First Person Leadership

If you can’t lead yourself you can’t lead anyone. 


Too many people in leadership positions focus all their leadership energies on leading other people. They forget about leading the person most responsible for their success… themselves. The problem with that is it often causes someone to hold the people they lead to a higher standard than themselves. 


They know exactly the qualities and characteristics they are looking for in their people but they never stop long enough to see if they possess those qualities and characteristics themselves. They forget that they are the model of successful behavior for their people. 


What about you? Are you leading yourself with the same standards that you apply to your people? 


It’s likely you expect your people to have a positive attitude. Have you checked your attitude lately? Attitudes are contagious and a leader’s attitude is more contagious than most. If your people see you struggling with your attitude then they will struggle with theirs as well. Maintaining a positive attitude is a choice and it’s a vital choice if you hope to lead effectively.


Are you an emotional leader? Emotions are a powerful human force but they are also a twin-edged sword. Too little emotion and leadership dies pretty quickly. Too much emotion and it can die even faster. What kind of emotional model are you for your people? If you can’t lead yourself to control your emotions than it’s almost certain you can’t lead anyone else to control theirs. 


Are you modeling enthusiasm? Leaders want their people engaged in and enthusiastic about their work. It’s not often that you find a leader’s people more enthusiastic than the leader. When was the last timed you evaluated your own level of enthusiasm? It’s hard to stay “pumped” everyday but if you act enthusiastic it doesn’t take very long until you’re actually enthusiastic. You can’t fake enthusiasm but you can make it. Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic!


Can you lead yourself all the way to the finish line? Successful people finish what they start and that applies to leaders as well. Strong starts are important but it’s strong finishes that make people successful. You must push yourself to finish what you start. If you can’t get yourself across the finish line then you won’t be able to pull others across who are following you. 


You can’t start projects and leave them unfinished. When you do that you’re modeling unsuccessful behavior for your people. When that’s what you model that’s what you get.


When I want to know how well someone in a leadership position leads themselves I don’t invest too much time evaluating the leader. I evaluate their people, that tells me far more about the qualities and characteristics of the leader. Your people are a reflection of you. When they aren’t performing look first in the mirror for potential causes and solutions.


You can occasionally find that gem of a person who excels past the level of their leader. They find a way to make their own model of success. But generally speaking you as the leader are that model so it’s a good idea to stop occasionally to determine what it is that you’re modeling for your people. 

Always remember, before you can effectively lead others you must lead yourself exceptionally well. So… how you doin’?

The Challenge of Frustration

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss leadership with a group of mid-level managers. At the end of my presentation I was approached by a significant number of the attendees who all had the same question.


The questions, while asked differently all had the same theme: what do I do when my “leader” isn’t a real leader at all?


The answer to that question is simple and complicated all at once. I’m assuming (I know that’s dangerous) that the people asking the question are truly leaders. That means they care about the people they lead, they understand that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead and that they get as much pleasure from their people’s success as they do their own. 


If that is the case then the answer to the question is this: Lead Up.


Lead your leader the same way you lead your followers. Realize that your leader is a person too, realize that they, like every other human being on the planet, have their faults and limitations. 


The most Authentic Leaders lead in every direction, down, across and up. That means that instead of criticizing the person above you, which accomplishes nothing, you should be trying to help them overcome their faults and limitations. You can coach them the same way you coach others, you can demonstrate that you care about them the same way you demonstrate that you care about others. You can invest yourself in their success as if their success was your own…because for an Authentic Leader it is.


But…and this is what makes it complicated, before you can do any of that you must earn the right to lead up. 


Earning the right to lead up requires that you lead yourself exceptionally well. You must have the trust of the person above you to lead up. You earn that trust by being completely transparent with your leader. You don’t say one thing to them and then something else to your followers. You do what you say you will do 100% of the time. You display the same integrity upwards as you do across and down. (just an aside here, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity any time)


You must lead yourself in such a way that the person above you does not feel as if you require much help from them. You control your own attitude and keep it positive as much as humanly possible. You choose your words well and seldom just spout off the first thing that comes to mind. 


And then there’s this…you let them devour your ego food!


You allow them to sometimes, often, or even frequently take your success as their own. (I told you this was complicated) You take on assignments that your leader may receive credit for doing, you do more than you are required to do knowing full well that “others” may never know it was you who accomplished so much. 


I know from personal experience how truly challenging and frustrating that can be but here’s a question for you: are you leading to lead or are you leading for some type of personal glory?


If you’re leading to lead that means you lead because you want to make a difference; your motives are not selfish they are selfless. That’s a huge difference that allows you to feed your own ego even after giving much of your ego food to someone else. 


