Leadership Development

Thoughtful Leadership: What is it?

Captivating title, right? I may have misled you as I don’t have the answer to the question posed – "Thoughtful Leadership: What is It?" Over the years there have been thousands of theories developed, articles written, and courses led on the topic. What I am offering here is an opinion about what can help with any type of leadership theory to which you ascribe.

Critical to being a thoughtful leader is self-awareness: understanding yourself  your behaviors, your motivations, your morals, and your values. Equally important is understanding others – their behaviors, their motivations, their morals, and their values. Finally, it is critical to be able to put these two things together to create an environment that is cohesive, trusting, and productive.


thoughtful leadership

Understanding Yourself

Often people think they know themselves well. Internally, they understand what they are doing and why. They believe that since they can explain or justify why they are doing something (even if it’s different than what is expected) that it makes sense and is defensible. However, we often find that others typically view us differently based on the behaviors they can see.

Many years ago, I had an interesting realization on this point. My family was about 3-4 hours into a long drive, and one of our daughters decided we needed to take one of the Facebook quizzes she saw while occupying time on the road. The quiz made a number of statements, and respondents were asked to indicate true or false on each. In taking this quiz verbally with my family, I would make my choice about myself, and the entire family would argue that I was wrong! About myself! Then, we proceeded with the rest of the family and the same thing occurred. 

What I gained from this experience is learning the way we view ourselves is, many times, different from how others view us. It is critical for a leader to not only understand themselves from an internal perspective, it is equally critical for them to know and understand how others view their behaviors and actions. Until the leader understands both of these sides of themselves, there will be some disconnect between the leader and their team. 


Understanding Others

You can flip this idea around to also say that it is important for leaders to be able to know and understand their team members by their actions, behaviors, and their internal “selves," such as motivations and values. Just like during my car ride with my family, leaders can learn a lot about their team members by learning what is motivating them underneath – the unseen portion of a personality. 

Minimizing this perceptual gap between how the leader views a team member by his actions and how that team member sees himself can empower that leader as well as her team. 


Putting it Together

Critical to thoughtful leadership is knowing yourself and knowing your team members. But, knowing yourself internally and knowing your team members only by their actions leaves large gaps in awareness that can truly impair a team. It is critical for the team leader to know not only themselves, but also know how others view their actions. It is also critical for the leader to learn more about team members’ motivations and values and not just act on the behaviors they see from their team members. 

Assessments such as The Birkman Method® can be invaluable in helping to minimize the gap between what you think you are like and how others see you and can be the first step toward being a more thoughtful leader.


About the Author | Carol Buckner

With more than 20 years at Birkman and a master’s degree in psychology from TCU, Carol is deeply invested in supporting our mission. Carol has three daughters with her husband, Ross, and you’ll always see her with a smile on her face. She especially lights up when talking about traveling, volunteering, trying new restaurants in Houston, and rooting for her favorite sports teams (Roll Tide!).