Many of us have the good fortune to work with leaders who are exemplary and make leadership appear effortless. We wonder what it is that makes them such great leaders. It may be that they lead consciously.
As leaders, we can lead consciously or unconsciously. Unconscious leadership is when we behave in ways that just seem like the right thing to do or are behaviours we've used in the past that have helped us get by. Conscious leadership is when we select from a personal toolkit of leader behaviours that we know - not by 'gut feeling' - are the right choices for any particular situation.
Unconscious leadership can get us into difficulty. Sometimes our decisions or actions simply don't work well. We end up paying the price by having to struggle with situations that don't go well with the added burden of the stress that accompanies these struggles. Conscious leadership, on the other hand, is when we have a broad repertoire of leader behaviours that we consciously choose in order to respond to whatever situation we are facing. Conscious leadership means we act in an informed way based on a set of personal skills that can help us through many of the situations we may find ourselves in.
One of the ways to know if we are conscious or unconscious leaders is by asking this question: Do I know why I lead in the way that I lead and make the leadership choices that I make? If you can answer yes and provide a sound rationale for your actions, you're likely a highly conscious leader. If you have difficulty answering this question and you tend to lead spontaneously or rely more on 'gut feeling', then you're likely an unconscious leader.
How do you build conscious leadership? It's not that difficult. It just requires some reflection on your leader behaviours. On a regular basis, look back on situations you've dealt with. Ask yourself some reflective questions like these:
- Why did I choose to respond in that way?
- What worked? What didn't work? Why?
- How would I handle that differently if I were to do it again?
- What might I say differently next time?
- What was the impact on those I was dealing with? Was this the impact I hoped for?
- What have I learned about myself as a leader?
- Do my actions align with my values and beliefs?
- How might a leader I really admire have handled this?
- What do I need to learn that would help me be more successful another time?