YOU know what you did and if you’re truly leading to lead, if you’re truly leading for the benefit of others and not yourself, then that is enough. More than enough actually. 

Leadership comes from many levels within an organization, it also goes in many directions. If you’re experiencing the frustration that comes with following a leader who doesn’t lead then do what real leaders do, stop complaining and start leading…today.

When Your Boss is a Knucklehead

I, like many people have had the great misfortune of working for someone who just wasn’t very smart. 

Or so I thought. 

The truth is, I had the great misfortune of thinking I was working for someone who wasn’t very smart. It took me longer than it should have to realize that someone higher up in the organization had the ability to see my boss’s strengths, an ability that I had yet to develop.

The thought that you are working for someone who is not as smart, skilled or as effective as you are only leads to frustration and it’s not the boss who is frustrated, it’s you.

So stop frustrating yourself by focusing on your boss’s weakness. Understand that so long as your boss is human they will have their share of shortcomings. Understand as well that so long as your boss is human they will likely possess unique strengths that add value to your organization. 

To limit your frustration find and focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. 

It could also be that you are in fact smarter than your boss but they may possess a quality or characteristic that you lack. Be honest with yourself; it’s unlikely that you are truly perfect and completely devoid of skill or ability gaps. It’s possible that you’re missing a quality or characteristic that your boss’s boss believes is vital for your organization. Learn what you can from your boss to determine your personal development opportunities. It’s nice to have a boss that helps you develop but it’s actually your responsibility to develop yourself, don’t expect others to do it for you.

Lead up! If your boss indeed has “gaps” then accept it as your responsibility to fill those gaps. It could be that you were hired for that very purpose. If your boss is a good leader they likely identified their own gaps and hired you to do what they couldn’t. If that’s the case then being frustrated with your boss’s inability to do everything you can is just counterproductive and downright silly.

If none of this makes any sense to you then it’s possible that your boss is truly a knucklehead. If that’s the case perhaps you should consider making a move to greener pastures. But don’t consider it for long, either move or be quiet and do your job. Don’t, do not, not today, not tomorrow, not ever, hang around and become a disruptive negative force in your organization by constantly complaining about your boss. Move along, you can do better.

One more thing….if you at your third or fourth job and in every case your boss is a knucklehead then perhaps you should take a look at what (or who) all those jobs have in common. I’d suggest you start by looking in the mirror. 

You may not like what you see but at least you will see the real source of most knucklehead bosses. I know that’s harsh but one hard look could make every other look a whole lot easier.

The First Test of Leadership

Do you follow you? The ability to lead yourself is the first test of leadership. If you can’t lead yourself then it is beyond silly to believe that you could possibly lead anyone else. 

Even though it might sound easy, leading yourself can be a real challenge. When you slow down long enough to even ponder whether or not you would follow you then you’ll discover there is a lot to consider. 

Such as…

How well do you manage your emotions? Are you an emotional wreck? Do you wear your emotions on your sleeve? No one wants to follow someone whose emotions swing from hot to cold in a nano-second. You don’t want to follow that person either, even if that person is you. I could write several posts on the importance of understanding and controlling your emotions but that ability is where you’re ability to lead yourself, and others, begins.

Do you know your priorities? Do you have a plan, goals, and objectives for your life? In short, do you have a vision of where you eventually want to be? If not then I have a question for you… where exactly are you leading yourself? Leading yourself requires that you know yourself. It also requires that you know AND LIVE your core values and principles. Living your principles makes you a pretty attractive leader that others will want to follow as well.

Do you control your thoughts? Your thoughts tend to become your reality so the better your thoughts the better your reality. In those quiet times when there is no one to talk to but yourself you must be very careful about what you’re saying. When it comes to credibility your subconscious believes you’re the most credible person you know. If you talk negatively about yourself then you are going to absolutely believe it. If you think well of yourself then that will be reflected in your actions too. Just a word of caution here… to lead yourself exceptionally well requires that you fully understand the difference between loving yourself and being in love with yourself. One is beneficial, the other… not so much.

Do you manage your time or does your time manage you? I have a very low tolerance for people who tell me that they don’t have enough time. I have that low tolerance because when someone says “don’t have time” what I hear is “I’m too damn lazy to prioritize.” 

No one is the entire world has even one more minute in a day then you do. You do not have a shortage of time. If you think you do then please tell me about your core values, your principles, and the priorities that come from them. 

