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Leadership and Self Awareness, Lunchtime Lecture by Dr Tony Humphreys

Reflections by Dr John McKeon, Serial Entrepreneur, based in TTEC

Last Friday (23 November 2012) we had a wonderful ‘lunch and learn event’ in the beautiful scholarly surroundings of the Long Room Hub, a fabulous building between the 1937 Reading Room and the Provost’s Garden. It was a wonderful crisp autumnal afternoon and every one delighted to gather in advance of the talk for food and hot drinks. After some quick hellos and exchanges of business cards the event began to fill with an excellent crowd.

Dr Tony Humphreys

Dr Tony Humphreys

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Oneself,” Peter Drucker wrote, “Whenever you make a decision or take a key decision, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the results with what you expected.” Drucker called this self-reflection process feedback analysis and credited it to a 14th-century German theologian.

Even considering the above I think it is fair to say there was a little bit of cynicism in the air about how a lecture on self-awareness would be relevant to the busy group assembled. The audience represented the diverse group that makes up the Trinity Enterprise Network including members of the TCD entrepreneurial ecosystem, start up companies, teaching staff, MBA students, PhDs, undergraduate and various entrepreneurial support staff of the college including Technology Transfer Officers.

Tony opened his slides with a quote from How Leaders Become Self-Aware by Anthony K. Tjan Harvard Business Review July 19, 2012. Becoming aware of dealing with your inner core is at the centre of leadership effectiveness and development. The more acutely you are aware of it, the better you will be as a leader.”

In business and leadership there is a tendency to focus entirely on the ‘macho stuff’ like business plans, strategy and tactics. Tony would argue authentic leadership and real business toughness is often closer to the Socratic statement ‘know thy self’.

He also referred to the Plato quote “Citizens of Athens, aren’t you ashamed to care so much about making all the money you can and advancing your reputation and prestige, while for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your souls you have no thought or care?” This is an alarmingly relevant quote for our recent crisis of leadership and systems failures both here and abroad.

Tony argues that without personal maturity and self awareness we develop a mindset of unconscious defensive leadership and this can result in being an ineffective team leader. Characteristics of Unconscious Defensive Leadership include avarice, bullying, cosy cartels, secretiveness and arrogance. These traits of leadership kill an atmosphere of openness and safety for knowledge workers. Clearly these leadership traits are not conducive to innovation amongst teams with dismissiveness, unavailability and unapproachability often being the order of the day.

People are like dolphins: you can’t hit them as they just swim away. Likewise financial incentive based programs will only get you so far as a leader. With the mobility of the modern workforce a true deep understanding of self first will give you the emotional maturity to understand what truly motivates your team and how to meet their needs for significance and contribution.

With personal reflection Conscious Mature Leadership is developed. Characteristics of a mature leader include accountability, authenticity, fairness, and understanding. With a conscious mature leader at the helm companies have an atmosphere of openness, encouragement, belief in opportunities and active listening. Obviously this makes a much more effective working environment for innovation, brainstorming and gives confidence to your team to develop and contribute new ideas.

It is fair to say across many sectors in society we have seen a loss of leadership and personal accountability by people hiding behind systems. Tony emphasised that these are not ‘systems failures’ as behind every system if you dig deep enough there is an individual who has to be prepared to have personal accountability. ‘Computer says no’ will not cut it going forward.

Tony closed his talk by emphasising again the simple but profound take away message that the most important principle of business management is personal maturity. If things are not going to plan with your team start by looking in the mirror. Don’t wish the problems were less, but work on becoming better yourself.

There then followed a lively Q and A with Tony running through some very practical methodologies for getting the concepts he discussed into the day to day functioning of your teams. Implementing these principles from the time of Plato and Socrates will foster innovation and creativity and an atmosphere of respect and fun. The days of command and control leadership are in the past.

Clearly any reliable strategies that can increase the speed of creativity and the power of trust in an organisation will make a very real difference to the bottom line. Perhaps the macho KPIs and targets stuff is just ‘playing office’ until we get the mature leader issue dealt with?

An open discussion along these lines with our co-workers sounds like a very good business decision rather than airy fairy stuff!

We hope to have one more lunch and learn seminar for the Trinity Enterprise Network before the end of the year so please contact us at email: ttec@tcd.ie if you would like to receive the details.

Books by Tony Humphreys

Leadership with Consciousness

Work and Self

Posted in Seminars

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