'True North' and Beginning Introspection on Myself and Leadership

One of my classes this semester is on leadership... a quality that I clearly think that I lack. :) One of the first things we were asked to do was read about 'authentic' leadership and to look at the following questions to start assessing the leadership potential that each of us has. So I have posted the questions as well as my answers here. Please be kind. :)

1. What leaders, past or present, do you admire most? What is it about them that you admire? Which of these leader do you consider to be authentic leaders? What can you learn from their leadership?: After my readings and thoughts on the issue only a few names kept pushing their way to the front of my thoughts. These individuals are quite varied in background and I think a few I would be debated with by calling them 'leaders' in the sense that I have tended to see leaders as people that everybody knows or are famous or are rich and powerful. The individuals that I really feel stick out in my mind are: Martin Luther King Jr., King Benjamin (from the Book of Mormon), Anite Stratton, C.S. Lewis and Tamar (from Genesis in the Old Testament). The things that I admire most of about these 'leaders' in some way are very unique to each individual, but all of these people have a few traits in common. Every one of them has courage and was willing to work and risk a lot for the things that they believed in and they felt 'passionate' about. Each individual did their work and pursued their passions not only giving up other easier options, but drawing other people into their lives and their passions changing the world around them. I admire their courage and passion as well as strength and determination to move forward even if success doesn't seem possible and to continue to try. Every single one of these people are authentic leaders beyond doubt. I base this statement on what I believe an authentic leader to be; namely, an individual with a strong internal moral compass, good and passionate purpose, a strong character, true to their understanding of themselves and at all times working towards positive individual development and progression, and establishing and working toward positive and strong relationships with others that are solid, well grounded and strong as well. Each person not only took the time to question life and their assumptions, but to question how they made the assumptions in the first place. These leaders have taught me that the easy way is not always the right way, that I need to be true to myself and what I need but not selfish and clutching, to take risks and not hide in fear and anxiety, and to acknowledge my imperfections and to question myself, my motives and even my needs to determine what I really need and what is real knowledge and worth struggling for. I will give a brief synopsis of these leaders below for those who do not find these individuals familiar to them.

2. Thinking back over all the leadership experiences in your lifetime, which ones are you proudest of? : This is not an easy answer for me. I am not sure that I am proud of any experiences that I have had. I have personally felt that I shouldn't be a leader or be in any position of power over others. I make too many assumptions, I have difficulty with conflict and I have been told by a few people that my communication skills are quite poor and I misunderstand people and their motives frequently. Knowing these traits about myself makes me feel that I shouldn't ever be a leader in any capacity because I do not think that even with passion, strength of character, generosity and positive internal development and motivations, I can overcome my communication difficulties and my lack of full self awareness and discipline. So the list of leadership positions I have been in is small to non existent as I have worked hard to avoid them in my life. Through a few supervisory experiences that I have been given at times when I have been forced to be a very reluctant leader, I can't honestly say that I am proud of any leadership experience in full. I am only proud of aspects of what I accomplished- I don't honestly feel like I can be proud of the job I did as a whole. The aspects I am proud of are my capacity for generosity, my motivation for hard work, my creativity and ability to draw people outside of themselves and their comfort zones to think and ponder, and my attempts to lift the people in my group that I considered the most at risk in terms of health, self esteem, and life challenges. I am not proud of my poor communication, my fear of myself and conflict as well as my inability to stop or deflect negativity towards others, team divisions, or to stop deliberate sabotage- my response is to just sigh and feel annoyed and to to fix the problem indirectly... a response which rarely has worked for me I might add. (I will admit that I am only taking this class because it is mandatory for the honors program and then with the hope that I might learn a few things... it would never have been on my list without the motivation of the honor's program.)

3. Think about the basis for your leadership and the kind of leader you would like to be as you answer these questions: What qualities do I bring to leadership? What leadership qualities would I like to develop further? : I do have several good qualities that I think are important in the basic needs of people in responsible or leadership positions. I am generous, highly motivated and creative. I tend to be quite energetic and I am action oriented- I prefer to get something positive done then spend time just discussing it. I am passionate, loyal and am willing to struggle toward goals wholeheartedly. I easily trust and share with those whose values seem to mimic mine and I do work on being introspective and having consistent positive self development. But I think that is where the good and strong qualities end. If I had the opportunity I would love to have a few of my more negative qualities become either neutral or even positive characteristics. I would love to develop the capacity to truly understand people better during verbal and nonverbal communication and to find more positive ways to manage conflict. It would also be wonderful to understand how to work at keeping teams healthy and how to understand ways of helping when groups are not able to work together. At one point, I spent over five years working at changing the thoughts and behaviors of a faith community when it can to individuals with disabilities and I was only successful in allowing myself to be frustrated, semi-abused and pushed out. I also think that my fear of myself and misunderstanding only presses the likelihood of failure in my communication and success higher. If it was possible to develop better communication skills, more self awareness and understanding as well as self confidence and knowledge I am all for it!

