Erica Ariel Fox is a New York Times bestselling author, a negotiation lecturer at Harvard Law School, and a senior advisor to Fortune 500 companies. Fox’s essay is featured in The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership, and I’m adapting it here to highlight her research on self-awareness in leadership.
Accessing Your Inner World
Understanding the diverse nature of your inner world takes a lot of work. And business leaders operate in an environment of incredible complexity, uncertainty, and pressure… so they usually don’t have time to study the underpinnings of this inner world. But after advising leaders for 20 years, I know that they can improve their performance by learning to turn inward and negotiate with themselves.
My goal is to make this journey a bit easier for business leaders. I want to equip them with a user-friendly tool to develop self-awareness and, in turn, to take more effective action.
Your Custom Archetypes
Take the notion of archetypes, for example. Archetypes are a simple shorthand way of expressing universal elements of the psyche. For instance, Peter Pan is an archetype. Peter Pan represents the archetype of the eternal child and that little part in us that would like to never grow up.
I’ve found that identifying personal archetypes is a highly valuable exercise for leaders. It requires self-discovery and self-development, and it allows people to access aspects of themselves they may not have used very much before. The best metaphor is a top-level corporate team of executives.
Imagine the roles on a corporate top team. There are:
- a CEO who holds the vision and sets direction for the future
- a CFO who analyzes data and manages risk
- a CHRO who manages people
- a COO who makes sure everything gets done
At a meeting, these leaders bring differing expertise and priorities. If any of them missed that meeting, the team would make decisions that lacked a perspective vital to the company’s success.
Leveraging Your C-Suite
So just as people on a high-level team bring their opinions and agendas to a meeting, you have a high-level team functioning inside of you. These are your inner negotiators.
The members of your inner team operate in a similar way, bringing their own interests and values to the table. Sometimes they dialogue. Sometimes they get into a screaming match. But you do have these distinct voices, with these unique functions, just like the team that runs your company.
Most leaders start realizing these impulses come from different parts of themselves. Valuable parts of themselves! For a lot of professionals, this is brand new territory, far from what they studied in their MBA program or learned when they trained as an engineer. It’s always inspiring to watch groups of high IQ, quantitative thinkers step into the unknown waters of self-exploration. Naming these four parts of the self makes things concrete where they used to seem too messy.
Using this exercise with thousands of people over the last ten years, I’ve found that if leaders can work nimbly with these four archetypes, then in most business situations they will have what they need to get positive outcomes. That same principle applies in personal life, too.
Fox’s entire essay can be found in The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership. You can also watch my conversation with Erica in Leadership: A Master Class (Getting Beyond Yes).