Good leadership (wherever you are in the organization) requires a greater level of awareness. Awareness of yourself, of the situation, of the history, of the dynamics, of the trends, of the organization's capacity, etc. Borrowing from Peter Senge, I define leadership as the system's capacity to shape the future. If you're not awake and aware, that capacity is diminished. You can still shape the future, but it will end up being more random and reactive. That shapes, but not very effectively.
So we need to wake up! I am amazed how life simply puts us to sleep. We engage in our routine, we do our work. In fact, we are frequently overwhelmed and stressed about our work. There is so much to be done, we feel we can't possibly be asleep, but we often are. Sleepwalking from one task to the next, getting things done, maybe even surpassing some of our metrics and checking off boxes on our strategic plan.
But there is a difference between productivity and leadership. If you really want to shape the future, you'll have to do more, and to do that, you will need to wake up. You will need to figure out ways to jar yourself out of your routine, see things differently. You will have to consciously step outside of your comfort zone. Waking up, by the way, often means taking a closer look at your mistakes, faults, and destructive patterns (things we very often are relieved to be sleeping through!). It can really change everything. You are able to do so much more when you see clearly.
One of the hard (and frustrating) aspects of this dynamic, however, is that once you wake up, you only stay awake briefly. The world constantly brings you back to a state of sleep. You will do that leadership development program, and discover your Myers Briggs type, and assess your strengths and weaknesses, and armed with all this new awareness about yourself you will go back to your job and start doing things differently, but after some time that all fades and you end up sleepwalking again. It might be better sleepwalking than you were doing before, but it is sleepwalking nonetheless. However we are transformed by waking up, the world will readjust the scale and raise the bar. Like most aspects of leadership, the work here is constant.
So here are some tips.
Get help. The really important waking up I have done has been with the assistance of someone close to me. It's hard to make the really big leaps totally on your own. This is why coaching is so popular. It's not just a fad. When it's done right it will consistently bring you to new levels. But it can be anyone. Remember, leadership is a SYSTEM capacity, not just an individual characteristic.
Be forgiving. Sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug. We're not going to be brilliantly awake all our lives, and there is some value in sleepwalking, so when you realize you're not where you need to be, be compassionate with yourself. Use the awareness to help you move, but don't beat yourself up about it. Beating yourself up usually keeps you in sleepwalking mode longer.
Being awake is not about seeing the light. Awake is not synonymous with being perfectly clear. Sometimes being awake means being fuzzy, unsure, and tentative. Obviously, though, it will be easier to acheive clarity when you're awake.