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Foster deeper engagement – encourage the development of self-mastery By Mandy Holloway from Courageous Leaders on Jul 11, 2015

Foster deeper engagement - encourage the development of self-mastery

Most leaders in professional service firms have spent years defining themselves by the skills they’ve developed – be they technical skills, decision-making skills, strategic thinking skills, account management skills or negotiation skills. Many have spent insufficient time identifying values and personality preferences so they can “be and work at their best” each day they manage and lead others within the firm.

This is exactly why developing self-mastery is so:

  • critical to leadership capability; and
  • vital to the deeper engagement of emerging leaders in firms.

It is just as critical for existing leaders – partners, directors and principals – to continue enhancing their self-mastery. Do this and continue to be deeply engaged in the legacy being created for the future of the firm and people working in the firm now.

Developing self-mastery is all about peeling back layers of skin just like you do with an onion. Others interact with you and see and feel your behaviours and these choices are driven by personality preferences and values.  By truly “seeing what makes you tick” you identify how to be your best.

Coaching a young aspiring partner in a large accounting firm we identified the need to develop his self-mastery. The business case was easy; it was the “personal case” that was holding him back. He was finding the process of identifying his values and personality preferences, and integrating this with the behaviours he was choosing; far too abstract. In an effort to make it concrete I related it back to his love of snow- skiing. I suggested to him that integrating his personality preferences and values with his behaviour was like skiing ‘top to bottom’ down a black run. I explained when his confidence and conviction in self-mastery is well developed he stands at the top of the run, picks his line, bends his knees, leans forward in his boots, points his tips downhill and ‘goes for it’ with energy and engagement that produces total exhilaration.  As he speeds down the run he makes corrections along the way but his self-belief sees him continue until he gets to the bottom. He is ‘in the zone’ or ‘in flow’ – everything is aligned and working together to support his choice of line and speed.

I remind him – you knew your skill was there, you did not need to focus on it – it was more about self-belief and wanting to experience the ‘high’ of picking the right line down the mountain. You are deeply engaged all the way down and totally exhilarated and energised when you reach the bottom.

I go on to explain without the self-mastery this kind of integration is missing and you ‘work your way’ down the black run – no ‘top to bottom’ for you. Standing at the top of the run you question your capability to get down. You are highly aware of the terrain and the risks facing you. Standing at the top of this slope you cautiously traverse the top until you pick the next few ‘safe’ metres. You continue picking your way cautiously down. For most of the way you have doubts, feel fearful and possibly out of control. You feel relieved and exhausted when you finally make it to the bottom.

This story helped him to see and feel in a very concrete way what it meant to integrate his personality preferences, his values, his technical skills and his behaviours. It also helped him to understand why he was feeling so exhausted and out of control in the workplace – because he had not yet managed to integrate his personality preferences, values, skills and behaviours.

(If you enjoyed reading this story there are plenty more in Mandy’s book – find an order form on our website)

Developing self-mastery takes courage, discipline and consciousness so you evolve into the kind of leader you want to be and importantly the kind of leader that enables you to be and work at your best. This is what current emerging leaders want to do and also what they expect from those who lead them.

Develop this kind of self-mastery and it results in transparency within the firm as each leader brings:

  • authenticity
  • courage
  • congruence; and
  • passion.

When leaders take responsibility for developing self-mastery they invest time and energy in becoming conscious of personality preferences, values and skills; and learn to identify how these trigger choices in:

  • behaviour
  • language
  • decision making
  • direction and priorities.

We all have natural instincts driving us into FLIGHT or FIGHT. It takes consciousness to choose FLOW. Develop self-mastery and you know how to “be” in flow within your environment. It takes courage to stop, be aware of what is happening and consciously choose your response.

Replace impulsive reactions with conscious responses aligned to the kind of leader you want to be.

Take a moment to consider this question:

How do your personality preferences and values currently integrate into the leader you are “being” and are you creating trust within others in your ability to decide what the right thing to do is for the firm?

The context for self-mastery within members of leadership teams is eloquently expressed by John F Kennedy“Dealing with bureaucracy is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.” 

Personal experiences encountered with professional service firms confirm too many emerging and existing leaders continue to endure fruitless attempts to “nail jelly to the wall“. Too many leaders persist in referring to the importance of authenticity and in the very next breath talk about “picking your battles“. These are diametrically opposed choices and explains why it feels like jelly – people create facades and “wobble” around issues with some left wondering how best to navigate the environment and its people. Such experiences create cynicism, scepticism and fear. Develop self-mastery in emerging and existing leaders and you sow the seeds for deep engagement.

While developing self-mastery you challenge yourself to be authentic – if you think it and feel it then have the courage to say it! It is all about having the confidence, conviction and courage to bear the consequences of your conversations and choices. This is how you receive and ignite deeper engagement within the firm. It is a highly personal process best facilitated with discipline and rigour.

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures”. Henry Ward Beecher


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