“Gnothi Seauton” (“Know Thyself”) - a dedication that is part of a well-protected daily practice?

“Gnothi Seauton” (“Know Thyself”) - a dedication that is part of a well-protected daily practice?

Understanding, listening and learning

As leader (of any kind) the best preparation you can have for the challenges you face lies in a) your continual attention to deepening your understanding of yourself and b) your awareness of and ability to listen and learn from the “other(s)” that surround you.

This insight has been the repeated conclusion garnered from many interactions with the leaders we coach and consult with every day.

Put simply: Given the diverse and unpredictable nature of the challenges and opportunities that you face as a leader every day, how effective you can be in your leadership role depends more on how well you know and understand yourself, and less on how familiar you are with the situation you face  or how prepared and supported you feel, regarding the challenges you have.

The practice of effective leaders

For the most effective leaders, the ancient Greek aphorism “Gnothi Seauton” (“Know Thyself”) has a very special and indispensable meaning. For them the Delphi inscription is not simply a caution or helpful exhortation, it is a daily dedication that is part of a well-protected continuous practice and routine. It is an ongoing and constant attention (involving inquiry and action) that is deeply embedded in their way of being and living.

For the most masterful of the leaders we have worked with, this way of being has profound behavioural implications for them. We have identified its implications as including the following:

  1. It guides their focus. In doing so, determining what questions they choose to ask and what issues they determine to address. (What to give time and attention to);
  2. It determines their orientation. In so doing defining what role and response (if any) to take in a particular context. (What to do and how to be in this situation);
  3. It directs their pacing and timing. By highlighting focus, role and appropriate, contextual leadership needs, it sharpens the sense of urgency and nature of energy required. (When to engage; with what effort; for how long; with what end);
  4. It keeps them grounded. By inquiring and listening, as well as acting and noticing, it deepens appreciation and awareness of their place in, and interaction with what surrounds and sustains them (What I am in this place; what connects me / is connected to me; what my being and doing means and does)

A shift in focus and concern

Our work with leaders and managers of teams and organisations has showed us that we are at our most effective when helping our clients to learn how to learn more about themselves. We are paradoxically at our most effective when we do least and find ways in which we can enable and support our clients to do most. The challenge for us (working with our clients) is to shift the focus of need and attention in our work together from “Give me help” or “Show me how” to “Help me see” and “What if I…”

Working in this way, questions precede solutions. Listening precedes speaking. Acting follows reflection. All of these are increasingly brought together in a continuous cycle of practice, where beginning and ending soon becomes academic, and the reality of the actual action / behaviour creates the pathways to greater attention, awareness and effectiveness.

A way of living and knowing

We understand our clients’ feedback on their experience and from our own practice, that this way of being and living is also a way of knowing and being free. Knowing oneself becomes a dedication as well as an end but never an indulgence. The reality of the context and connectedness as well as the frailty and limitations that come with growing awareness, serve as a reminder, a brake and a natural balance. Attention and choice in the moment leads to a settlement for that moment. When the moment passes a new one is present. The reality and attention for this present moment becomes the focus of awareness and energy.

What is in the light and what is cast into the shadows, in that moment, are brought into sharp relief. A choice can be embraced and attended to.

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leadership    reflection    self-awareness   


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