By Michael Mink
“Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves,” wrote Leo Tolstoy in “War and Peace.”
That’s a favorite quote of John Knights, who along with Danielle Grant and Greg Young wrote “Leading Beyond the Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader.”
Knights, also the co-founder and chairman of consulting firm LeaderShape, cites a study that suggests one in five CEOs have sociopathic tendencies, meaning someone who has no empathy and is interested only in themselves. While these leaders are often very persuasive, charismatic and good at getting to the top, ego run amok is often their Achilles heel.
“Ego is that part of our self that is based on our self-image and only interested in our own personal benefit,” Knights said. “There is nothing immoral about having an ego, but we must learn to manage it.”
The human brain today is virtually the same one our Stone Age ancestors had, and is designed for survival and crisis, Knights says. This influences leadership in that “the human default is to know everything and tell people what to do.”
The reality, though, is that this kind of “command and control leadership style is not effective in our modern, complex world where knowledge is no longer power,” he said, “because everyone can get it.” The problem lies in the fact that individuals “are not very good at being told what to do. Our brain default to that is to switch off.”
The solution lies in transpersonal leaders who “operate beyond their ego, continuing personal development and learning,” he said. “They are radical, ethical and authentic while emotionally intelligent and caring.”
Inventory core values.
List your personal ones, and make sure being caring and ethical are on the list.
Considering values to be “your personal touchstone against which you check before making important decisions is a very valuable tool toward making your life more fulfilled and successful,” Knights said.
Landing on the C-suite short list — meaning CEO, COO, CFO, etc. positions — requires the bold moves and uber-displays of competence that typify executive temperament, says Cassandra Frangos, author of “Crack the C-Suite Code: How Successful Leaders Make It To The Top.”
But avoid excessive pride and conceit. Once you’re under imminent consideration for a C-suite position, it’s important to demonstrate that your feet are planted firmly on the ground.
“With emotional intelligence, persuasion and relatability becoming ever more important as leadership competencies, arrogance and the inability to admit when you are wrong is an immediate red flag during your climb to the top team,” she says.
The idea of “not knowing” is a major theme across all paths to the C-suite, Frangos, a member of consulting firm Spencer Stuart’s leadership advisory services team, has found.
She says success in the C-suite means making decisions with limited information, adapting fast and coping with risk. “When you can handle that trio of tough tasks, your mind will be primed for the ambiguity you will encounter as a part of the top team.”
Test your beliefs.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
People need to show that they have reinvented themselves numerous times over the course of their career and demonstrate “the ability to unlearn the things that no longer apply,” Frangos said. Further, the shape of the top team is morphing dramatically, she notes. New roles such as chief digital officer are trending, and the size of the top team is changing.
Loners seldom reach the top. People who integrate multiple perspectives, “as opposed to acting solely on their own beliefs,” achieve more success, she says.
“There are new core competencies for top executives,” Frangos said. “Sacrosanct concepts such as experience and tenure mean far less, and things such as followership, mindset and culture fit make all the difference in career success.”
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