Former Harvard psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert, more commonly known through his teachings as Ram Dass, once remarked that the most important thing a person can do for another is to work on themselves and that to do so, is not self-indulgent. He further suggests, that if we are not conscious beings, what can we truly offer someone else? To apply this wisdom to strategic leadership in corporate life has the potential to raise the bar on management insight and accomplishment. A self-aware executive becomes a natural leader, a thought leader, someone who knows what is right by instinct, as much as by instruction and education.

Self-awareness is to thought leadership what listening is to skill-based leadership; the essence around which everything else revolves. A skill-based leader may refine proficiencies, systems and practices, while a thought-based leader will build on those foundations and rely on self-awareness, executive presence and organizational savvy to engender even greater results. Genuine understanding and integration of this three-dimensional leadership model will maximize effectiveness and stimulate trust.
Everything an executive says, does (and even thinks) will reach the antennae of their team and influence the climate of the workplace.

Thought leadership starts on the inside with self-awareness, guided by one’s own conscious, well-honed inner compass. A thought leader is someone with a strong sense of self; not just of strengths and weaknesses, but also with the emotional intelligence to recognize how those strengths and weaknesses affect others. For example, an effective communicator is someone who can balance their ability to be frank with their ability to be diplomatic. Both of these traits, while desirable, often exist out of balance causing some leaders to be blunt or evasive. The self-aware leader recognizes this dynamic and others like it and will take appropriate steps to “course correct.”

To know one’s self is to understand the importance of not only what you communicate, but also how you tell your story. Everyone has a story: a front story – what we show to the world; and a back story – what we know to be true about ourselves. A leader with executive presence demonstrates the confidence of someone who has comfortably integrated both. In a culture where everything we say and do is watched closely, people who convey an innate sense of comfort are easy to trust. When we present ourselves in public we engage in what I call the “communication energy exchange.” Picture it as a flow of energy between the speaker and the listener. The leaders with executive presence, through their body language and emotional touchstone of their message, are more apt to reinforce and less likely to interrupt this communication energy exchange.

Lastly, a thought leader exhibits organizational savvy through a keen awareness of the impact of all that he or she does. Working with more than just knowledge of organizational dynamics and ‘how things get done around here,’ the savvy executive understands the fine balance between how things appear and how they truly are. While all of us filter our acceptance or rejection of others’ ideas through our well-developed (though often unstated) value system, the savvy executive has a broad enough mind to allow for conflicting ideals and contrary values and accepts that no two people ever truly think alike. Recognizing that is one thing – incorporating the challenge of that reality is something else.

Authentic thought leaders distinguish themselves by the way they interact with their work environment. And authenticity is the litmus test through which employees evaluate individual and company leadership. With appropriate guidance and strategic application, an aware leader can evolve into a conscious leader who can then transform into an authentic leader. Then they can truly offer something of value to others.