Leadership’s First Commandment from Harvard Business Review

Posted 14 January 2020 by
Melissa Summer

Imagine you’ve rented a cabin for the weekend up in the mountains. You’re looking forward to the crisp, cold mountain air, views of grey and blue snow-covered vistas, and relaxing with friends at a slow pace while the icicles outside the picture window in the living room slowly drop sun-catching droplets of water onto the ground below. 

You pull into the garage and the glorious cold mountain air hits your lungs like a thousand ice picks. It is freezing up there! You fumble for the keys and let yourself into the house expecting warmth, but the indoor temperature is just barely above the frigid air outside. Chest constricting and teeth chattering, the first thing you do is go to the turn on the heat. 

The tiny digital display in the white box on the wall reads 37F. You flip down the little down ready to hike those numbers up to a comfortable 72F but there’s a problem. 

There are no direction buttons. There’s one button to change from Fahrenheit to Celsius, but no arrows. No plus or minus sign. 

You go to another room, assuming this must be a mistake. But in every place along every wall, all you find are digital thermometers reporting back what you already know. 
Somehow, you mistakenly booked a vacation house that has thermometers, but no thermostat. 

One of the best analogies I’ve heard is that managers are like thermometers, but leaders are like thermostats. 

While managers will tell you what’s going on, feedback to you the data about the organization, leaders will help you determine direction to meet your goals and then actively move in that direction. You can have an organization without leaders, but the likelihood of success is about the same as warming your mountain cabin to a comfortable temperature without a thermostat. It’s very unlikely. 

Demands on Today’s Leaders

Leaders are vital to an organization’s survival. The leader’s success is indefinitely intertwined with the team’s success and thus the whole company’s success. 
But demands on today’s leaders are changing.

Compared to decades earlier, our business operate in a VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Previously, leadership was more straightforward than it is now. The way to become a leader before was to find a role that suited your strength and continue on that path. But now, leaders need to constantly be learning and be able to adapt. They need to stay motivated to develop themselves for new challenges.

The First Commandment of Leadership

Even if you aren’t a football fan, you’ve probably heard the Vince Lombardi Jr. quote, “leaders aren't born, they are made.” 

But how do you go about making a leader?

Harvard Business Review says that the first commandment of leadership is this:

Know thyself.

And while this phrase also happens to be carved in ancient Greek the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, it’s stood the test of time from then until now for good reason. 

Why Self-awareness Matters for Leaders

Self-awareness matters for everyone, and leaders are no exception. It gives us the ability to recognize our weaknesses and strengths, and is related to our confidence, decision making, stress management and people management. It allows us to be third-party observers of our own thoughts, behaviors and action (a term called meta cognition in the psychology realm – essentially, it’s thinking about thinking). 

Self-awareness is also critical because it informs us (and leaders) about how we relate to others. By knowing more about ourselves and being self-aware, you can then take that information and hold it up to other people to see how they are similar or different from ourselves. 

And what good is leadership if you’re standing in a room alone? Leaders need other people to be able to lead. How leaders relate to others dictates how they will lead those people. 

How to Know Thyself Better

How can you help leaders know themselves better?

There are many ways to develop self-awareness, but a mix of methods usually works best as each method depends on different people and tools and will paint part of a larger picture. 

Some methods include:

Want to learn more about self-awareness and how it can help your leaders (and in turn, your teams and your organization)? Download our self-awareness quick guide and contact us today