Leading yourself is in many ways as important as leading others. Why? Because if you aren’t leading with authenticity, integrity, and self-belief, then others won’t follow you. Having the courage of your convictions, the transparency of character and emotional security are essential traits in a good leader.
One thing that I observe repeatedly, is that those who teach leadership or those who are seasoned leaders, are sometimes the worst offenders when it comes to poor leadership. I hold a mirror up to myself on that count also! There are times in every leader’s life when good traits can spill over into blind-spots of weakness. For example, strong convictions can be an excellent virtue, but if they exclude collaboration with others, they can just become myopic opinions. A vision for the future can be just a hybrid idea if not mixed with research, testing and consensus-building. Strong communication can drown out other points of view if not balanced by listening. And so on. Leaders often need to take moments to validate their behavior, ask for feedback and seek wise counsel.
So, what is ‘leading yourself’? Let me offer three tests for doing this effectively.
1. Live a balanced life
I was challenged recently to consider a response of “very busy” when asked how I was doing. Does this mean that I’m working crazy hours and therefore need sympathy, understanding or praise? Does it mean that I have no time to reflect, rest or give others the benefit of my time? Possibly all of the above. Anyway, I decided to respond to the question by saying, “great thanks, I’m enjoying a good balance to life right now”. I don’t really think the other person was expecting that, but I really did mean it, and I do try to maintain it. Life is not all about “me” or the amount of activity I can squeeze into a day. It’s about family, friends, health, serving, giving, enjoying, and so many other wonderful things that “busyness” squeezes out.
2. Value others
The best leaders are those who make others feel special, and not in a patronizing way! By going out of their way to acknowledge, respect, and elevate others, leaders show how great they are. They don’t need to continually strive for self-recognition and achievement. They know that these often come through the efforts of those around them who are empowered and valued. Leading yourself is often easier when you focus on others. It’s quite paradoxical, but selfless leaders are often the most successful.
3. Timing is everything
There are times to engage and times to disengage. This can be related to employers, clients, people, projects, methodologies, pastimes, and many other things. Leading yourself is all about having the presence of mind, the confidence, and the courage to connect or disconnect. Knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to start. There is a right time to make a change and a right time to stick with what you know. Beginning something new can be a tremendous boost to personal achievement, just as sticking with something old can be a real drain on personal motivation. The reverse can also be true – timing and judgement are critical!
Leading yourself is often harder to teach than leading others, but it is essential in the quest for fulfilment and realization of purpose – both for you and for others.