Four light bulbs

Four Critical Elements of Effective Leadership

Sept. 3, 2019
The wrong mindset, or mistaken ideas hinder most people’s leadership effectiveness.

Do you believe that the personal and the professional aspects of your life are separate and distinct from each other?  For 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 on the job was improving, I was failing in every other area. Specific problems that were sabotaging my success included:
•  A lack of knowledge about my innate characteristics caused me to invest significant time in 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 coworkers received subpar results.
•  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 crucial for improvement. My defensiveness stifled my growth and discouraged others from helping 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 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.

What is personal development? — Here are what I consider to be the main areas of personal growth and why each is so important:
Identifying and developing innate talents to maximize productivity and effectiveness. It’s common not to realize your true talents due to distorted messages from yourself and others, and then failure to use those gifts. 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 little satisfaction. Also, your current age need not deter you from shifting careers. Many well-known successes occurred for people starting over in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. 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.
We cannot intentionally change something unless we’re aware of it. For example, if I binge on junk-food I’m likely to continue doing so until I become self-aware of why I 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.

3. The ability to manage our egos. This means the ability to put desired outcomes ahead of emotional responses and impulses. 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 made me hypersensitive to constructive criticism. As I’ve worked through this challenge, countless doors have opened for me.
4. 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 honest with ourselves.

When we’re honest with ourselves, we become more self-aware, and we can enlist the support of others for feedback and accountability. Our weaknesses are obvious to others anyway, so developing the skill of being authentic and vulnerable is crucial. People will connect with and respect you more when you’re willing to be vulnerable.

Research shows that people connect on vulnerabilities (courageous openness) rather than strengths. Think about it. Do you feel more connected to and trusting of 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 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 puts you in control of your quality of life.

As I’ve made my personal development my number one focus, I’ve achieved greater success with less stress and more satisfaction. I invite you to consider which areas of your personal development are helping your career and which are harming it. Then consider taking the small steps that will maximize your potential and performance.
Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of "People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage." He is the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, and specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. Learn more at

About the Author

Brad Wolff | Managing Partner

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage.