How to Find Your Leadership Style
Allan Cox has worked for more than 30 years with CEOs, boards and top management of major corporations, and his new book is called Your Inner CEO: Unleash the Executive Within. I talked with him about how he helps clients develop their leadership qualities.
KS: What led you to work with executives and others, helping them to access the best in themselves?
AC: [Psychologist Alfred] Adler felt we are who we are because of our goals.... I feel that everything I do in the world relates to that philosophy of Adler’s. What was then the Adler Institute in Chicago offered courses in the evening. It was very refreshing, and I made a serious study of Adler without any intention of getting another master’s degree.
Adler had a concept called “Style of Life”—it was the centerpiece of his theory of personality. He defined it as “an organized set of convictions about life of which the individual, at best, is only dimly aware.” We’ve got an outlook on life and a governance system for our life. We’ve got purpose and intention, but many times we’re not aware of it.
So I decided I needed to look hard at my own life and career. Even though my career was going very well, when I did [the following] exercise in 1976, I discovered something very important about myself that changed my life. Here were my initial answers:
I am…an observer.
Life is…out there.
My hidden goal [is]…to be invited.
I felt like I was not a participant in the action. I was outside, looking in. How was I going to change my life? In seven words, I had captured my essence.
KS: What’s at the center of this concept, the “Style of Life”?
AC: There are three elements to the Style of Life. Don’t think you’re going to look at this and just fill it out. It takes real thinking and reflection, and for many people, this takes weeks to do. My recommendation is to sit with this as an inquiry, and to use 10 words or less.
I am… (this is the way I see myself)
Life is…(this is the way I see life)
My hidden goal [is]…(this is the lynchpin of my life)
Until we unearth the answers to these questions, we have little sense of control over our [lives], nor do we really have a sense of our destiny.
If our Style of Life is healthy, I call that our guardian presence. If it’s not healthy, it’s a looming threat.
KS: What do you think real leadership requires?
AC: Here’s the way I really think of it: I think our singularity, our uniqueness, our essence—[recognizing that is] one of the most neglected tasks on the planet. Until we are willing to do this, we haven’t come to grips [with the fact that] we’re not really able and willing to offer our value proposition to the world.... There was a 5th-century Greek playwright, Aeschylus, who came up with a triad: I am like all other men, I am like some other men, and I am like no other man. Until we figure out how we’re like no other person, we haven’t found our unique value proposition.
KARLIN SLOAN, M.A., is founder and president of Karlin Sloan & Co. (karlinsloan.com), based in New York City and Chicago, which provides executive coaching, team building and leadership development services. Email Karlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.