In my last article on leadership in the January issue, I defined leadership as “the art of influencing and encouraging others to help move a team, organization, community, or nation to a better place.”

Leadership is all about building relationships. It requires a deep understanding of one’s self in order to develop successful and effective relationships. Hence, you can’t lead others without fully understanding yourself.

Great leaders have a keen understanding of their strengths and assets. Successful leaders have as many weaknesses and faults as anyone else. However, effective leaders are aware of their weaknesses, trigger points, and blind spots and, as a result, are not unconsciously manipulated by them.

Most individuals will tell you they know themselves. Unfortunately, most of us don’t truly know ourselves. Many of us aren’t aware of our fears, what negatively triggers us, or the dark side of our personality. Unfortunately, without knowing our strengths and weaknesses, we can never be effective leaders.

Developing a Greater Insight into One’s Self

There are several ways to learn more about oneself as described here.

1. Direct Feedback.

Direct feedback can be face-to-face, but requires someone willing to take the risk of being honest with you. People have to believe you won’t get defensive or strike back. Direct feedback can also be provided more anonymously by using online 360-degree instruments. The collated information from such questionnaires can provide useful feedback; however, the group must be large enough to ensure anonymity.

There is another major drawback of getting direct feedback. It does not provide you with the rationale for why you behave in a certain way. Without that knowledge, there is little you can do to change or modify your behavior.

2. Observation.

If you are curious and open minded, you can learn a lot about yourself by observing your interactions with others and the reactions of others to you. You can also learn a lot by watching truly effective leaders; however, that tells you a lot about effective leadership, but nothing about yourself.

Without some counseling/therapy and feedback from effective assessment instruments, it is very difficult to fully understand other’s reactions to you and what you do to elicit those reactions.

3. Counseling/Therapy.

Unfortunately, counseling or therapy has a negative stigma. It is erroneously assumed that only “mentally ill” or “disturbed” people need counseling. Many individuals, especially men, think it is a sign of weakness to go into therapy, but done correctly, therapy is a great way to learn about yourself in a deep and impactful way. It can help you understand why you do certain things in a certain way and what drives your behavior. Without this knowledge, it is extremely difficult to modify your behavior.

I recently listened to a Ted Talk interview with the CEO of Netflix. He mentioned that it was not until he was in therapy with his wife that he learned that he was not only avoiding conflict with his wife, but also within his company. He was able to change his behavior, which positively impacted the bottom line at Netflix.

I have personally learned an incredible amount about myself through therapy. I was able to understand what was unconsciously manipulating me: my fears, trigger points, and insecurities. Therapy also helped me become more comfortable with my strengths and assets. It has helped me understand the behavior of others and how to more effectively relate to them.

If you want to be an effective leader, I strongly recommend quality therapy. Choose carefully, as in any profession, some therapists are better than others.

4. Assessment Instruments.

There are numerous assessment instruments in the marketplace and many of you have taken one or more of them, including Myers-Briggs, DISC, Minnesota-Multiphasic Personality Inventory, True Colors, and the Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire, just to name a few. Most of these instruments have not been especially helpful for me in understanding myself or learning how to modify my behavior.

I have found the following two assessment instruments useful both for me personally and when I am coaching others.

What’s My Communication Style?

All leaders agree that effective communication is essential to their success. You can have a great idea, a compelling vision, or powerful guiding principles, but fail miserably if you are not able to communicate them effectively.

This assessment is an elegantly simple and useful assessment that helps you understand the way you communicate with others. This assessment instrument will help you:

• Understand your dominant communication style and its impact on others.

• Learn the strengths and weaknesses of your communication style.

• Understand the needs and styles of others and how to avoid their hot buttons.

• Learn how to develop and use effective communications strategies.

The Enneagram

This is an in-depth, powerful assessment tool that has been tested and scientifically validated. The Enneagram describes nine different personalities. No one personality is any better than any other. We all have a dominant personality that plays a major role in how we behave, see issues, solve problems, react to stress, and interact with others.

The Enneagram allows you to understand your dominant personality and how it drives you in both positive and negative ways. It allows you to keenly understand your strengths and assets and how to make greater use of them. The Enneagram also describes the “dark side” of your personality and how that gets you into trouble.

Using Assessment Instruments to Become a More Effective Leader

My first suggestion is for you to read and reread several times what you have learned from the assessment instruments. Until your learnings become firsthand knowledge to you, you will not be able to make significant modifications.

Next, select only one or two areas from your Communication Style and Enneagram that you want to work on. Changing or modifying one’s behavior is difficult to do and almost impossible to do by yourself. Therefore, ask one or more person(s) you trust to help you to modify your behavior. You will need to be very specific about what you are trying to change and how they might help you. They can give you feedback about your progress in modifying your behavior or practicing a new skill, including when you are falling back into old patterns. Don’t be discouraged. Change is difficult and often slow. Remember that you are not trying to remake yourself. Rather, you are modifying some specific behaviors or adding some specific skills.


Successful leaders know themselves well. They are comfortable with their strengths and assets and are fully aware of their fears and dark side. By knowing their dark side, leaders are better able to prevent it from manipulating their behavior. Great leaders have fears and weaknesses just like the rest of us, but they have learned how to manage around these weaknesses and their dark side impulses. I will address this last concept further in a future article.

Have the courage to get to know yourself more intimately and become the effective leader that our profession needs today more than ever.