Written by: William D. Anton, Ph. D., Founder of CEO Effectiveness
Like most things in life workplace politics are complicated by how well people know their true selves. This is especially true of the leader who as a person and a symbol has a great influence on everything that happens in the workplace. The leader’s level of self-knowledge determines more than her or his relationship with his or her self. Equally important is the recognition that the quality of that relationship is actually directly linked to what can be accomplished in their organization. Put simply, if the person at the top does not know and connect with their real self then everyone in the organization suffers and what the collective can create and sustain is limited to the same or a greater degree. This is the principal reason that CEO Effectiveness LLC focuses on top leadership. This is where the greatest good can be achieved not only for top leaders but for workplace and the organization.
Problematic is that many leaders think they already know themselves and how to motivate their workforce. Some enjoy levels of self-awareness and even exhibit components of emotional intelligence that are helpful to them and their company. But, all of this pales in comparison to what can be achieved through greater self-knowledge. Simply put, only self-knowledge is transformational and affects almost everything in life and work. If efficiency and effectiveness are important to you, the pursuit of self-knowledge is the best place to expend your energy.
Lack of self-knowledge may well be the greatest counterforce to sustainable business success. Ambition, training, experience, business skills, vision, can all be undermined by behaviors linked to outdated mental models held by leaders, workers, and customers. For many these models determine what they can see and actions they are likely to take, yet the templates themselves can remain outside of conscious awareness for a lifetime. That is one reason that self-knowledge is the best business strategy at all levels of an organization, but it is particularly critical for top leadership.
The leader who knows and accepts themselves as they truly are enjoys one of the most effective tools available in the business world. This leader has greater access to their internal resources (talents, skills, and abilities) and enjoys a level of personal power that cannot be taken away or copied by others. Combined with business knowledge, skills and institutional power she or he is in a position to replace envy with admiration, compliance with commitment and followership with leadership throughout their organization.
If influential leaders are not dedicated to reality (to include self-knowledge) at all cost, then the exercise of their power is likely to generate resistance and greater unpredictability (i.e. noise) throughout the organization. These leaders are likely to think about reality as something external to them. This is where politics steps in as a prosthesis that helps create illusions as a substitute for real connections. Those leaders focus exhaustively on the business domains that they know well and operate as if those exhaust what is knowable and important. Typically these areas include understanding and mastering the business, developing mutually beneficial relationships that serve business ends, insuring business indices are accurately tracked, refining hiring practices, creating competitive advantage, and often keeping close track of their career path on a personal level.
But, how effectively each is executed is based on top leadership’s self-knowledge and its consequences throughout the company. This is the point of maximum leverage for converting potential energy into kinetic energy throughout the workforce, and is usually the last to be addressed (if at all) in strengthening a company’s capacity to create its own future.