Leadership Begins With Knowing Yourself

Hindsight is a pain in the proverbial.


Until you recognise that actually it is also crucial to reflect and see how far you have travelled. I also believe hugely in generously accepting advice, shortcuts and the learnings of others.


I do wish someone had taken me aside in school, or university, or even by business school and the workplace to share the importance of knowing my core values.

In my early thirties I left the not for profit sector and entered a highly commercial organisation. The learning curve was huge! Just to stay afloat was taking all the mental and emotional capacity I had. I worked long hours, cried tears of frustration, felt imposter syndrome on so many occasions, and got lost in the doing. New jargon, new culture, processes, hiring, meetings, meetings and more meetings. After a few years I understood most facets of that business. My resilience during those years and today is incredible.


Resilience is not everything though. Great leadership starts with knowing who you are.


We talk so much about becoming a great leader. As if there is a secret formula for the selected few. There seems to be an accepted image of what a great leader looks and sounds like. If you google "attributes of a leader" the most common return is - Communication, Vision, Delegation, Creativity, Integrity, Positivity, Innovation. In not one article does it say - you need to know who you are before you can lead others with Integrity, Clear vision etc.


Knowing yourself It is about knowing what is important to you and how you approach each area of your life. In essence when the jobs come and go - this is all about how you lead yourself every day.


I realise now I didn't know who I was. At least I didn't explicitly recognise the essence of who I am. Carol Ryff developed a psychological well-being model that proposes that purpose and growth are two of the six key factors to living a well balanced life. I was growing exponentially each year. My purpose it now feels in hindsight was to learn. One of the other key factors for ones well-being is self-acceptance and self-awareness.


Now I know that self-awareness comes first, then the leadership.


I never heard the words core values until four years ago. You know the phrase "you don't know what you don't know". That was one of those scenarios. I didn't know myself. I went on a women's retreat where we discussed and explored core values and what they mean to all of us. At the time I went through them and thought "ooh interesting". It has only been in the intervening years I have felt, learned, experienced, researched and reflected on what they mean to us.


They are the essence of who you are, they are how you make your choices and decisions. They guide you to choose your relationships, your friendships, who you work with and for and who you surround yourself with. They are how you choose how to exercise, how you earn money and choose their interests.


You can feel when you are completely aligned to your values and your "gut" tells you loud and clear when you are not.


So this is my truth and reflection of my last c-suite corporate role - I loved growing and learning. And it turns out that learning is one of my core values. That is why I loved working in the company I stayed longest in. And it is why I left, I stopped growing.


The people that we work for and with is the most important. I had an incredibly supportive leadership team around me. If I had known my own inner leader at the time I would have said "no" more often. The reality is though that I was learning and growing so fast that I wanted the projects, exposure and diversity of work. I could have known why I was saying yes and focused my efforts, for myself, the business, my loved ones.


Imagine the clarity and compassion we would have in the workplace if people knew their own core values and recognised others. Imagine if organisations, business schools and universities offered this? Why do we need to imagine?


Today I know what my values are. I know my own voice. I align my life and choices to them. Integrity, learning and purpose are three of mine. Do you know yours?



Susan Sheehan is the Founder of Back Yourself Mentoring. She passionately shares with every woman who joins Back Yourself to explore and know who she is, so that she can believe and back herself. Before you start any journey you want to know if it is right to you, what are you parameters around it and how does it align to fulfil your life ambitions. She hosts workshops on Finding The Leader Within for women in the workplace, in business schools and for women's networks around the UK and the world.



Take some time to get to know yourself


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