIA, N., & KHURANA, R. (eds.), Handbook of leadership theory and practice. A Harvard Business School centennial colloquium. Harvard Business Press, p. 769-787.