Personal Leadership Essences

The leadership journey is a personal journey. We are constantly exposed to the lessons of leadership around us but ultimately it is the degree of personal ownership of leadership attributes that empower us to be leaders that are able to move barriers to potential around us. Leadership always starts with ‘me’.

Drill down

Over the years thought leaders in organizational leadership have come up with tools to help us to drill down to the essences of organizational leadership.

For example, the usage of key performance indicators (KPI’s) are an example of a tool that can greatly assist a leader to focus on what matters most at any given moment. A typical application would be an information system that allows a top executive to monitor the performance of his organization in key performance indicators on a daily basis.

The same applies to the common usage of critical success factors (CSF’s) that may go a long way to help us drill down to the essences of our tasks and responsibilities. For example, one of the CSF’s for a restaurant owner/manager may be ‘customer satisfaction’, and a wise owner will monitor the responses of his customers on a daily basis.

Leaders prioritize and focus on things that matter most.

Personal leadership drill down

The principle of focus and/or drill down to essences also applies to our leadership roles. The ability to focus on leadership essences is a key component of positive attitudes. Positive attitudes play an immense role in the success of a leader.

Personal leadership style

Essential to the creation of a positive attitude is the evolvement of our personal leadership style, rather than simulation of the style of others. It is imperative that we learn from others around us, but ultimately our own leadership style needs to be cultivated. Without confidence in the integrity of our personal values we will falter and fail.

Drill down to leadership essence(s)

To develop ownership of our own leadership styles we need to learn what the essences of our leadership is. This is similar to determining our own critical success factors as far as our leadership style is concerned.

We find in personal leadership conversations that leadership essences (LE’s) differ from person to person, even though they may have similar jobs. What in fact happens in the formulation process of LE’s is that they become personalized rather than theoretical. This is an essential element of the process of taking ownership of our leadership attributes. In other words, our personal understanding or our key drivers and motivators take a leap forward

Real life examples

Let’s look at some real life examples of leadership essences that came up with some of the leaders we are involved.

Example 1:  Harry is a mine engineer who performs a key support role in a large mine. Without the support of him and his team the mine will not perform. The level of safety and performance in a gold mine is heavily dependent on the many engineering systems used in the mine. At first glance it would appear that the essence of Harry’s job revolves around technical experience in ensuring the ongoing operation of expensive and often very old and outdated heavy equipment. Recently Harry has gone through traumatic experiences in clashes with his senior manager. He was on the verge of being fired. In our discussions we discovered that technical proficiency was an important function of his job, but that the most important leadership essence in his case was ‘communication’; especially between him and his superior. Communication in his case turned out to be a daily imperative rather than an occasional report back. After one month of focusing on his major leadership essence, his work situation changed dramatically and his relationship with his superior also improved dramatically. 

In Harry’s case, the personalized ownership of the concept of communication as a leadership essence resulted in an attitude change towards communication. His confidence as a leader has also lifted a few notches higher.

His second leadership essence was defined as pro-active maintenance of engineering systems. But he now recognizes that without constant and proactive communication habits, the technical element of his job tends to suffer as well.

Example 2

Dirk is an experienced leader in another setting with responsibility for several hundred workers. After a penetrating discussion on the principles of LE’s as relating to his own unique background and job, he told me that he had a passion to share his considerable experience with fellow workers so that they could be successful in reaching personal as well as organizational objectives. In his case, the universal principle of sharing passions and knowledge with others took on a new meaning for both of us. By lifting the attribute of sharing his experience in order to take on a focused LE status, all the many other leadership attributes of accountability, communication, respect for others, higher performance and serving organizational imperatives and values took on a supporting image. In other words, sharing becomes the governing leadership essence for him.

After pondering, Dirk also came up with openness with his staff and superiors as a leadership essence imperative.

Example 3

The discussion with Albert was different to the others mentioned above. He believed that passion to perform through people was his personal leadership essence. He then defined discipline (self discipline as well as accountability), and contextual awareness (understanding the bigger picture) as supporting LE’s.

In all the above cases, the process of establishing personal leadership essences brought about a better understanding of their own leadership styles as well as renewed recognition of their own motivational drivers. Leadership confidence is a very personal thing! 

Benefits of leadership essences

 The following benefits may be expected after defining leadership essences:

  1. Leadership essence(s) are closely interconnected to our motivational drives. Motivational drive increases in proportion to clarity of awareness of leadership essences.
  2. Leadership essences may need to change as our job, task or environmental challenges change.
  3. The formulation of personal leadership essences is a process of discipline and experience. Facilitation may be necessary.
  4. As we grow in the ability to establish and exploit our personal leadership essences, we find that our job mastery and performance will expand. 
  5. People tend to follow a leader who manifests the ability to zero in on priorities of task, job, organization and personal leadership drives.
  6. Once we master our own personal leadership essences we will be more empowered to help others around us to do the same, especially those who report to us.
  7. A major advantage of personal leadership essences is that they tend to be governing motivational drives. In other words, all the other attributes that a leader needs to master should be triggered and governed by our leadership essences.
  8. Taking ownership of our jobs and awareness of personal leadership essences are closely connected.
  9. Universal leadership values take on a far more personalized meaning when we obtain clarity on our own leadership essences and leadership style.
  10. Personalized leadership essences tend to invariably support the values and objectives of good organizational leadership.

We wish the reader good luck in pursuing better understanding of your personal leadership essences.

This article appeared in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Louis on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.