I’d bet a bunch of money that you can’t do that. Don’t try to do everything, just do everything that truly matters. When you do things in order of their importance many, many seemingly urgent things just fall away because you discover just how unimportant they really are. To lead yourself exceptionally well you must keep in mind the absolute unimportance of almost everything you do. That becomes much easier when you know what actually is important in your life. 

When you’re confident that you’re leading yourself to the life that you want then you’ve passed the first test of leadership. So…can you pass?

Leading You

Before you can lead others, before you can lead even one other person, you must be able to lead yourself.

In large part leadership is about helping others succeed. It may sound selfish but you must help yourself succeed before you attempt to help someone else succeed.

It is a good idea to periodically stop and evaluate yourself in a number of areas to see how effectively you’re really leading yourself. (I know I write about this almost incessantly but this is yet another area where a mentor or coach can make a huge difference for you)

One area you may want to evaluate yourself is how well you’re able to control your emotions. Authentic Servant Leaders are generally passionate people but they don’t use their passion as an excuse to lose control of their emotions. We will all lose control of our emotions from time to time (it’s called being human) but great leaders don’t make emotional decisions. They will delay a decision just a bit to let their emotions settle down enough so that their decision is a sound, realistic, thoughtful decision. 

Leadership is about people, we manage stuff, budgets, inventories, etc. but we lead people. Authentic Servant Leaders frequently evaluate their success in the area of building relationships with their people. They know that every human interaction leaves an emotional wake, people feel either better or worse. There is no such thing as a “neutral” human interaction so the best leaders consider what they want their emotional wake to be, positive or negative. You can leave people feeling better about themselves and the situation or you can leave them feeling worse. It’s a leadership decision that too many leaders never make, they just interact and whatever happens is just how it is.

How well do you choose your words? Your words matter, little changes in the words you use can make a big difference, in how you feel about yourself and in how others feel about you as a leader. Evaluate from time to time if you could have said something more effectively, more positively, or with more impact. Perhaps you said something that didn’t need to be said at all or perhaps you just couldn’t summon up the courage to say something that really needed to be said.

Leading yourself well requires that you understand the power behind your words. If you’re consistently regretting your choice of words then it’s a good bet that you’re not yet ready to lead others.

Do you have the time to lead? People who lead themselves well are almost hyper-conscious about how they use their time. They use time management tools like block time and prioritized task lists to make sure they are actually productive and not merely busy. They control their calendar, they see the use of time as an investment and they invest it in high return activities.

Authentic Servant Leadership at it’s core is about giving a piece of yourself in service to others. Before you begin to give of yourself make sure that what you’re giving is truly worth receiving. 


Can You Lead You?

Before you can lead anyone else you must be able to lead yourself. Before you can lead up you must lead yourself exceptionally well.

Leading “up” simply means extending your influence to those above you in your organization. When you lead up you have much greater impact on your organization than your position might suggest. Your influence comes not from your title or position, it comes from the value that you bring to the entire organization. 

To lead yourself exceptionally well and earn the opportunity to lead up in your organization you must first learn to control your attitude. Your attitude is entirely your choice. If you don’t fully believe that then you have surrendered one of life’s greatest assets to the whims of other people’s moods and “stuff” over which you have no control. 

Yes, your attitude, or your positive attitude, can be one of your greatest assets. Your attitude shapes almost every decision you make. It can either add to or subtract from the ability you have to tackle the tough jobs required to lead up.

While you may not be able to control all the events of your day and you certainly can’t control the attitude of other people, you DO have COMPLETE control over YOUR attitude. 

To lead up you must learn to control your calendar. You must be able to say no to the often unimportant urgent things so you can focus on the truly important value adding activities where you can make a difference for the organization.

You must realize as a person looking to extend their influence that your words matter. As your influence within an organization grows your words will carry more weight. As you work to earn the opportunity to lead up you will need to choose your words with care because your credibility is fragile and the wrong word at the wrong time can damage it. 

If you’re going to lead yourself exceptionally well you must develop the discipline to think BEFORE you talk. Great leaders know that there is no way to “unsay” something that has been said and even worse, there is no way to “unhear” what has been heard. 

Think of it like this: if your words aren’t adding value to a conversation then what are they adding?

To lead yourself exceptionally well you must find balance in your life. You must lead your life according to your core values and goals. Your core values and goals are what allow you to set priorities in all areas of your life. Knowing, truly knowing, your core values and setting goals around them, allows you to make balanced decisions that reflect who you really are.

It will look to other people as if you “walk you talk,” it will look that way because you will be walking your talk. You might be able to fool some people for a while but when attempting to lead up, frauds are discovered pretty quickly. 

To lead yourself and to lead up, know who you are, know what you stand for and work everyday to be true to yourself.