Learning to lead yourself well is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a leader. The toughest person to lead is yourself. The truth is, to be successful in any endeavor, we need to learn how to get out of our own way.
During a conference someone asked John Maxwell, What has been your greatest challenge as a leader?
” Leading me! That has always been my greatest challenge as a leader.” — Dr John C Maxwell
1. Learn Followership
Only a leader who has followed well knows how to lead others well. Good leadership requires an understanding of the world that followers live in. Connecting with your team or staff becomes possible because you have walked in their shoes. You know what it means to be under authority and thus have a better sense of how authority should be exercised.
- Learn to submit to another person’s leadership and to follow well and you will become a more humble and effective leader.
- Leaders who have never followed well or submitted to authority tend to be prideful, unrealistic, rigid, and autocratic.
- If we desire to make an impact, we must first learn to follow under the authority of others.
“Civilization is always in danger when those who have never learned to obey are given the right to command.” —Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
2. Develop Self-Discipline
Each of us is king of our own lives. We are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions.
To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action when needed, and to refrain from the wrong actions, requires character and self-discipline.
- To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves — to do or say things we regret.
- To miss opportunities we are given.
- To spend ourselves into debt.
“When we’re foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. That begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.” — Dr John C Maxwell
3. Practice Patience
Leaders are often impatient people. The leaders I know look ahead, think ahead, and want to move ahead. This can be good; being one step ahead makes you a leader. However, impatience can also lead to trouble. Some of my greatest leadership gaffes have come because I tried to take a shortcut instead of respecting the leadership process.
If you are moving too fast, you must deliberately slow your pace. Stay connected to your people, enlist them to help fulfill the vision, and motivate them to persevere. You can’t do this if you’re running too far ahead of your people.
- Few worthwhile things in life come quickly. There is no such thing as instant greatness or instant maturity.
- Leadership doesn’t happen overnight or by reading one book.
- Leadership is a process and takes time to practice and master.
- It takes time, but the end product is worth the wait.
Leaders need to remember that the point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” —John Maxwell
In which of the three preceding areas — followership, self-discipline, or patience — do you most need to grow? What new task or practice could you take on to develop in that area? Give yourself a concrete goal and a deadline.
4. Seek Accountability
People who lead themselves well know a secret — they can’t trust themselves. Good leaders know that power can be seductive, and they understand their own fallibility. To deny it is to put yourself in danger.
Over the years, I’ve read about many leaders who failed ethically in their leadership. Can you guess what they had in common? They all thought it could never happen to them. They had a false sense of security.
- Lack of accountability in our personal life will certainly lead to problems in our public life.
- Many people feel that accountability is a willingness to explain your actions. I believe that effective accountability begins way before we take action.
- It starts with getting advice from others.
How well do you take advice? Ask five to ten friends, colleagues and family members to evaluate you according to this scale:
- You don’t want advice.
- You don’t object to advice.
- You welcome advice.
- You actively seek advice.
- You often follow the advice given to you.
Average your scores. If you average is below a 4, you need to improve in this area. Begin enlisting others in your information-gathering process before you make decisions. If you are married, begin with your spouse.
Leading yourself well means that you hold yourself to a higher standard of accountability than others do. Leadership is a trust, not a right. For that reason, you must “fix” yourself earlier than others may be required to.
Leaders receive very little fanfare for quietly leading themselves well day in and day out. Most people are unaware of the disciplines their leaders practice or the sacrifices they make outside of the spotlight. However, they don’t do it for recognition; they do it for results. What leaders do day-to-day always pays off in the long run. Success or failure isn’t an event, but a process.
The bottom line is that the smallest crowd you will ever lead is you — but it’s the most important one. If you do that well, then you’ll earn the right to lead even bigger crowds.
Lead yourself well… and you’ll be rewarded.
“Nothing so conclusively proves a persons ability to lead others, as what the person does from day to day to lead himself.” — Thomas J Watson, former chairman of IBM