Crucial to growth as a leader is a comprehensive process of personal stock-taking, an ongoing discipline of objectively looking at our actions and beliefs and considering the effect they have on the individuals and systems around us.
For any given question, we must first ask ourselves how our below-the-line beliefs stand up against the accumulated body of knowledge about what contributes to or detracts from productive interactions. If our beliefs contradict that knowledge base, we will need to begin a process of honest reevaluation and reframing.
If our beliefs match the knowledge base, the issue then becomes one of choice. Is our belief a theory-in-use that is reflected in our day-to-day choices? Or is it merely an espoused theory that begins and ends in words alone? These are crucial questions, for only to the extent that our beliefs are realized through conscious choices do our organizations benefit from them.
The perceptions of others can then be seen as the culmination of the knowledge we consult and the choices we make. All of us mistake espoused theories for theories-in-use at times. The people around us, however, see only the actions that stem from our theories-in-use. Their perceptions therefore provide an important view of our behavior as it really is, not we think or hope or would like it to be.
This three-part stock-taking this requires discipline. Testing familiar beliefs against tried-and-true principles, examining and reexamining choices to ensure they reflect that knowledge base, and comparing personal perceptions with the views of others demands effort and exertion.
But just as few of us would consider driving an eighteen-wheeler on a busy interstate without side view mirrors, could we any more effectively rise to the complexities of leading a modern organization with no conscious mechanism of reflection?
This is a question that might well give every leader pause for thought.