Monday morning and I am writing Brink, doing my best to meet my virtual editor’s deadlines and hit my 50,000 words. I thought I would give a preview of one of the chapters, or at least the ideas contained within it, and that is a leadership theory by the late Abraham Zaleznik from Harvard. It is known as the twice-born personality theory.
Originally derived from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, Zaleznik took the idea into the professional, non-religious world by highlighting how differences in the way we were raised or how we have grown up have an impact on who we are as leaders. In simple terms, the theory purports that there are two different types of personalities in the world, the once-born and the twice-born. The once-born are those who seem predisposed to balance and even happiness, having had a relatively smooth transition throughout their lives from childhood to the various stages of adulthood. They discover themselves along the way.
The twice-born on the other hand, have had hiccups along the way that draw them inward, requiring them to embark on a journey of self-discovery. It is a lonelier place, but it is defined by a self-confidence and a charisma that can be very valuable in trying to advance a vision or to earn followers. As I see it, twice-born personalities focus on an internal authenticity (which incidentally supports the first Commitment of Leadership Zen) that isn’t defined by others, cannot be assailed by outside influences. That is a truly strong leadership foundation to stand on.
That is not to say that the once-born leader cannot be effective. By contrast they can are typically discovered by circumstance, and therefore have a strong – if potentially shorter-lived foundation as people follow the right person at the right time. But I am suggesting, as Zaleznik seems to, that the power of the twice-born leader is more authentic, deriving from deep within and constantly being reborn through individual self-discovery.
Are you a once-born or a twice-born leader? I can’t answer that. No one can with any definitiveness but you can always seek to re-assess, re-invent, and re-purpose, making the desire for self-discovery one of the hallmarks of your brand. Don’t be someone who gets defined by circumstance. Define your circumstances and lead from within.
We’ll tackle this subject in a much deeper fashion in Brink. I wanted to give the reader a taste of what is going on behind the scenes!