Effective leadership begins with self-acceptance

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Leadership and culture change management expert Yetunde Hofmann.

The corporate sector is abuzz with terms such as “purpose” and “kindness” but, as senior international organisation professional and leadership and culture change management expert Yetunde Hofmann explains, it is impossible for leaders to drive their staff with a shared purpose unless they first come to accept themselves. The solution lies in a new form of management that incorporates all other models: Love-based leadership.

By Yetunde Hofmann

Love is the most critical leadership capability required in order for a leader, regardless of his or her status, to be effective. It is the unconditional acceptance of self and others, and at its very core is self-acceptance.

When a leader comes from a place in which they fully accept all of who they are, it makes it much easier for them to accept another person as human and for all of who they are, thereby creating an environment in which their people can genuinely fully thrive. This is because they are able to express themselves free from judgement or retribution. This doesn’t mean that behaviours that contravene the organisation’s values should be tolerated. What it means is that in everything a leader does, and in every communication they have, the root of it is Love: where the recipient is valued and seen as truly human.

In today’s world, organisation leaders are increasingly using words like ‘compassion’, ‘kindness’, ‘empathy’, ‘purpose’, and others such as ‘collaboration’ and ‘helpfulness’ because they’re now being regarded as attributes that are important to effective leadership. Of all of these, the most common and highly regarded is Purpose. We learn that the most effective organisations are ones that are purpose-led. This is an organisation that has a reason for being that goes beyond the transaction. It is an organisation with leadership that recognises that having a purpose that employees, suppliers, customers and consumers can relate and ascribe to—a shared purpose—is an organisation that has long-term sustained success within its grasp.

Therefore, leaders with purpose recognise the accountability and responsibility they have in service to their people, their consumers, and their customers. When a leader leads with purpose, they are able and willing to make pivotal decisions that in the short term may appear unreasonable yet are in the best interest of the company, its community and its people up and down the supply chain.

Being purpose-led requires a conviction and a belief that success is more than money. Very rarely has any employee said that their motivation and inspiration from a leader has come from that leader’s passion for making money (!) and that their willingness to stay long term and give their best to a company is because of the good salary that’s been earned all the way.

A leader who inspires and cares—who makes decisions with the genuine best interest of their people at the centre—is a leader who is selflessly purpose-driven and who imbues the wider organisation with that purpose. This is a leader who genuinely believes that taking care of your people means taking care of business.

Effectiveness, however, doesn’t come easy; hence the reason for the crowded marketplace of leadership and management development programmes—all competing for the investment and increasingly scarce resources of companies looking to develop their talent and high potentials into effective people and organisational leaders. Leadership is relational and involves other people, some of whom are also leaders. And effectiveness is judged by the outcome of the quality of the relationships that are cultivated, and the impact of that on the company’s results. To relate effectively requires an understanding of the other person or persons in the relationship, and a willingness to see things from their point of view without judgement. The ability to do this effectively comes from first mastering oneself, which requires a willingness to accept oneself—fully and wholly without exception—unconditionally.

The question every leader must ask is, “How can I create an environment in which my people feel safe mentally and emotionally—an environment in which they feel wholly accepted—if I’m not at first in acceptance of myself?” The answer to that is simple: you can’t.

When a leader is fully accepting of his or herself, he or she is more able to establish an environment in which others are able to accept themselves. Mutual self-acceptance, in turn, will enable an environment in which ideas are shared with conviction and without judgement or retribution; requests are made freely without fear; inclusion become real and genuine for all; wellbeing is addressed as a matter of normal business; and diversity—real diversity—which goes beyond the obvious is evident. The resulting impact on the bottom and top line that would emerge through cost savings and innovation will be felt. It’s a no-brainer.

So how does a leader become more self-accepting? Here are five ways:

  1. KNOW YOURSELF

Understand who you are as a human being. The only instrument you have as a leader is you, and to be effective you must become a master of who you are. When you are master of yourself, you’re able to appreciate the impact you have on others knowingly and unknowingly, and you’re able to openly receive and use the power of feedback. You can seek feedback directly from your people or indirectly using various feedback tools and mechanisms that exist in the marketplace today. The more you know yourself, the more you’ll remember that feedback is based on what people see: your actions and your behaviours, and not on who you are. Giving feedback to yourself as a leader is also key. This is where journaling comes in handy.

Journal your experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Journal on the way you experience yourself relating to different people that you meet in your company, on client visits, and on various stakeholder engagements. Notice how you respond and react in different situations at work and at home, and why. In doing so, be willing to forgive yourself of mistakes that you make or of things that don’t go the way you expected. When you journal over time, you gather priceless intelligence on yourself and intelligence that you can refer to when you’re faced with a familiar challenge and/or when you need a boost in confidence. Journaling as a leader is one of the cheapest yet most impactful ways of developing self-acceptance.

  1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR STRENGTHS

Taking the time to discover your strengths and then nurturing them is a significant step towards self-acceptance. Your strengths are those skills, knowledge and behaviours that you exhibit and that continuously and consistently help you in delivering quality results. Embracing them and using them selflessly for the good of your company and team will, in turn, strengthen your self-acceptance and help you stay rooted in your conviction in the face of difficult situations or conversations.

  1. BE A LEARNER

Trying something new, taking a calculated risk, and letting go of your dearly-held beliefs in the interest of the team and organisation contributes to developing and demonstrating self-acceptance. When you’re willing to take a risk, it means that you are open to mistakes. However, when mistakes are made, the time you spend with your people to review the actions and how any learning gained can be turned into competitive wins going forward not only enables your own self-acceptance; it enables it in others too. Self-acceptance demonstrates an acknowledgement that you don’t have all the answers and that your people may actually have more insight than you do, which means that you can learn together.   Research will tell you that leaders who learn are those whose organisations innovate and adapt fast to change.

  1. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

If you don’t believe in yourself, it is difficult to be self-accepting. The two just don’t sit together. Self-acceptance is a product of self-belief and vice versa, and both enable you to express who you are, your purpose, what you stand for, what you are in your organisation to achieve, and why people should follow you. It also allows you to lead from a place of humility and service—when you’re self-accepting you have nothing to prove. You’re authentic; your people get you and embrace you for who you are.

  1. CELEBRATE YOUR WINS

When you celebrate your wins, you release endorphins and oxytocin—the chemicals that produce a feel-good factor—and people perform better when they feel good about themselves. The more you feel great, the more self-accepting you are and the same can be said for your people and teams. Celebrating together demonstrates a feeling of ‘we are in this together’ through all kinds of times—good and bad.

In summary, establishing a shared purpose and direction is a key attribute of effective leadership. It generates effective commercial results. It is challenging to be effective if you are constantly looking over your shoulder and second-guessing opinions and perceptions of who you are and what you do. It betrays self-confidence. When you are a self-accepting leader, you have the biggest key to unlocking the door of effectiveness.

Beyond Engagement – The Value of Love-Based Leadership in Organisations by Yetunde Hofmann (Authors Place Press) is out now in paperback and eBook formats on Amazon, priced £14.91 and £7.99 respectively. For more information, visit www.yetundehofmann.com

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