Leading Self – 4 tips to leading yourself better

I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately both with my clients as well as with my own personal reflections and I’ve noticed two common themes that keeps arising:

  1. The toughest person to lead is always yourself, and

  2. The last person we think about leading is yourself.

If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we all would agree that sometimes we can be our own worst enemies and can often block ourselves from the success we want to achieve. We just lack the awareness of how, where, and why.

If I was to ask you, John, how often would you say you take the time to really examine yourself? What would you say? One of my mentors, John C. Maxwell in his book, Leadership Gold says, “If you don’t look at yourself realistically, you will never understand where your personal difficulties lie. And if you can’t see them, you won’t be able to lead yourself effectively”. And if you can’t lead yourself effectively, how can you really expect to lead others effectively?

Last year, I made one of the greatest and most challenging investments in myself. I hired a coach. You’re probably thinking, but John, you’re a coach, why do you need a coach? Another one of my mentors once told me, the greatest coaches and leaders have a coach. I needed one because I realized I was getting in my own way and I wanted to know where, why and how I was limiting myself from the success I wanted to achieve.  You see, what I wanted to accomplish, I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish it on my own or with my current beliefs. I hired a coach because I couldn’t see myself effectively and my level of awareness needed to increase.  When it comes to personal growth, I believe growth increases when we’re being intentional about it and we’re willing to put some skin in the game.  I was giving him permission to help me explore myself. It takes an incredible amount of trust and guts to do this. It’s not for everyone. But it’s been about six months since working with him and my thinking has certainly shifted. I’ve started to understand myself more and know where my personal difficulties lie and why I wasn’t seeing the growth I wanted to achieve.

To get out of your own way and become a better leader, there are four things you should learn to help you lead yourself and others more effectively.

  1. Learn Followership – Only a leader who has followed well knows how to lead others well. The best leaders are followers first. And the best followers make the best leaders. By learning followership, it increases your empathy and helps you to better connect with your followers. Maxwell says, “Connecting with your people becomes possible because you’ve walked in their shoes before. Good leadership requires an understanding of the world that your followers live in”.

  2. Develop Self-Discipline – Only you can control you and only you are you responsible for your own actions and decisions. Making consistent good decisions and taking the right actions when needed and refraining from the wrong ones require a strong moral character and self-discipline. Doing otherwise, we lose control of ourselves – what we do, what we say and we miss the opportunities when they are given.

  3. Practice Patience – Too many leaders lack the time it takes to produce something great. Everyone wants instant gratification…to be an overnight success.  There are few things in life that come quickly.  Becoming a leader doesn’t happen overnight. Microwavable leaders never last; it’s those leaders who are willing to let themselves cook slowly who are successful. The point is it takes time and patience. Leadership is a process that develops daily, not in a day.  The point of leading isn’t to finish first; it’s to take people across the line with you. For this reason, leaders must slow their pace, learn to connect with their people and connect them to their vision. You can’t do that if you’re constantly always ahead of them, out of sight and not connecting with them.  

  4. Seek Accountability – Do you trust yourself?  Do you really trust yourself? Most leaders who know themselves don’t. They can’t.  Good leaders know that power can be seductive, and they understand their fallibility. To be a leader and deny this is to put yourself in real danger.  Accountability isn’t just for your personal life. Not having accountability in your professional life can be a very dangerous and stupid thing. They actually often overlap; a lack of accountability in your personal life will certainly lead to problems in your professional life. Consider the number of CEOs or senior military officials who have been stripped of their command because of an extramarital affair or skimming money from an unknown account.  Having accountability starts with your own willingness to seek and accept advice from others.

A quick story about accountability – when I became a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, I went through a process called Chief’s Call to Indoctrination. During this process, I met with a lot of other Chiefs and sought out their words of wisdom.  One of my mentors during this process who worked directly for the Commanding Officer gave me the best advice I’ve taken with me as a leader and it really speaks to the purpose of accountability.  There was a decision that was being considered that was going to negatively impact a lot of people and the Captain was going to make it. Because the Captain gave permission to the Master Chief to hold him accountable, that gave him the opportunity to call him out and hold him accountable when making decisions. Because this decision would have had a lot of adverse effects and was a really bad decision, the Master Chief was pretty blunt when speaking to him. Afterwards, I asked him, you can speak to him like that, and he said, that’s my job. Holding people to accountable isn’t supposed to be pretty or formal; it’s supposed to be real and raw. Let’s be honest.  Just like I’ve given my coach permission to ask me bold questions that not many people would ever dare; giving permission to others to hold you accountable to being an effective leader requires trust and a level of bluntness. Leadership is a trust, not a right.

When you don’t take the time to inspect yourself as a leader, you open the door to becoming stuck and an ineffective leader.  Maxwell writes, “The smallest crowd you will ever lead is you – but it’s the most important one. If you do that well, then you will earn the right to lead even bigger crowds”.

Questions to consider

How clearly do you see yourself?  Are you aware of yourself and where you’re getting in your way? How big is the gap between your current reality and where you want to be at in your life, career, or business? Who have you given permission to hold you accountable? Where do you need to grow? Specifically?

If you would like to explore these questions further, contact me today. I have a few one on one coaching slots open right now.

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