Are you a leader that people want to follow? Would you follow you?
Do you lead yourself well so you can lead others well?
Being someone who other people would want to follow is a good idea whether you have formal authority or not. In “How to Lead When You are Not In Charge,” author Clay Scroggins says that if you lead yourself well, you’ll always have a good leader -- plus, when you lead yourself well, people naturally want to follow.
What does it look like to lead yourself well?
1. You practice what you expect.
What is it that you expect from a leader? Think about some of the best leaders you've had or known. What were the characteristics that made them great? Integrity, self-awareness, vulnerability, open-mindedness... others? Were they good communicators, good listeners? What did you most admire or respect them for? Make a list. Then consider how well you live those same characteristics.
Would others say you always follow-up? Do you show humility and vulnerability -- by admitting mistakes, asking for help, or letting others help? Are you aware of your impact on others and do you take full responsibility for it? Do you have a clear vision with goals and plans to achieve it? The best leaders have a structured approach to achieving success -- and they know what success means to them, what it looks like. They have extreme self-awareness coupled with firm resolve; they never let their ego get in the way of their ambition.
Leadership is a practice. Great leaders aren't perfect, nor do they try to be. But they do strive to consistently practice what they expect.
2. You seek growth.
You may have heard the saying, "leaders are readers". It rhymes, so it's catchy and easy to remember. The best leaders are lifelong learners. They consistently seek to improve their knowledge, skills and attitudes through books, classes, experiences -- anything that can help them lead themselves better in service of achieving their vision. They practice reflection. Humans assign meaning to everything based on how we think about ourselves and the world at any given moment. But how we think evolves over time. And the meaning assigned to any experience can be changed later on based on new information or experiences.
When was the last time you took a class? What was the last book you read? What have you done, on purpose and with regularity, to improve your leadership ability? Have you taken the time to rethink or re-frame your experiences, taking into consideration what you know now (but didn't know then)?
Everything you say and do is a function of how you think about yourself and the world. The same old thinking brings the same old results. Which is why the best leaders are constantly seeking new perspectives.
3. You have nothing to prove.
What if you stopped looking at yourself as if you are not okay? We tend to be our own worst critics. Your critical voice can be used for good -- for development and learning, but you can take it too far, using it as a weapon against yourself and others. You need look only as far as your own self-talk. Do you tell yourself you are good, smart, and worthy? Or are your messages more negative -- bad, stupid, and worthless? Do you allow yourself to feel worthy or good only when you've earned it or deserve it?
If you see yourself as having something to prove, you'll be disappointed every time. You see, feelings come from inside of you. You (and you alone) can make yourself feel loved, respected, or successful, and you can choose to feel that way any time you want. You don't have to earn it; you just have to decide to feel it.
The best leaders know they are enough right now while also always seeking improvement. They strive, seek, achieve, fail, win and lose -- all with a strong sense of self rooted in humility. They use their self-talk to support growth and achievement, not to talk themselves out of it or to beat themselves up. Instead, they use self-talk to build themselves up. Their critical voice still plays a role, but to show them where they have work to do to get better.
When you lead yourself well, others will want to follow you. Based on these three criteria, would you follow you? Are you someone you would follow?
It's okay if you are a work in progress. Remember, leadership is a practice.
The best leaders are both patient with themselves AND persistent in becoming. They take setbacks as motivation for renewed effort, knowing character is developed when things are difficult. The trick is sticking with it. This is where it becomes a discipline you cultivate.
Become someone you would want to follow. Practice leading yourself first, then take it to the streets.