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The Key to Leadership Effectiveness

Four critical elements for true success

by Brad Wolff
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The wrong mindset or beliefs hinder most people’s leadership effectiveness—get this right to transform your own. Do you believe that the personal and the professional aspects of your life are separate and distinct from each other? I had this belief for many years. I chose to focus my time and energy into professional improvement via more technical knowledge and skills. I thought that this was my ticket to professional success.  Even though my competency in performing my job was improving, I was failing in every other area. Specific problems that were sabotaging my success included the following:

  • A lack of knowledge about my innate characteristics caused me to invest significant time doing work that wasn’t a match for me. I was frustrated because the job duties didn’t align with my core nature. My work quality and enjoyment were low, and customers and co-workers received subpar results from me.
  • When other people gave me constructive criticism, I would defend my position, insisting that they were wrong. This harmed my ability to learn and improve. Constructive criticism is a crucial element for improvement. My defensiveness stifled my growth and discouraged others from making an effort to help me.
  • My lack of self-awareness kept me stuck in destructive habits and my lack of awareness related to other people caused me to say and do things that alienated them. By living in unawareness and denial of ineffective patterns of thought and behavior, my development was halted.
  • I allowed my ego and emotions to drive my behavior and often regretted the resulting consequences. When strong emotions intervened, they took control of my actions. I found that acting out of anger, pride, jealousy, and fear consistently led to poor results at work and fractured relationships everywhere.

From these experiences, I learned a valuable lesson. The same lesson backed up by the experiences of other people and research. The most effective way to improve our leadership effectiveness is to focus on our personal development. Efforts that lead to personal development enhance our capacity in every area of our lives. We simply have greater capacity to handle ANYTHING life throws at us.

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What is personal development?

Here’s what I consider to be the main areas of personal growth and why each is so important:

  1. Identifying and developing innate talents to maximize productivity and effectiveness. It’s common not to realize your true innate talents due to distorted messages from yourself and others and the lack of use of your gifts (often we don’t know they exist). When your work aligns with your innate talents, you’re set up to succeed. Does it make sense to “grind away” at work that provides limited enjoyment or satisfaction? Also, your current age doesn’t need to be a deterrent to shifting careers. Many well-known successes occurred when people moved to new work in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The same principles apply to all of us.
  2. Increasing awareness and acceptance of ourselves and others. This is often referred to as “emotional intelligence.” Everything starts with our self-awareness and acceptance. If we’re highly critical about ourselves, we’ll tend to remain unaware. This is because the human psychological system wants to protect us from the discomfort of self-criticism. We cannot intentionally change something unless we’re aware of it. For example, if I have a habit of binge eating junk food, this is likely to continue until I become self-aware of what’s causing me to do this. When I become aware that this habit is a distraction when I’m “feeling down,” I can choose to consider options other than binge eating.
  1. The ability to manage our egos. This means the ability to put desired outcomes ahead of emotional responses and impulses. This has been a real struggle for me. Due to my childhood history, I grew up obsessed with how others viewed me. I was overly-sensitive to any negative feedback regardless of the intent to help me. This led to being hypersensitive to constructive criticism. As I’ve worked through this challenge, countless doors have opened for me.
  2. Openly working on our weaknesses so they don’t become the limiting factors in our success. This is a mindset of how to approach our lives in general so that our weaknesses don’t become the limiting factors in our success. Everything starts with the willingness to be open and honest with ourselves.

When we’re honest with ourselves, we become more self-aware, and we can enroll the support of others for feedback and accountability. Trying to hide our weaknesses doesn’t make sense since they’re obvious to others anyway.  That’s why developing the skill of being authentic and vulnerable is so crucial. People will connect with and respect you more when you’re willing to be vulnerable.

Research has shown that people connect on vulnerabilities (courageous openness) rather than strengths. Harvard Business Review published an article about this in 2014. Think about it. Do you feel more connected and trusting with people who are “real with you about their struggles” or with those who say they excel in everything and constantly tout their greatness?

Become the leader you want to be

When you consider each of these personal development areas, they’re the same characteristics that lead to leadership success. In fact, leadership development and personal development are one and the same! A deficiency in any one of these areas can derail your career success.

The best part about making personal development the means to your leadership development is that every area of your life will improve as a result. It’s like two for the price of one!  It puts you in control of your quality of life.

As I’ve made my personal development my number one focus, I’ve achieved much greater success with less stress and more satisfaction. Based on the observations of myself and others, this seems to be the general rule. My invitation is for you to consider which areas of your personal development are helping your career results and which are harming them. Then consider options to take small steps forward to maximize your potential and performance.


Brad Wolff specializes in leadership development to increase productivity, profitability and engagement.  25 years in recruiting and retention taught him how leaders’ actions impact results with their people.  Brad’s passion is making the science of human potential simple and practical to achieve greater success with less stress and more satisfaction.  He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. For more information please visit: or email him at