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Great Leadership Requires Radical Self-Inquiry

The most toxic leaders go through this process and come out better, stronger, more effective leaders.

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Leaders are supposed to have the answers; they’re supposed to know how to do things, but very few leaders know why those decisions are made. It’s impossible to know the “why” without first understanding the “who.” Every decision a leader makes stems from personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions that may or may not be related to the problem at hand.

A leader who has not taken the time to unpack personal baggage and examine their own life cannot lead clearly. This internal self-examination is essential for leadership because of the power dynamics of leadership. A leader who is unwilling to unmask themselves will often warp and twist the culture of their organization, unconsciously turning those over whom they have structural power into two-dimensional players in their private little theaters.

Ask Yourself the Hard Questions

The result is organizations and communities that are toxic and harmful to the participants (and, often times, the planet and the larger communities). A leader who is unwilling to look honestly and openly at their internal demons is incredibly dangerous to themselves and anyone they work with. Those demons steer decisions and create atmospheric chaos.

It’s also a futile fight. The monsters hiding under the bed (or in the heart) won’t disappear. Instead, those internal struggles will grow larger causing more destruction. The only way to prevent personal baggage from knocking down everyone in its path is to focus on self-inquiry. Ask yourself the tough questions and determine why you work the way you do.

Did you set up your team to fail for fear of change? Did you bury a project for fear of failure? Do you command meetings that disallow anyone else to speak because you were never heard as a child? Why do you act the way that you do? Where does it stem from, and how is it governing every decision you make?

Why Self-Inquiry is the Most Important Leadership Skill

I’ve met very few people in my life who enjoy answering those questions—at first. Once someone has gone through the process, the result is usually worth the struggle. The process in and of itself allows a leader to sit back comfortably with confidence knowing that all decisions come from a peaceful place that isn’t tainted by personal baggage.

The beauty of self-inquiry is that it can begin at any time. I’ve seen some of the most toxic leaders go through the process of self-inquiry and come out better, stronger, more effective leaders. More importantly, they’ve created teams that aren’t afraid to innovate or voice an opinion. It’s cathartic.

Originally published on Quora. 

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