Finding Yourself, Defining Yourself And Becoming A Better Leader

August 10, 2016 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

As a team leader, X attended a one-day Legitimate Leadership course called Grow to Care, arranged by his employer, in May 2015. For him, one of the most striking aspects of the course was its setting out of leadership and the concept of “giving” – and particularly a section of it in which the participant fills in activities done and scores himself/herself as a “giver” or “taker”.

But X defines the course (for himself) as being about “finding yourself as a leader – but you have to find yourself as a person first … This brought introspection for me to find myself and define myself.”

The course was facilitated by Nothemba Mxenge, a Legitimate Leadership associate.

One of X’s takeaways from the course was “you gain more by giving”. His score however indicated that he was not a giver.

“I felt it was a fair score because you have to find yourself before you can give. I felt how I was giving was inadequate – I never really excelled because I was still trying to find myself as a person.”

X grew up in the Tembisa township north-east of Johannesburg, South Africa. He did well at school and matriculated with a “science pass”, which meant that he could go on to study for a BSc. However, he decided not to study further due to financial constraints. As the eldest in the family, he had to take on the role of breadwinner, a responsibility that apparently continues to put in him under pressure.

Despite high unemployment, he was able to land a job in a big factory in 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, he was an operator on machines in the factory. In 2011, apparently because of his good work ethic and intelligence, he was appointed as a team leader. His team currently has 18 people.

X’s father was a shop assistant and his mother was a housewife. He grew up in a stable home, but received relatively little input from his parents about the world of work. The main influence his father had in this area was to teach him “a good work ethic, to be on time, to polish my shoes”, he says.

Although he was lucky to get a job as an operator and later as a team leader, and although he strove to do the job well, he felt somewhat unhappy in his job.

Although the company frequently sent its employees on training courses, these were, he says, of a technical nature, particularly about safety and quality in production. The Grow to Care course was the first course he had attended which examined more personal and leadership questions. It had a transforming effect on him.

“For instance, we were asked to answer three times: Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? We were being asked to define ourselves beyond what was on our CV.

“The course gave me a different perspective on what I had viewed as giving. I had viewed it as simply, for instance, me giving you an item. But Nothemba expanded the concept with reference to great, selfless leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.

“I’m not sure that many others of the group of 30 were radically affected by the Grow to Care course because of the environment in which we work. The course, as I see it, was an effort to engage people on the shop floor to act differently, but the team generally feels disconnected from the hierarchy at the factory. They feel that their concerns fall on deaf ears.

“The unions are active and they are continually at loggerheads with the management – in fact it’s a bloodbath. It mostly feels as though we are playing in the same team but scoring at different goalposts.

“I see myself a slightly different. Although I am a member of the union, my objective is to do my job to the fullest.

“But the course had created unease in me. Nothemba had indicated during the course that she was a coach and after the course I sent her an email asking for assistance. I believed she knew something that I didn’t. Coaching is seldom found in the black community in South Africa.

“In reply, she offered to coach me pro bono for three monthly sessions. Later she added more sessions – I have never had to pay. I have often expressed my gratitude to her.

“At the beginning Nothemba introduced me to the ‘Bookshelf Exercise’.”

Nothemba describes these as “a classification and categorising of the different areas of one’s life, thereby clarifying areas that one needs to pay closer attention to”.

Says X: “I was open to that because it was well ordered. I had been cluttered in my head, but this process managed the traffic.

“From the start, I knew that I wasn’t doing the job that I was supposed to be doing. But I didn’t know what to do. We worked on ‘go-find-yourself’ activities. X

Nothemba describes these activities as “structured self-observation and self-enquiry through open-ended questions, journaling, self-affirmation, dealing with emotions, connecting to the whole being, reading, and other experiential work/practices … These are beneficial in appreciating structures of interpretation and how to then build the necessary competencies to shift to a different way of being.”

Says X: “Nothemba remarked that the person she met on the Grow to Care course wasn’t the person in front of her now. This was because I normally put on a good act – my employer had correctly seen potential in me, but I deflected the light of potential because I didn’t know how to unlock it. In other words, I suppressed my energy and ambition.

“So I went to find myself, and in the process I got lost in my head because the character that I was acting out completely absorbed me.

“Then Nothemba told me that the fire within me was not my enemy, but my ally.

“Then everything changed: I realise I shouldn’t be fighting to stop the light and potential; I should rather just try to follow its lead.

“Not fighting it led me to realise that I should take up a career in advertising. I then started researching the field of advertising and recalled that once, at school, I did research into advertising – but never followed through.

“This career realisation came to me in late 2015 and at the start of 2016 I registered for a correspondence course in advertising, which I am now doing.

“My work as a team leader has also improved since then, even though in the long term this is not what I want to do. In our company, performance standards are very high but I do not think that management realises that their most important asset is people. People put in more effort if they feel they are appreciated.

“As a team leader my focus is now to invest more in the people than the process. The results follow if the people are receptive of your leadership style. This approach is not always popular with more senior managers – for instance they don’t always approve of me sending people for training because that takes people out of production. But they cannot deny that I am getting the results.

“Coaching gives you a sense of direction. Every leader has his or her own leadership style but you cannot define your leadership style if you cannot define yourself. I now define myself as: ‘principled, ambitious, animated.’”

COMMENT BY NOTHEMBA MXENGE: Regarding Legitimate Leadership’s Grow to Care programme, it is designed to engage an individual’s willingness to contribute meaningfully to the organisation and customers. It is aimed at non-managers, in particular those in the frontline – that is, operators, technicians, artisans, cleaners, specialists, small business employees, etc.

Its intent is to provide insight into what transforms individuals in the workplace, builds strong teams and cultivates conditions for success. This is achieved by establishing the criteria for excellence in individual contribution, thereby allowing participants to make different choices about their personal contribution at work.

My experience with facilitating this programme is that it confronts participants at a deeply personal level. It allows them to reflect of the meaning of their contribution, their effort, their life. It gives them permission to make a choice about how to approach their career and life. It challenges their values, motivates them to give more, and inspires them to “own their leadership space”.

So, for delegates who truly receive this message, individual coaching becomes a natural intervention for further exploration.

Regarding coaching, I am a life, career and executive coach with a coaching approach rooted in four methodologies: Integral Coaching, Neuroscience Coaching, and Multiple Brain Integration Coaching:

  • Integral Coaching – explores all the elements of being effective as a human (cognitive, emotional, relational, somatic (body and actions) and the spiritual (sense of meaning)). Rather than simply staying on the level of a client’s behaviours and actions, it moves to the core of each person’s way of seeing their world and the possibilities that can emerge from shifting this.
  • Neuroscience Coaching – is a brain-based intensive coaching technique that uses solutions-focused and practical thinking tools to improve thinking and performance. It is a highly structuredprocess including: goal setting, strategy development, implementation, monitoring and review. It also navigates through any limiting thinking, feelings and habits that are barriers and obstacles to successfully achieving goals
  • Multiple Brain Integration Coaching – aligns and integrates the multiple brains (head, heart, gut) using the latest research findings in neuroscience, neurolinguistic programming (NLP), positive psychology, behaviour modelling and cognitive linguistics. This allows for intelligent and integrated balanced thinking
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