Want to lead? Know yourself

This above all: to thine own self be true. - Shakespeare's Hamlet - Act 1. Scene III

Brought to my attention by Backupify's CEO and former Louisville resident Rob May, I thought I'd share today this wonderful post at A VC. In it, Jerry Colonna offers some advice that struck me as important - that the hardest part of team building, of being a leader, is learning "to lead your self." While the following anecdote targets leaders in business, the questions are important. Jerry Colonna:

Take as an example a client I worked with intensely over the last few weeks. She and a co-founder have been killing each other (okay, I have a flair for the overstatement…still, they have both been getting sick with a host of ailments—migraines and stomach problems). The arguments had gotten so bad that neither could stand to be in the same room with the other. Even I was exasperated. During one late night call, I asked my client to forget, for a moment, whether her co-founder was right or wrong. 'I don’t care who’s right,' I said with my voice rising. 'The only thing we have to focus on is what are you supposed to be learning from this.'

There was a long silence. I thought, 'Okay. You’ve really pushed her too far. You and your woo-woo lessons in the pain crap.' But then: alchemy. She opened up. 'This is really shameful to admit,' she began, 'but I know I’m a pain in the ass because I have to be right, all the time. I know it’s wrong but I can’t stop myself.'

And with that we had something to work with. I pressed her: Given this tendency, what do you really believe? What values do you hold? What kind of company do you want to build? And what kind of adult do you want to be?

Speaking as someone with an alert and observant mind, and as someone loathe to compete with the loudest voices in the room, I've struggled over the years to find out what I, an introverted creative, can offer to people. What's the best part of someone whose primary needs are his family, books, coffee and a place where he can hear the wind and see the stars? I don't know.

I'm still working on those answers. But I've long since given up on trying to squeeze my voice past those for whom talking and breathing are co-equal. I've learned that trying only leaves me looking foolish - and feeling exhausted. The truth is that I like books. A lot. I've also learned, like the people that Colonna counsels, that if I want become an expert on myself that I have to get real about what it is that I want out of life. For me, that means being a good listener. I'm pretty good at that and it's important to me. You'd be surprised what people will share with someone when that someone doesn't interrupt often.

I've also learned that when I'm asked, I need to share what I'm thinking. Having spent as much time as I have in my head, occasionally it will be Sheldon Cooper-beside-the-point. But I've learned that when it's not completely nuts, a brief concern comes over a person's face, followed by a raised eyebrow, followed by "I hadn't thought of it that way." I like that too.

So to thine own self be true? Absolutely. But that's just the beginning.