THE BLOG
24/10/2011 05:09 BST | Updated 23/12/2011 05:12 GMT

There May Not be More to Life Than Biscuits

My day has been about biscuits.

My day has been about biscuits.

I had an odd morning. The first part was spent with some senior health executives who want to improve their presentation skills. And on the way back I called a friend whose son has been refused entry to the university officer training corps. The killer question that apparently did for him: what kind of biscuit are you? Digestives apparently can't lead people into battle.

Curiously, both sessions were about the same thing: do you know who you are?

The presentation session really got to the meat of this quickly. When we stand up and present ideas or information, virtually everything is framed by who we are. The best presentation in the world will turn to sand if it's delivered by someone who is deeply boring.

(Many moons ago I worked with a colleague who kept a "deeply boring" inked stamp on his desk and would decorate poor documents with this marque.)

The worst presentation can still be very engaging if the person speaking is engaging.

But where we are unclear who or what we are, it's a lot harder to take this into account. It's a hard question and one that easy to dodge. While we might be reasonably asked where we see ourselves in five or ten years time, few recruiters appear to want to know whether we know who we are.

Of course, you can quickly tell when someone doesn't know. It shows up in all sorts of inconsistent behaviours.

Those who lead well usually know. Before they find out the point at which others break, they need to know where their own weaknesses are.

It was a question that occurred to me early in adulthood. I was interviewing Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former education minister for a policy magazine. The interview was wide-ranging and challenging. Sir Rhodes did not shirk from challenge or argument.

At one point he made a particularly uncomfortable remark - I forget what - and I asked him whether, in all honesty, he was not uneasy about what he had said, sound-bites aside.

"No", he robustly replied. "I know who I am."

It was a startling moment for me because at the time I certainly didn't. I quickly found out afterwards.

But short of putting ourselves in situations where others depend upon our leadership, particularly when times are tough and decisions need to be clear and at times harsh, we don't always find out.

For some time I thought I was alone in this ignorance. But then years later I met with about a hundred senior public sector communication advisers discussing personal reputation management.

They were looking to be clear about what they could offer their employers and part of that was being clear about what their "personal brand" meant to other people.

At the core of this was self-awareness. To be something to others, you need to know what you are to yourself. Most of them didn't know. Those who did had the lines of personal stress and tragedy etched on their faces. They found out when tough decisions forced them to find out.

Which biscuit we are is a key point in an increasingly packaged world. Successive governments have found out from focus groups and opinion polls which way the crowds were leaning before they felt able to get out in front and holler, "This way." Not so much leadership as followership.

The savage nature of political life is such that leaders are reluctant to nail their personal colours to a mast for fear of close media scrutiny and the possibility that some uncomfortable truth from the past will come out and contradict everything they're saying today.

It's not so much that they don't know what biscuit they are - it's that they don't want to be something that the electorate don't find attractive.

But when the (chocolate) chips are down we need our leaders to be clear: about whom they are, what they stand for, what they're hoping for and what they promise.

It's not enough to follow trends. It's about making them. First and foremost, they need to be true to themselves. Otherwise they're lying to themselves as well as the rest of us.

This question is no less pertinent for the rest of us. It could be that are more likely to thrive when our personal values are aligned with our behaviour than.

The tragedy of an image-driven culture is that sometimes we have to be Caramel Wafers or Hobnobs or even luxury hand-made chocolate delights.

The market is so often king.

But all that aside, do you actually know what biscuit you are?