Lars Sudmann: Great Leadership Starts With Self-Leadership at TEDxUCLouvain (Transcript)

There was a special twist to it; at half an hour the researchers then brought in cookies. And of course, it was videotaped and then they observed what happens actually there. They had some hypothesis and sure enough the people who were randomly assigned to be supervisors significantly had more of the cookies but not only this: they actually left significantly more of the bread crumbs as well on the table, like I’m there… and it was very visually measurable.

And that it shows after 30 minutes of random states of higher status, this power thing kicks in – it’s something within us in humans — and I think that is also something that we need to take care of.

Now I do think these are the classic leadership problems that are not very often taken care of. But I think in a Utopia we need to address those. So how do we do that? What is the way out? For this one I think we need to travel back in time actually almost 1800-1900 years to Rome, to a person called Marcus Aurelius.

Now some of you might know Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is one of the predominant figures of the stoic school of philosophy. Stoics like the Zen of the West almost. But Marcus Aurelius is interesting for leadership because he was running a little like you know little side business also on the side. He had a little side job in moonlighting. He was — and that’s why on the statue he’s also, you see, in there on a horse as well. He was at the time as well on top of being a philosopher, he had the side job of being the emperor of Rome at the time. And the historian William Irvine called him actually the true beacon of Enlighted leadership. He was supposed to be one of the last — of the five good kings of Rome.

Now Marcus Aurelius, what we know of him said things like this: “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” He said, “So act virtuous, use your time well, and be cheerful. Then when you drop from life’s tree, you will drop like a ripe fruit.”

Now can you imagine these words being uttered by some of the leaders like Trump and so on today? Most likely not really. What did he do? And we know a couple of things that were transmitted from this. And I think that is a sign for utopia leadership that we can dive into. He was focusing a lot of his time on field which I would call self leadership. Leading oneself first before going out and leading others. And I think that in my leadership challenges helped me enormously to actually face some of the challenges of the leadership core and the formula that I’ve shared with you.

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The founder of VISA Dee Hock once said, “If you want to lead, invest at least 40% of your time in leading yourself first, before you go out to others.” Now how do you do that? And what I want to share with you a couple of strategies that I’ve tested that have worked with and so on to really try to see what can we do with that field of self leadership.

The first strategy and the first field of self leadership that’s out there is self-awareness. When you become a leader, it’s actually some of the crucial things to be self-aware of yourself. But it’s getting more and more difficult. Any of you have ever been a leadership or in a leadership position, if you’ve ever asked – tried to ask for feedback that’s not so easy. You ask like hey team, hey group, do you have some feedback? Very often what you encounter is the silence. Like in these ancient western movies, Despots, come on some feedback, you are brilliant but everything’s fine. And you know, now that’s not right.

Well, I mean you’re signing the paycheck basically. They’re like, brilliant. Now there are some ways of course to learn to ask also for better feedback. One of the things, I think, every leader can do is to check that for themselves. And one of the tools that I have is what I would call the character traits check.

A character traits check, you can do that on a rainy Sunday and do the following: ask yourself, for example, what was the worst leader that you ever had and then think what your face does them with this? This is me reflecting upon this. And then go further then, ask like what did he or she do actually to be such a worst leader? Did he yell or did she yell or did he maybe withhold information? When I was doing this exercise it was like that bad leader withholding information.

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And here comes now the trick in this tool: give yourself a score from 1 to 5 for yourself how good are you for, example, at sharing or withholding information, how bad are you at this one? And for me that was like, oh, I’m actually not very good at this. So what is my plan to move that up to become very good at this one, because what we find bad in others will very often resonate also with ourselves. One of the key things to do from time to time, but if you do that you will see also the way portrayed effect. You do that the next morning you’re fully engaged but then like one of these trails at the beginning it’s very sharp, but later on it goes, it fades away and that’s why what you can do is a strategy that Marcus Aurelius did every day. And that is self-reflection — taking just a couple of minutes during the day and thinking about the challenges that you have achieved but also that you are maybe about to have during the day. Marcus Aurelius was famous for doing that in the night. For me this 5-minute reflection sometimes I did in the evening, sometimes often in the morning, going to panco having a quick coffee and then just opening my black book and just asking a couple of questions.

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