4. Assess yourself against the five dimensions of an authentic leader: Do you understand your purpose? Do you understand your values? Do you lead with my heart? Do you establish connected relationships? Do you demonstrate self discipline? : The short answer is that yes would be the black and white answer to the question. But true assessment leaves quite a bit of gray area. I definitely lead with my heart. When I feel like I understand what is right and necessary I give it everything I have and sometimes more than I should or can afford. In some aspects I am pretty good at self discipline- as an individual with lots of food allergies, I have to be very disciplined to avoid getting sick through food as well as supplies for basic daily living such as soap and envelopes. But I am quite cowardly when it comes to conflict and that is a skill I am currently trying to develop instead of just avoiding it or ignoring it. Some forms of self discipline I am not really good at and they tend to be the ones that are harder to pin a clear negative consequence to. I understand my values and can clearly articulate them, but I am not always sure in some situations how the situations fit into my values code and only in hindsight do I sometimes see that I have not followed my values as strictly as I would have liked. I am able to develop connected relationships, but I am sometimes unsure of boundaries and over the last year, my ability to develop close connected relationships seems to have been severed... at least in the short term.

5. Do you feel that you are more effective as a leader when you are authentic, or does being authentic constrain your leadership effectiveness? : I am not sure how to answer this question honestly... as I do not feel that I have ever really been a truly effective leader. My instinctive answer is that I can only be an effective leader when I am being authentic and I think that must be the correct answer in life as well as class. Trying to be someone you are not or to espouse values that you do not feel are correct is difficult and does eventually do you in -sometimes literally if you are famous for your high values (William Bennett) or even famous period (Tiger Woods). I think that the answer might also depend on what your values actually are to determine effectiveness. Some well known business leaders chased the companies they led but walked away with millions of dollars and compensation- if they were trying to become rich at any cost they were quite effective, but not really as effective if they were trying to create a great, trustworthy and solid business/company. Whatever most people think of Bill Clinton, statistically a great majority see him as an effective leader even though the majority would also say his moral compass was out of whack. The opposite is true of George W. Bush. In some ways he does appear to easily fit the mold as an authentic leader... but the majority of people appear to see him as a failed leader overall.

6. Are you consciously developing your leadership abilities at this time? : The easy answer is not really. Right now all of my mental focus is glued onto working on my family relationships, finding stability in my life, working on my goals and developing a better understanding of myself. I think that only the last focus really cleanly fits into developing positive and effective abilities. However, this understanding I am attempting to develop is my focus to understand me and to help me find stability and a clear sense of purpose again in my life. Frankly, in many ways it is a selfish focus as I want this ability for 'me' first and only want the benefits of it as a secondary bonus.

My Leader Synopsis: Every one of these people that I discuss have changed the world for the better. I will admit that I thought of a lot more, but these are the ones that really 'stuck' when I was reading about the above assignment and the people that I think about recently when pondering positive changes in my life. All of these individuals have radically changed the world that I live in for the better.

1. Martin Luther King Jr – became the defacto leader of the civil rights movement in the United States. His passion, action, and work toward social welfare and racial equality in my country and its positive consequences cannot be adequately defined in only a small paragraph.

2. King Benjamin – is the story of the ruler/king of Zarahemla. He was a man who was passionate about his faith and his people and he worked tirelessly to support himself (unusual thing in a king) and to teach his people fidelity to God and service and kindness to themselves and others. He focuses on peace and good works and tried to teach everyone by his example and his work as well as by his words. His final speech to his people focus on gratitude, faith, service, and the obligations that everyone had to the fellow beings and to God. His speeches and works were quoted by other prophets and leaders for decades after his death according to written words and tradition.

