Your Leadership DNA

Taking advantage of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to be your best.

Can you think of a time you were really uncomfortable? Maybe it was a time you had to speak in front of a large group, or a time you had to confront a co-worker on a difficult issue. Wouldn't it be nice to make situations like that a little easier? Wouldn't it be great if you could make them less painful?

You can, and if you want to be your best as a leader, you must. When we are in uncomfortable situations, it's usually because we're acting outside of our natural way of being. When we align our natural way of being to the situations in which we find ourselves, we are happier, less stressed and more effective.

Your distinct natural attributes

You are hardwired with certain characteristics that make you distinctly, irreplaceably, inimitably you. The way you live, the way you learn, the way you lead — all of these are guided by the gifts you were given at birth and the ones you have collected in the course of your life. Knowing these attributes gives you tremendous power.

To be able to tap into your brilliance, you must answer the question, "What makes you unique?" You need to discover your distinct natural attributes — your DNA.

Your distinct natural attributes include:

Your strengths — What do you do especially well? When are you at your best?Your weaknesses — What's harder for you, goes slower, or is more stressful?Your personality — What do you know to be true about yourself?Your preferences — How do you prefer to do things?Your virtues — What can you claim as being your most virtuous qualities?Your vulnerabilities — What makes you feel small and insecure?Your style — What's "your way"?

You can use your DNA to turn an ineffective situation into one in which you'll naturally succeed.

Mapping your DNA

The more strategies you use to find your distinct natural attributes, the more complete your view will be. Asking yourself the questions above will get you started. You can reveal more of your DNA by asking open-ended questions. To find strengths, ask:

What do you do without even thinking?What do people count on you for?In your social life, what role do you play?At work, what are you recognized for?Given the freedom to do things your way, how do you do them?

To find weaknesses, ask:

What activities would you gladly never have to do again?What do you wish you could pass on to someone else?When do you feel dragged down?What do you dread?When do you procrastinate?

Continue the process of exploring your DNA from every angle, getting to know yourself as much as possible.

Putting your DNA to work

Once you have a sense of your DNA, you can use your new knowledge to capitalize on your strengths.

Let's imagine three people, each with different DNA, in a similar situation. They each have to confront a colleague who is not pulling his weight on the team, and it's starting to affect both the team dynamics and the results. Notice that each of these people will handle the situation differently, based on their DNA.

Person A is shy and reserved, but very caring. She might approach this situation in a quiet one-on-one conversation in which she expresses concern for the person's feelings as she confronts the issue.

Person B is brash, direct and focused on results. He might choose his words carefully to avoid insulting the person, and then approach the situation by showing the person the disconnect between their results and their behavior.

Person C is honest and insightful, but finds it hard to have face-to-face conversations without getting flustered. He might actually write down the difficult message he has to deliver on a piece of paper and either use it as a guide to have a phone conversation or turn his notes into a letter or email to address the situation.

You can use the same approach by thinking about your DNA and understanding how it would be most effective for you to conduct yourself in any situation. Knowing your attributes gives you the opportunity to choose from among a varied collection of inner resources, dipping into them as needed for the ones that will serve you best and lead you to your goals.


Reflect on a time in your life when you felt most powerful. What might that experience teach you about your distinct natural attributes?

Like your genetic DNA, your distinct natural attributes define "what's true about you." What's genuinely true about you — the good and the bad — is also what's great about you.

About the Author

Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D. is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership, which shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to lead themselves. Her newsletter, Inner Edge Insights, offers articles, exercises, tips, quotes and success stories from real leaders to help you excel. To register, please


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