The Art and Science of Leadership: A Conversation with Russell Heath
As the host of a podcast that delves into the intricacies of leadership, I recently had the pleasure of engaging in a thought-provoking conversation with Russell Heath, a seasoned leadership coach. Our discussion revolved around the age-old question: are leaders born or made? We also explored the importance of self-awareness, the alignment of identity and reputation, and the impact of the stories we tell ourselves on our leadership abilities.
The Journey to Leadership Coaching
Russell Heath’s journey to becoming a leadership coach is as diverse as it is fascinating. From working in data processing to sailing around the world, writing novels, and leading activist organizations, Russell’s experiences have shaped his unique perspective on leadership. He realized that he was the limiting factor in his organization’s success and decided to become a better leader. This decision led him to New York City, where he delved into leadership coaching and eventually became a leadership coach himself.
The Role of a Leadership Coach
There’s a common misconception that a leadership coach must have extensive leadership experience. However, Russell clarified that his expertise lies in how people relate to themselves and the content of leadership, rather than being an expert in the specific subject matter. He helps individuals develop effective and resourceful behaviors, which are essential for successful leadership.
The Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership
Our conversation underscored the importance of self-awareness and self-reflection in leadership. I emphasized the need to lead oneself before leading others and acknowledged that leadership is a blend of art and science. We agreed that leadership is not just about skills, but also about behaviors and how one engages with the world. Russell gave an example of a client who had the behavior of wanting to be liked, which hindered her ability to hold her team accountable. Through coaching, she was able to develop more effective behaviors and achieve better results with her team.
Aligning Identity with Reputation
We also discussed the importance of aligning one’s identity with their reputation as a leader. Even though individuals may have good intentions and values, the way they communicate and express those values may not be received in the same way by others. This can create a reputation that may not align with their internal beliefs. When feedback indicates a misalignment between identity and reputation, it is important to work with a coach to figure out how to improve alignment.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Russell shared that he usually focuses on whether individuals are achieving the results they want. He gave an example of someone who may not be getting the desired results in their team because their identity and reputation are out of alignment. He mentioned the concept of imposter syndrome, where someone may feel like they don’t belong or aren’t good enough in their new role. I added that this syndrome often arises when individuals are promoted to a higher level and start questioning their abilities and expectations.
The Power of Self-Assessment
Imposter syndrome is part of an individual’s self-assessment, which is how they understand themselves. Russell mentioned other self-assessments such as not feeling pretty enough or not feeling worthy or lovable. These self-assessments can be self-sabotaging and hinder personal growth. As a coach, he helps clients identify these self-assessments and the strategies they have developed to manage them.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Russell emphasized the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and how they shape our reality and understanding of the world. As coaches, our role is to help individuals identify and evaluate their own stories, determining whether they support or hinder their growth and effectiveness. The power lies in being able to change these stories that no longer serve us.
A Personal Reflection
I shared a personal story from my time in graduate school. Despite facing challenges with a panelist who had a strong accent, I successfully completed my degree. However, this panelist voted against confirming my degree and made a bold request for me to promise never to work in the US banking system. I reflected on this limiting belief and how it turned out to be untrue, as I went on to have a successful career in banking.
Our conversation concluded with Russell providing his contact information for those interested in improving their leadership skills. He generously offered a discount to listeners referred by me. I reminded listeners to check out the video version of the podcast on YouTube and encouraged them to make it a great day.
In conclusion, our conversation highlighted the power of self-awareness, the importance of aligning identity and reputation, and the impact of the stories we tell ourselves on our leadership abilities. It was a reminder that leadership is not just about skills, but also about behaviors and how one engages with the world.
In his teens, Russell Heath hitchhiked to Alaska and lived in a cabin on the banks of the Tanana River; in his twenties, he lived in Italy and then traveled overland across the Sahara, through the jungles and over the savannas of Africa and into southern Asia; in his thirties, he sailed alone around the world in a 25-foot wooden boat; in his forties, he wrote novels; and in his fifties he bicycled the spine of the Rockies from Alaska to Mexico.
He’s worked on the Alaska Pipeline, as an environmental lobbyist in the Alaska Legislature, and run a storied environmental organization fighting to protect Alaska’s coastal rainforests. Several years ago, he moved to New York City to dig deep into leadership development and coaching. He now lives in a cabin on the coast of Maine and coaches business and non-profit leaders intent on making big things happen in the world.
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