Leader, Know Thyself
By Allan Howells
I enjoyed a recent conversation with an established world-class musician about the skills required to sustain a career as a professional artist. Contrary to popular belief, professional musicians are not just born, they are created through a relentless desire to learn and improve.
Music, like other performing arts, is ultimately very subjective. There is no magic formula or method to composing or performing the classic piece. What my ear finds interesting and stimulating will be very different to the person by my side or the critic across the street. The life of a professional musician is a career of hard work, creativity, criticism and challenge. Not too dissimilar, then, to the experience of many leaders.
In our conversation we explored how professional musicians develop the necessary resilience: “It’s about knowing and understanding who you are as an artist. It doesn’t happen overnight. However, when you have worked this through you are then equipped to filter the critique and extract the learning points that will improve your artistry, and then discard the remainder. If you haven’t worked out who you are, you will be pushed and pulled in different directions, ultimately losing sight of what makes you unique.”
This successful musician has developed the skill and the confidence to tell their story through their music. Really talented musicians, therefore, can build and convey a narrative which each member of the audience feels an emotional connection with.
There is a lesson here for aspiring leaders. To be successful you need more than vision and hard work. You need to develop your strength and resilience, and most importantly you need to develop your understanding of who you are. Your first step should be to look inwards at yourself. Find out who you are as a person, what your values are and how these align with your organisation. In marketing terms, define and develop your personal ‘brand’.
Whilst your brand may evolve over time, being true to who you are will ultimately bring authenticity to your leadership, which in turn will make it easier for others to participate in your (and their) journey. It will ensure that the route you navigate will be adjusted by positive feedback and not by the whims of the critics who shout the loudest. It will also allow you to develop and flourish. After all, leaders aren’t just born ready. They are people who have tried, struggled, failed and learned. And above all, they have learned to understand and dance to their own tune.
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