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Becoming Better Leaders by taking a “Whole-person” Approach

  • Publish Date: Posted about 7 years ago
  • Author:by Guest

Guest Blog: The following article was written by Michelle Hammond, Ph.D., University of Limerick.

When did you first learn about leadership? Chances are you knew something about leadership long before entering the workplace by observing parents or teachers, taking on leadership experiences in school and sport, and even through planning activities with siblings or friends.  Leadership happens everywhere and so we should not limit our opportunities to develop leadership to experiences and training programs at work. Although definitions vary, I consider leadership to be a relational process geared towards bringing people to achieve a common goal.  Anytime you are relating to people and trying to work together to achieve something shared you’re engaged in leadership. Taking a whole-person approach involves considering connections across all areas, or domains, of our lives.

There are at least three major benefits to considering a whole-person approach to leader development.  First, we gain synergies by examining transferable skills across the connections we identify.  I recently heard a great story of a leader who had been given feedback that she should work on being less emotionally reactive and defensive when her employees approach her with issues or setbacks.  She noticed a connection in her “over-reaction” to her teenage sons and took the opportunity to practice being more composed both at work and at home. This practice both sped up her development and created improvements in her relationships at work and at home (i.e. it was both more efficient and effective).

In addition to transferable skills, taking a multi-domain approach helps us to grow from the ways in which areas of our lives are different. These disconnections present opportunities to expand our skills sets.  Sometimes there are constraints in work that prevent us from trying out new behaviours or it simply takes too long to wait for the next stretch assignment.  However, there may be opportunities to stretch ourselves outside of work. Taking on a community project or voluntary role presents unique leadership challenges. Whereas leaders in work can often motivate others through the use of rewards or punishments or simply the power of their position or title, motivating volunteers requires something very different.

Finally, considering how various aspects of our lives are connected can foster greater personal coherence and integration. Whole-person leadership reflection often starts with noticing skills or actions, and then grows deeper focusing on values, identities, and self-awareness.  Being aware of how we live out our values throughout our lives promotes greater psychological well-being. In many ways, leader development is personal development.

So how do we go about this whole-person development? For some, taking on a new role might be just the thing. For others, they may be doing too much already and might be better off with less doing and more stepping back.  Whole-person development is about noticing connections and disconnections across the various aspects of our lives, reflecting on them, trying out new skills or drawing on old skills in new contexts, and thinking about ourselves and our roles in new ways. Remember that we don’t need to be in a leadership position to engage in leadership.

Michelle Hammond is a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.