Most of us seek out and follow leaders that we consider “authentic“. It is one of the traits most recognised in high performing leaders and much has been said about its value in building trust, transparency and openness. Indeed, whether you like the persons ideologies or not, they are still recognised for their leadership skill. The starting point to be authentic in your approach is to know yourself. This not only implies knowing what you stand for, your vision, values and why people should follow you, but also knowing your personality, character and mindset; in essence understanding the way you are wired. 


Over the past few years I have worked with individuals and team that were underperforming in one area or another. Typically, they had untapped potential and weren’t using their abilities or resources to the maximum. Sometime it was fear of change, resistance to lower one’s guard or too egocentric to consider alternative options, however in most cases it was simply a lack of knowing they had this potential. As a result, they underperformed because they didn’t have a diverse toolkit of skills. Working with individuals to create greater self-awareness opened them up to focus their energies and make the right choices about change. They were able to now ask themselves the right questions; do I work on my weaknesses? Play to my strengths? What are the pitfalls to look out for, and where lie my opportunities? A SWOT analysis of the self that leads to a strategy for self-development.


More interesting was the challenge (and opportunity) to do this with a larger team. With 1-2-1 coaching people open up, but in groups they tend to gravitate to the persona they have created within that given group. How can we ‘distract’ them so they can achieve greater self awareness and, in a group, awareness of their colleagues? We use a simple approach of ‘colour coding’ personality in a game that allows people to have fun and open up. Fixed mindset is difficult to circumvent when people are hijacked by fear or anxiety, so we need to make sure people feel safe to participate. We have had no problems so far, as long as our approach is not focussed on implying we are trying to ‘fix’ someone’s personality, but celebrate everyone as an individual, and invite them to learn more about themselves.


Over the past week we worked with 65 executives that travelled from Italy to join our leadership development programme. Rotary International runs programmes to help young leaders aged 20-30 develop their skills in order to support their civic action within their communities, and the regional chairperson for the district in the Mediterranean chose Malta as the venue. The chair was already a client of UP and we developed a programme together with his coordinator – an accomplished HR leader in his own right. With a week to mould and shape their minds, it was going to prove to be a memorable experience and have a long-lasting impact.


By helping them understand their strengths and weaknesses and then grouping them into similar characters, we created a dialog around unlocking potential while in the safety of their ‘likenesses’. We used a colour mapping method to help people translate their character and personality into something tangible they could relate to, and grouped them up. This enabled them to open up about areas they felt weak so that constructive discussions on how to overcome, ensued. We then shifted the groups around asking them, as different characters, to solve problems in ways that the OTHER personalities would approach it. As a result, we encouraged a growth mindset and triggered emotional intelligence, by creating a multi-personality approach to problem solving. We saw them engage in deep conversations on how others might perceive current issues or how their approach to problem solving would differ from theirs. We had no problem keeping these young minds engaged to such an extent that they totally forgot about lunch and coffee breaks!


Using the FIRE Model we could easily explain how each ‘colour’ approached fulfilment in life and typically preferred one of the fire elements to another when leading. Some led from the front constantly challenging their comfort zone, while others preferred a team nurturing approach. Some were Gung Ho! motivators while others preferred an analytical approach to solving problems when leading their team. They also saw that it was useful to use different styles in different situations, and understood the need to be balanced. With a toolkit that allowed them to function in a wide range of situations they would be better all-rounders.


We then proceeded to design a well-balanced leader that would encompass on the best traits of the different characters. We also listed some of the pitfalls that some characteristics may lead to in poor leadership situations or when under stress. This was an invitation for them to become more balanced by considering other ways to lead, rather than their default style. We used Bernard Bass’s Transformational Leadership model and aligned it to the FIRE model and the Colour Mapping, and it came together nicely! They understood the need to create a mixed toolkit of skills for situational leadership, with the fundamental transformational principles always present. We encouraged growth mindset approaches to dealing with different people and problem solving.


The subsequent day we took the executives on an experiential learning activity that put them under stress, to see if they would revert back to their default or whether they would apply the learning and knowingly accept discomfort. It was clear from their feedback that the thinking processes worked in most, and many could overcome fear or anxiety with logic and reason. They could also appreciate the emotions in others and recognise when their colleagues needed cheering, or best left alone to concentrate. Transformations happened, with people being deliberate about changing the way they think. “Nothing will scare me anymore”, “I can really use this stuff when leading my team” and “now I know how you think!” were some of the comments overheard. More visible was the spring in their step and the moments of reflective thinking.


On the final day Professor Domenico Bodega, eminent thought-leader in the field of leadership, organisational behaviour and economics, assimilated the first four days together by focussing on leadership styles. Reflecting on how our personality moves us into a particular way of behaving, it is when we appreciate and focus our abilities to our personal strengths that we lead at our best. So balance is important, but playing to your strengths is what will make you exceptional. THIS is why self-awareness is the key to unlocking your potential.


self-awareness is the key to unlocking your full potential.


I have run similar activities for hundreds of executives and the results are always positive and long-lasting. Team dynamics change significantly when people appreciate what makes their colleagues behave the way they do. They celebrate diversity, converse more intelligently and are emotionally at a higher level of function and ability. With people playing to their strengths, and the team connected and supportive of each others weaknesses, you can create truly amazing inter-dependent teams that can be world class.


For more information about our team and individual programmes, and how you could unlock your teams potential, build trust and harmony, get in touch.