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The Secret to Leading People

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

The Power of Self-Concept.

After years of managing people, whether it be in New York at Ground Zero, New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or in a local fire station, I've observed a phenomenon of human nature that, while clear to some academics, is rarely, if ever, practiced by those in leadership. My observation is that the secret to managing people is the leader’s belief in the power of self-concept.

"But what is this thing you call self-concept?” you ask. It is the picture people hold in their minds of themselves. A person’s convictions regarding their abilities, competencies, strengths and weaknesses make up their self-concept."

With all due respect to the seasoned supervisors reading this article who may be already dismissing this notion as psychobabble, give me five minutes of your valuable time to prove my case.  After all, your author is not some high-brow social academician, but a simple firefighter who's been fortunate to have stumbled onto the ever-pursued missing ingredient in the recipe for personal leadership success.

While I'm a big supporter of goals, performance measures and the like, the human element is far more significant to the mission than most appreciate. After all, try to identify a portion of your organization not influenced by people.  Granted some are more affected than others, but all have an element of humanity.

"But what is this thing you call self-concept?” you ask. It is the picture people hold in their minds of themselves. A person’s convictions regarding their abilities, competencies, strengths and weaknesses make up their self-concept. 

In the quietness of your own thoughts, ask yourself, "How do people see me?" Truth be known, we don't see ourselves as others do; rather we see ourselves as our self-image allows. And most critical to our discussion regarding personal leadership, a person's self-image is the most accurate indicator of future behavior. In other words, how people see themselves and the world is the number one driver of their behavior.

So if a person's self-concept is the greatest influencer of behavior or performance (to use a term applicable to the workplace), why would we shy away from an issue so important to workforce productivity?  Largely because it's unfamiliar and uncomfortable. We're typically hired and promoted for our technical abilities, though as we move up through the ranks our jobs demand more social than technical expertise. Yet we continue using the same technical proficiencies that got us where we are. It is this discomfort that leads to avoidance of the most important aspect of personal leadership, the psychology of leadership.

Prioritizing the development of employees’ self-belief, particularly their sense of value and potential, is the most powerful thing a supervisor can do to assure the organizations achieves its vision. Creating an organization of committed individuals, unencumbered by self-limiting beliefs regarding themselves as people and their place in the organization, is the secret to maximizing your organization's potential. 

All too often, fostering the emotional health of employees is not considered the leader's responsibility. After all, what role can a supervisor play in something so private?  Granted, personal responsibility is just that; however, leadership can and should play a more significant role in assisting individuals to reach their personal best. Employees produce for, and are committed to, their organizations in direct proportion to their self-concept. The higher they rise as individuals, the greater their contribution. It's impossible to separate the employee from the person.

What does this leadership behavior look like in a practical sense? Unlike other leadership methods that come with a step by step formula, the power of this approach is in its simplicity. Leaders only need to understand and embrace their roles as facilitators of human empowerment. Look daily for opportunities to influence the work environment to create a safe place for employees to explore their own unique strengths. Challenge them to question thoughts and beliefs that could be limiting their achievements. Be a patient and supportive guide on their journey.

I’ve seen the power of this approach in organizations that deal with life and death situations created by major disasters, where people rise up to immeasurable challenges. Guess what? It works just as well in organizations like yours. That’s because what all organizations have in common is that they are run by human beings. And once you unleash the human spirit, success knows no boundaries.

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