3. Anite Stratton
– is a wonderful woman who I am lucky enough to call friend. She is a woman devoted to helping children and other individuals who have severe life difficulties. She is currently the mother of eight children (maybe more at this time... I am not always up to date) many of whom have come through the foster system. She is patient, dedicated to helping others and her passion is focused not only on helping the 'ordinary' child, but also the child with severe difficulties. Her love and passion seem to have no bounds as she will work with anyone who wants to learn and will support anyone who is truly trying to better themselves.

4. C.S. Lewis – is a beloved author and Christian apologist. His passion for self introspection developed into a strong Christian faith during his college years and it infused all of his life and works until his death in 1963. He was a leader in literacy and in Christian thought as well as in quiet good works such as charitable donations. He did not allow an assumption brought to his attention to stand unless appropriately defended and worked tirelessly to convince others to look deeply, to challenge assumptions, to follow the Christian faith (he was generally positive to wards all faiths and didn't work to degrade any faith- however, he felt that Christianity was 'right'.) He didn't believe that certain genres of writing were 'lesser' and wrote for almost all genres... and in doing so reinvigorated and remade the way these genres were viewed and written (such as childrens literature.)

5. Tamar – is the story of a woman who lived during the time of the famous Joseph; ' Joseph and his Technicolor Dream-Coat'. She married the son of Judah (one of the elder brother's of said Joseph) named Er who died before they had conceived children. She was then married according to commandment and tradition to the next oldest son of Judah named Onan. However, Onan was unwilling to have children with Tamar and did his best to avoid doing so which according to tradition led to his death. At this point, Judah decides that Tamar is 'cursed' and so he lies to her- asking her to wait until his youngest son is old enough to marry her, but in actually never intends to have his son Shelah do so as is evidenced as the years go by without the marriage taking place. Tamar finds herself in a difficult situation as she sees no way to fulfill the promises that she has given to God to continue the hereditary line of Judah and also as a widow has no status and little honor. In short, she has no opportunity for future love or marriage, maternity, or even justice. Tamar understanding herself, her community and current family as well as having a passion and determination to follow through on her commitments develops a plan to fulfill her commitments and she waits for her father in law Judah at the side of a road when she knows he will be walking by. Wearing a veil, he does not recognize her and, mistaking her for a prostitute, propositions her and is accepted. She accepted his signet ring as a temporary payment and presents it to him in a few months when she is discovered to be pregnant. She bears twins and is later married to Judah according to some traditions. Her children become the forbears of other famous individuals.

(On an end note, I wonder what it says about me that most of the leaders I admire most are long dead....)


  1. Two comments on this one:

    1. Don't let the apparent business focus of this book confuse "leader" with "supervisor." Leading by example is at least as valuable as leading by virtue of job description.

    2. I don't understand what leadership abilities you admire in Tamar.

  2. Sonia, ,,, you once again touch my heart,, I'm blessed that you see me as you do,, I love you!!!!

  3. How are you defining leadership? Is it all about influencing others?

  4. Anonymous - I agree with you that leading by example is so important and actually that is one reason that I see Tamar as a great leader. She didn't fall apart over her loses and found a way to influence those around her. She did what she believed and what she thought she needed to make it happen even thought she had to be 100% unconventional about it. I will never be in that position, but I - no matter how creative I think I am - would never have come up with that solution....and it worked. Isn't a true leader someone who keeps their word, works hard, helps influence others for good, and doesn't pass on the hard or 'lower' work to someone else? I will admit here that I do not like this class already and hope to spend as little time on it as possible.

    Question four covers the five dimensions of an 'authentic' leader that I am studying: understanding purpose, practicing values, leading with your heart, establishing connected relationships, and demonstrating self-discipline. I don't think I have a lot of these qualities... well, recently anyway. ; )

  5. Not liking a class may mean that you have something to learn from it.

  6. I am afraid that might be true. :/ I guess I am dreading more lessons right now... but I'm gonna do it!

  7. What do you think about those things as defining leadership? Myself, I'm not buying it.

  8. I think that they can be a part of it, but I don't see it as the 'whole' of the equation. I think that in a way the 'leader' they are describing is a supervisor and I don't see those terms as being so close in definition. One reason that I am worried about the class. I don't mind being a peon or a minion and not being in charge or 'leading'. The one thing I hope to get out of the class is some more self confidence, opportunities for more self introspection and maybe even a little confidence. I don't suspect I will get much more out of it. :)

    What do you think? What do you think defines leadership? Oh, and Anite, I love you too! Keep up the good work. :)