“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.” ~ Warren Bennis
Notably, “becoming” yourself isn’t the same as “arriving” at yourself. Rather, it’s a constant evolution that takes advantage of your brain’s capacity to change, adapt, discover and express the most integrated version of you that it can muster.
In that sense, it may help to understand two of the biggest obstacles that could prevent you from becoming yourself (and explore what you can do about them):
1. The silent effects of stress
Stress blocks self-knowledge, especially your ability to monitor and control your own thoughts. When your response to stress is exaggerated, you become less sure of reality — what you do know and what you do not know.
Your brain changes from being reflective to being reflexive, and there is no longer any time or energy to dive deeply into yourself. It’s easy to skim the surface when we feel stressed or rushed, and we all do this more often than we think.
Stress can obscure relatively superficial thinking, preventing you from seeing how you’re not optimally self-connected. For example, back in 2013, Pandora’s then-CEO Joe Kennedy abruptly stepped down because he couldn’t stand the stress — even though the company had just reported a 54% increase in revenue. Stress took its toll and made leaving seem like the right decision.
Stress can deplete the working ability of your brain’s decision centers in the prefrontal cortex. Before you leave, it might be more helpful to manage your stress and then make a decision with a less fatigued brain.
If you are inauthentic, you cannot “become” yourself because you have no psychological center of gravity. Every decision you make is like thinking on stilts — your thoughts are never grounded. Authenticity, on the other hand, prevents psychological vulnerability. Without it, leading and instilling confidence in followers becomes a tall task.
Take Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, for example. Under the direction of then-CEO Martin Winterkorn, the company created software that skewed its emission readings, fooling regulators into believing that millions of cars were more eco-friendly than they really were. Amid the storm of bad press and the long list of impending consequences, Winterkorn decided it would be best for him to resign. Over the following months, the company’s U.S. sales plummeted and its reputation suffered.
Perceived inauthenticity has a profound impact on the brain, causing it to intensely scrutinize everything the person in question expresses in the future. In other words, it’s awfully hard for a leader to bounce back once his or her authenticity is questioned.
In order to “become yourself,” it’s important to recognize that “becoming” is a process, not a goal. Along the way, if things slow down or aren’t going according to plan, keep in mind that this might be impacting your depth of thinking. Seek out additional stress management such as sleeping well or meditating, and also make a strong effort to feel comfortably authentic — even if that adds vulnerability to your life.
Finally, consider how important it is to personally connect with your followers and continuously adjust based on their feedback. Several lines of evidence point to how people’s brains mirror and synchronize with those who seem in tune with how they feel.
Stress management, authenticity, human connection, and the willingness to adjust all contribute to the “self” every leader could strive to become.
Dr. Srini Pillay, founder and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, is a pioneer in the brain-based personal development arena and is dedicated helping people unleash their full potential.
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