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I was working with a creative, innovative leader yesterday, who knowing that I write fairly regularly, asked me for feedback on an article she had written, as she felt unsure of her writing skills.Strengths

As I reflected on her request, it got me thinking about the relative value of skills. In the leadership development space, most of us have at some stage, made use of or referred to Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. This was the theory (and assessment tool) that was developed after 30 years of research that for the first time allowed individuals to identify and leverage their innate skills based on how they naturally think, feel and behave. Not surprisingly, it evolved to include inherent leadership strengths and practices, which led to the concept of Strength Based Leadership. Likewise, the recent Multiplier Leader theory also encompasses the concept of harnessing the genius of natural talent. Even Howard Gardner with his model of Multiple Intelligence in 1983 made the case for difference and the value that diverse talents bring.

But – as with so many models, the application is sorely lacking.

I have coached countless leaders who do not believe they have the skill of x or y, and that they are somehow ‘less than’ a peer who has it. I have even coached an enormously successful (think many million USD’s) Director of a public corporation who believed he was not intelligent in the conventional IQ sense.

Yet all these leaders and executives are ok when they lack creative intelligence – when they can’t draw or paint. (How about innovate?) They’re even ok if they can’t play a musical instrument – musical intelligence. But for some reason “I can’t draw” gets judged very differently to “maths isn’t my strength”. Likewise, having verbal ability is often judged as being less valuable than having writing skills.

Even emotional intelligence (EQ), which is so critical to leadership (and in my opinion, is the most critical competency) often pales into relative insignificance when leaders compare this ability to their mathematical or accounting prowess.

As I see it, there are 2 solutions here. The first is identifying what you’re good at, and doing that consistently until you build an undeniable expertise in the area.

The second is to really believe that no one skill is better. You can do some things better than me. I can do some things better than you. We’re not better than each other. We complement each other. (Which is why diversity is so critical. More on that another day). But until YOU believe it, you’ll never feel equal.

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Female LeadersLast night I had the pleasure of having dinner with an old friend and coachee.

She regaled me with hilarious tales of her latest (female) boss, and reminded me how important it is for leaders to be aware of a couple of things

Ladies, you are not men. You do not need to put ‘it’ on the table. Even, and especially, if you are in the minority, working alongside a bunch of men, you do not need to act like them. If you do, your staff will laugh at you. Period. You look like an ass.

Harvard Business Review’s September 2013 edition, leads with the headline “ Emotional, Bossy, Too Nice – the biases that still hold female leaders back”

Other than the word “emotional”, which does rankle a bit (probably because there’s an element of truth) in it, the other two words can be applied to all leaders.

I’m currently coaching a phenomenal young leader. He made partner at a really young age, and is leading a global team. He’s smart, articulate, considered – did I say smart ?  As part of my Executive Coaching Programmes, I request key stakeholder feedback – this is what one of his direct reports had to say : “ He likes to be the boss. That is fine. But he is already the boss”.

We get that you have arrived. Everyone can see you are the boss. Stop showing off and trying to prove it.

All it shows us, and what both examples have in common, is a lack of self-confidence. Ladies (and guys), please remember that when viewed from the outside, all others can do is guess the motives for your behavior.

At best they may guess that you’re trying to prove yourself. At worst, they may guess that you’re in over your head; that you lack confidence and thus need to throw your weight around to ‘stamp your authority’ on those whom you don’t really know how to lead.

And because they don’t really know what the truth is, they’ll test you until they get you or until you get real.

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I am currently coaching an amazing entrepreneur. She is successful, accomplished, organised and focussed and is on her way to building a great business. She knows her strengths, passions and skill set.  Yet she takes on more than she can handle, constantly goes out of her way to do things for others and ends up feeling overwhelmed.

Why ? Because she wants to feel needed, valuable and recognised.

If this is striking a familiar chord, you may want to know what we uncovered and how you too can change your pattern. Read on …

Many of us learn through the course of our lives that our focus ‘should’ be on performance and achievement. We are told to achieve good marks at school, that university results are critical, that we must strive for a promotion. That climbing the ladder of success is critical. And in turn, we pass this perspective on life onto our kids.

Maybe you’re thinking – “ok, so what’s the problem, success is good … or …. “Well, I want my kids to be winners, what’s so wrong with that?”

Well, there’s no problem with winning, with being successful. It’s our birthright. Self-actualisation (being the best you can be) is the whole point of the journey we call life. But if your focus is on what you do (achieve) rather than who you are, you may just spend your entire life trying to prove that you are ‘good enough’.  See, if your focus is on doing, performing and achieving – then in order to feel good about yourself you need to do more, achieve more; work harder, longer, faster.

What if we turned that equation around, and started with the premise that you are not only good enough, you are amazing. Your Being (who you really, truly are deep down inside) is miraculous, magical and unique. And if you stop to look at yourself, you know that too. Your Being is perfect. We call this unconditional positive regard. Unconditional worth.

Now your Doing (your behaviour, your skill set, your knowledge) … well sometimes that’s not so good. and so at times you may not feel confident in what you do. That’s ok. All it takes to improve a skill or a role is learning and practice. And every master started off as an eager beginner. The key here is to recognise that it’s simply an external skill, not the internal you.

The following diagram describes this relationship …

When you operate from your Being, and think of yourself as worthy and valuable, your doing will reflect that. There will be no need to prove that ‘you are good enough / knowledgeable enough / valuable enough’.

And you no longer need to DO things to prove your value, or to get validation from others.. You simply recognise your worth and value as a given. It’s all right there within you.

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