Leading From the Inside- Out

I recently joined a coaching program that offered a more holistic view on coaching, giving participants more of a “life” perspective for tackling business- related problems. We were first required to go through a process of self-discovery. Amongst the group was a senior executive/consultant who, at the end of the program, had mixed feelings about its usefulness. He enjoyed the areas covering specific coaching skills but had expected a more direct business focus. He felt that business executives would only be willing to pay for coaching geared towards behavior improvement or business results. “Who will pay for discovering who they are and what their values are?” he said. And thiswould seem to be a valid concern.

I learned a lot about this executive as we went through the program together, and he showed both his strengths and his weaknesses. He dislikes having a full schedule all the time and being committed to everyone else but himself. He almost perceives there to be a contradiction between being his real self and being successful in business. His job requires him to be very creative and insightful yet rational and logical as well. When he states his opinions, he speaks with caution and authority. He is very good at advising people.

The feedback he received from the group sug- gested that he use his intuition and show his real self more, including his artistic and fun-loving traits, and his strong desire for freedom of choice. Though he resisted the focus on self-discovery, if he acts upon the self-knowledge he gained through the program it would certainly help him achieve those results.


This executive’s experience shows exactly why self-awareness is so critical to leadership development. Coaching from a life perspective can indirectly lead to breakthroughs and benefit senior executives. Leaders often try very hard to “act” as leaders, and to insist that they are always “ right.” Employees may aggrandize their leader too, expecting them to always have the answers. As a result, sometimes a leader projects a personality to others that is quite different from whom they really are. This may cause them to behave in a certain way as to meet the expectations of others, rather than leading from the “inside out”. They may lose the quality that is usually highly prized in a leader– their uniqueness. We usually find a leader charis- matic or inspirational because of who they are as a person; this internal source of power enables them to have a strong influence on others.


When learning new skills and behaviors during the coaching process, senior executives aim to get closer to ‘perfect’ – they think that it demon- strates greater leadership. In effect, however, adding new skills and behaviors is like adding new software programs to a computer. The operational system remains the same, and the source of power is exter- nal, not from within, and so becomes shaky.
When we help these executives to find out who they are, we are helping them to find their anchor points. For example, we recently developed a leader- ship program from the European headquarters of a multinational company, which focused extensively on leaders’ self awareness and self discovery. We worked with Chinese managers to identify their personality types, their typical team roles, as well as their influencing styles – in essence preparing them to know themselves first. By identifying their anchor points, they can have a more accurate self-perception and identify gaps for personal growth. It has been proven to be the most successful and well-received leadership program we have delivered so far in China. Focusing on the strengths and the core values of the individual helps them to develop a foundation for shaping their own unique style of leadership.


Leadership is not about being right all the time, it is about being real. It is about authenticity and sometimes, vulnerability, as well. Daring to show weaknesses only makes a leader one of “us” and approachable to his/her followers. Authentic leadership is about daring to be one’s real self and having consistency between internal and external personality. Only when leadership is from the inside- out, can power be sustainable and influential withothers.