The Case for Congruent Leadership

user Darren Gold

Extraordinary leaders regularly ask one very powerful question, “What am I doing or not doing that is inconsistent with the very things I’m asking of others?” Then they immediately go to work on themselves to close the gap.

I’m often asked the question, “What makes a leader effective?” To start, I always concede there is no one model of effective leadership. Great leaders have vastly different styles and approaches. Yet, they all share one thing in common. They fully embody the very things they are asking of their followers. It is the congruence between how leaders behave and what they demand of others that defines extraordinary leadership.

Leaders throughout history have demonstrated this essential quality of congruence. Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were all living manifestations of the causes they dedicated their lives to. There was an almost total alignment between the way they lived and the futures they sought to create. The same is true for many of the more well-known contemporary business leaders that are viewed as exceptional, like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Satya Nadella. While none of these leaders is flawless, each has been extremely effective. And the common denominator is congruence. Steve Jobs demanded perfection, attention to detail, and zealousness, and he lived every day of his life in this way. Jeff Bezos built one of the world’s most valuable companies by demanding adherence to a set of leadership principles. And he succeeded because he exuded those principles in everything he did. Satya Nadella has successfully engineered perhaps the greatest revival of a corporate behemoth in the history of business. He was able to reignite an enormous organization because every ounce of his being emanates authenticity.

For all those who lead, this is good news. Congruent leadership is available to everyone. And, more importantly, totally within your control. Extraordinary leaders regularly ask one very powerful question, “What am I doing or not doing that is inconsistent with the very things I’m asking of others?” Then they immediately go to work on themselves to close the gap.

If you want to lead effectively, you must look hard within yourself and endeavor to align your body, words, and actions with the change you are seeking to achieve. You can’t expect others to do that which you are not already doing yourself. This is the self-referential nature of extraordinary leadership. When we see or experience congruent leadership, we can’t help but notice its unmistakable quality. We know a great leader when we see one because congruence is embodied. And because it is so rare.

Here’s a quick exercise to get started. Identify the place where you are most frustrated with those you are leading. Then list five things you are doing and not doing that is inconsistent with the very thing you are expecting of others. Trust me. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be able to find at least five. Then challenge yourself to start or stop one of them over the next week. Finally, drop any expectation that this will make any difference. Paradoxically, the less attached you are to others changing and the more focused you are on your own congruence, the more effective you will be.

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