“It’s just a busy season. I promise I’ll be home more when I finish this project.” I apologized to my husband as I raced out the door for an early-morning meeting that would be followed by a full day and a late-night event. When I snuck into bed later that evening hoping I wouldn’t wake him, he sighed and quietly said, “It’s not just a season, Jen. It’s you. There’s always another project. There’s always more you need to do. It doesn’t matter what the job is or who your boss is; you always run yourself ragged. You have to make choices that will sustain you.”
As I’m sure you can imagine, I didn’t receive his comments well. And it wasn’t just that I was tired and irritable; it was because he was right. I knew it, but I didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to believe I was the victim of my circumstances, but the truth was that I needed to make some wiser choices and create some healthy boundaries that would enable me to lead better for the long haul. I was touting health and balance to my team but making excuses for why those same principles didn’t apply to me.
That discussion and many others like it have caused me to learn what I believe is one of the most important lessons in leadership: lead yourself well to lead others better. It’s the grand “aha” of my leadership journey that has become something like beating my head against the proverbial wall. When am I going to get this? When will I understand that I must learn to lead myself well before I ever hope of having a chance to lead and influence others?
Leaders like to lead. And when we say we like to lead, we usually mean we like to lead others, right? But if you can’t lead yourself well, you will be ill-equipped to lead others. This is counterintuitive to our desire to lead. Let’s be honest, our desire to lead is often predicated by a desire to control. We may not call it that, but with a little excavation of our hearts, we find our desire to control underlying our motivation.
I must learn to lead myself well before I ever hope of having a chance to lead others
Part of the responsibility of leadership is understanding our influence on others. Leadership is only as strong as the leader. And that responsibility, if you’re grasping the weight of it, is the reason why your leadership journey must begin with leading yourself well.
Extraordinary leaders learn to lead themselves first. They develop the discipline to understand their motivations, to continually evaluate their emotional health, to manage their physical health, and to nurture their soul. With that in mind, here are four dimensions we need to attend to in order to lead ourselves well.
Four Dimensions for Self-Leadership
Leading from your heart means leading with an understanding of who you are. Your heart is the center of your emotions, desires, and wishes. We must understand what motivates and influences us before we can lead others from a sincere heart. We have the potential to understand others better when we first understand ourselves.
The soul is the epicenter of morality, integrity, humility, and servanthood. Leading from the soul is all about developing your character. Developing character produces qualities that cause others to have confidence to follow you as a leader. As you pursue growth in your character, be relentless about defining and developing the qualities that you want to be true of you.
You mind is the seat of intellectual activity. It is what enables you to deliberate, to process, to reflect, to ponder, and to remember. The mind enables us to strategize and to make plans. Leaders are learners. You must commit to constant learning and be a fanatic about it. Read ferociously and surround yourself with people smarter than you.
Your strength emerges as you develop discipline and consistency in your life. Those we lead and influence will be evaluating our actions because actions speak louder than intentions. Our leadership will be evaluated by what we do, not what we intend. Set goals and achieve them. Take initiative and follow through. Know your limits and always play to your strengths.
Self-leadership is the hard work behind the scenes that prepares you for great leadership. Understanding who you are, cultivating your character, committing to lifelong learning and developing discipline provide the framework for fostering the leadership of self.
The great irony of self-leadership is that as we grow more effective at leading ourselves, we become more selfless. Healthy self-leadership provides the perspective from which we become more other-centric rather than self-centered. By tackling some of the challenges that tend to derail or distract us, we become better equipped to lead from our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
Self-leadership is the hard work behind the scenes that prepares you for great leadership.
As I’ve focused on leading myself well I’ve become increasingly aware of the moments that lead to those late night exasperated conversations with my husband. I’m more in tune to when my emotions are impacting my actions or when my ambition is at odds with the person I want to be. I notice when my strategic planning and audacious dreaming cause me to become overextended and short-tempered. And little by little I’m seeing glimpses of what it looks like to lead with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, and all of my strength.
(Excerpts of this article are from Jenni’s book The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership: The Power of Leading from Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.)
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