The most impactful leaders have a practice that supports continuous learning in order to grow their self-awareness. Growing self-awareness can be both inconvenient and disturbing. Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the Servant Leadership movement observed, “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers of solace. They have their own inner security.”
The best thing we can do to help our organizations is to work at growing our self-awareness and to undertake a journey of becoming better leaders. To make the journey, you’ll need to let go of the notion that there is an easy path. There isn’t. And if there were, it wouldn’t be as nearly as rewarding as putting in the time and effort to achieve something is. The lessons I’ve learned through ultra-running are directly relatable to the journey to greater self-awareness.
Running ridiculously long distances means accepting that it’s going to hurt sometimes. Growing our self-awareness means exploring and accepting not just the good stuff, the knowledge and skills we’ve developed after years of education and experience. It also means looking into the shadow side we all have, the parts we’d rather forget or not acknowledge. These are the parts that hold us back. The hard work of powerful leadership development means asking the hard questions like, “What are the things that hold me back? What keeps me from fully engaging and impacting people in a positive way? What gets in the way of me being the best leader possible?” By asking these types of questions, by seeking greater awareness and consciousness, we grow our capacity to be intentional and impactful leaders.
This is the road “less traveled by” Robert Frost describes in his classic poem, “The Road Not Taken.” While growing self-awareness can be inconvenient and disturbing, it is also highly rewarding. The reward for taking the road less traveled by is that we increase the likelihood that we will become the type of leaders David Whyte describes in his book “Crossing the Unknown Sea.”
“One of the outer qualities of great captains, great leaders, great bosses is that they are unutterably themselves. (emphasis mine) This is what makes their stature so gigantic in our imaginations. They are living at a frontier, a cliff edge, in a kind of exhilaration that we want to touch in our own lives. The best stay true to a conversation that is the sum of their own strange natures and the world they inhabit, and do not attempt to mimic others in order to get on. Though they may try sincerely to communicate with others, these giants will not make themselves like everyone else in order to do it. There is no replacing a Mandela, the present Dalai Lama, a Rosa Parks, a Martin Luther King, a Churchill, a Susan B. Anthony, not because there are no more great leaders like them to come but because there are no more of those particular individuals.”
The leaders David Whyte mentions chose the road less traveled by, the path that both awakes and disturbs, the path that leads to more authentic living and more impactful leadership. To be at our best as leaders we must each be true to our unique story and “walk our talk.” We must choose the road less traveled by. It’s a risk to be sure; and, those who take that risk find the reward is greater than the risk.