The Inner Game of Leadership

The most challenging part of growing brilliant leaders who will thrive in 21st century business is coaching the inner game of leadership. In order to improve their ability to lead effectively, today’s leaders must adapt to rapidly changing demands in the market while continually developing their strength of character.

All effective leaders learn to master the C-suite competencies: setting strategic direction, communicating an inspiring mission, understanding financial data, planning and coordinating resources, and ensuring that processes, systems, and people achieve results.

While most leadership development efforts focus on these responsibilities, they’re ultimately insufficient. Great leaders must also address the inner game of leadership. What I have found in my coaching practice, however, is that leaders often gravitate toward the competencies they’re already familiar with such as finances, strategy, or processes rather than any “soft skills.”

What Is the Inner Game?

The inner game consists of character traits like honesty, passion, vision, risk-taking, compassion, courage, authenticity, collaboration, self-awareness, humility, intuition, and wisdom. This list may seem like a tall order for training and development, but the inner game relies on these core values for authentic leadership.

The “inner game” concept became popular fifteen to twenty years ago when sports coach and consultant Tim Gallwey coined the term in his books, The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Tennis, and The Inner Game of Work. Since then, his insight and ideas have proved to be timeless.

Inner Mastery Required

The real world results we produce are driven by what goes on inside our heads. The mental models we create for ourselves are based on our own limited experiences, often-erroneous beliefs, and even our fears. Because we don’t know what we don’t know, it’s hard to think beyond the boundaries of our current reality.

When we learn to change our thinking by improving our inner game, we modify our behaviors, thus improving the results we achieve.

A fear of failure, for example, interferes with your ability to take risks. You may want to wait until you have enough data about a situation to assure certainty. However, in today’s business world, waiting for certainty may mean missing the boat. When you avoid risk and play it too safe, you fall victim to missed opportunities.

Effective leaders weigh the risks and decide when to act, despite ambiguity and uncertainty. Their level of awareness allows them to master their inner and outer worlds.

You cannot master the outer game of leadership without inner proficiencies. The inner game has more to do with character, courage, and conviction than with competencies. It’s an ability to act when situations are complex, volatile, and ambiguous. This is the “right stuff” of leadership: wisdom, self-knowledge, social intelligence, and a solid grounding in your personal values.

What’s your inner game like? Are you actively engaging with your coach to help you develop character strengths? I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.