Know Thyself

August 29th, 2013 by Douglas McEncroe · No Comments · Leadership

Last weekend I attended our 4Oth year class reunion. Having been away from Sydney these last thirty years it was for me an especially pleasant occasion as I had not seen the great majority of my old school mates in over three decades.

Sitting with one of my best friends towards the end of the evening after having mingled energetically to catch up with as many of my old classmates as I could, we commented on what a great group of people they were. The great majority had enjoyed loving relationships with their wives, had seemed to have been committed and warm fathers, had worked hard and above all were open and friendly people. My friend and I commented that the Jesuits who educated us would have been pleased with their work for here was a group of men who they could be proud of, a group of men who shared a solid set of values and who had made a contribution to the societies they had lived in. These men knew who they were and what they believed in.

Companies and Managers sailing blind

This contrasted to many of the senior executives to whom I have given coaching over the last twenty years and also to many organizations that I have worked with who seem to be lost on a treadmill of endless urgent activity much of which doesn’t make much sense.

In the second or third coaching session I sometimes see a coachee really struggling to identify the things he or she wants to work on. In this situation I have one of my best coaching questions: “what do you actually want”? This enquiry is often met with a vacant look and three minutes of silence, and yet it is hard to imagine a more fundamental question because what you really want is always connected to who you are, and what you value. The fact that many executives have difficulty in answering this question is indicative that they are lost in a whirlpool of activity devoid of any real meaning.

Many organizations are full of these type of executives, a situation that can only mean that the organization itself doesn’t not know what it truly wants or what it represents. Greatness will never be achieved like this.

How to find meaning

Both individual executives and organizations can escape this rather sterile condition by investing time in finding the answers to a few important questions:

  • Who do you want to be?
  • What is truly important to you?
  • What products and services would you feel identified with?
  • What makes them special?
  • What activities are directly connected to producing these things?
  • How will you know if the products and services are good?

I have had the privilege of working with some truly great senior executives and some marvellous organizations. All of them knew who they were and what they valued and all of them produced goods and services that were the product of that self- knowledge.

What are your answers to the above questions?


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