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The Hardest Person You'll Ever Lead

If you are a leader, then you have been frustrated with the people you are called to lead, maybe even angry. Maybe you have said things like me—how many times do I have to say this? When are they are going to get it? Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous! Yet the toughest person I have ever had to lead is myself. I have discovered that the better I lead myself, the more amazed I am at how much better the people are that I have been asked to lead.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for leading our lives. That’s BEFORE we lead anyone else. So, how effectively are you leading yours? Are you as healthy as you’d like to be? As financially secure as you’d wish? Do you feel that the work you do matters and is important? Are you continuing to grow, learn, get better, and make progress? If not, it’s time to get better.

Leading yourself is a learned skill. It means holding yourself to a personal set of values, beliefs, and goals, acting with integrity when no one else looks or cares. That kind of skill is built with three parts:

  • Clarity. A deep knowledge about who you are (your values and beliefs) and what you want (your goals and objectives). This is commonly known as self-awareness.

  • Integrity. Moving from simple thought to actually acting in a manner consistent with your beliefs and values.

  • Courage. This is the predecessor to integrity—you can’t have it without courage. This courage is a willingness to sacrifice your own personal well-being in order to act in a way that is true to your beliefs and values.

Here are a few questions that will help you get real insight into who you are and what you want.

How would this world be different if you weren’t here? When we face hard times, every leader may at some point ask, “Is this worth it? Does it matter? Do I matter?” When you find yourself in a crisis of confidence, use this question to help you regain your perspective, and your courage. Make a list of the many ways in which the world would be less if you didn’t exist. Celebrate you. Too often leaders obsess about the 5% that isn’t going well and ignore the 95% that is.

What is something that you know is true, but almost no one agrees with you on? This is a favorite interview question of PayPal founder, Peter Thiel. He says this question tests for both “originality” and “courage,” but it is from this type of independent thinking that great ideas are born. Thiel shares that back in 2008, the founders of AirBnB were fresh college graduates with a radical idea: a homeowner would be willing to rent out a bedroom in her home to a person whom she had never met. Today, the practice is common and AirBnB is a multi-billion-dollar company. Don’t overlook this question. Your own original thinking must emerge for your leadership effectiveness to improve.

What is life asking of me? This question comes from columnist David Brooks: He says,“Wonderful people are made, not born…but [they] do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? Instead, they ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

What are your responsibilities, your obligations, in light of the gifts you have been given? This is not an easy one to answer, but that is why it’s so valuable. Thinking this through gives you motivation and momentum.

Your self-leadership, your understanding of who you are, what you want and what you are being called to do, creates the firm foundation you need to act and make decisions with confidence, even during periods of great uncertainty.

Self-leadership is a constant balancing act between meeting your needs and the needs of your organization. You have to find a way to do both.

Here are 5 self-leadership strategies that can help you lead your organization too…

  • Be clear about your values. The way you lead is reflected in the relationships you have with team members. Set a clear personal mission statement and values to guide your day-to-day decisions that are aligned with organizational and personal goals. Encourage team members to do the same.

  • Change your mindset. Remember that goals and life are fluid and require adjustments. You have to realign yourself to meet those changes. Fifteen minutes every day to evaluate where you are and work your plan will be invaluable.

  • Speak a common leadership language. Make sure everyone understands your terms and meanings. Everyone at every level needs to know what you are speaking about and use similar terms.

  • Take charge of your performance. All of your daily tasks and activities should contribute to your goals. Without planning, you’re just reacting and not being intentional about how you manage your day. Take charge of your schedule, your time, and your daily leadership development plan. List and review key tasks and activities you plan to accomplish that day and cross them out when you complete them. Make certain your daily activities contribute to your direction.

  • Be proactive. Get going! When challenges or setbacks occur, don’t wait for others to solve the problem. Use your self-leadership skills to identify where you’re at in progress toward the goal, what has shifted, what the problems are, and how you plan to solve them. Don’t act in isolation, but be prepared to act and lead.

Developing a better sense of self is incredibly grounding. It helps you navigate difficult situations with less stress and negative emotion—because you have a higher level of emotional intelligence. Self-leadership doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes effort on your part, but the results are definitely worth it. If we are going to be great at leading ourselves, we must concentrate on Self-Discovery. We have to figure out who we really are, our values and heart.

Then Self-Acceptance is vital. It is about being completely honest with yourself and accepting it without self-criticism or self-sabotage. You can recognize where you could do things better without beating yourself up for not already being perfect. Perfectionism is overrated and technically impossible.

Self-Management makes us more productive, more focused, and more able to work independently. It means I am managing my time and resources effectively. Self-managing means maintaining a good balance and prioritizing the right things.

Self-leadership is all about Self-Growth and becoming a better leader. It’s about being completely honest with yourself, but it isn’t about self-criticism. Self-growth is about striving to continuously improve yourself. It requires being open to feedback and creating a development plan to keep you growing. Part of self-growth is learning how to embrace failure. Developing a growth mindset allows you to focus on the outcomes without getting frustrated by failure. Recognizing failure as a learning opportunity allows you to flourish and succeed.

You can lead yourself better, and then lead others better.

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