Let me elaborate. During a Q&A session at a recent conference, someone asked, “What has been your greatest challenge as a leader? “Leading me!” someone else answered. “That has always been my greatest challenge as a leader.”
It may be argued that leadership has two dynamic dimensions or realities to it - above and beneath the waterline. The first has to do with the skills and tactics aspect of leading others. The other has to do with the character and attitude of the leader – essential in leading yourself. One may think of these two aspects of leadership by picturing a sailboat. If you look at a sailboat sitting in the water you can see everything above the waterline - the mast, sail, deck and riggings. This may be considered as an external part of a leader’s life (that which is above the waterline).
What you cannot see as you look at the sailboat is the most important part of the boat…the keel and ballast that are beneath the waterline. This is the internal part of a leader’s life…not seen but most critical. In sailing there is one principle that cannot be violated…you must have more weight beneath the waterline than above the waterline if you want to sail safely.
Leadership ought to be considered as an injection of attitudes into every relationship, responsibility, challenge and opportunity. This has an impact on the type of decisions and impact we make. And on how we actually lead others.
Learning to lead yourself well, through developing sound intra-personal skills, is one of the most important things you will ever do as a leader. My twenty-five years working in people development have taught me an important truth: people seldom see themselves realistically. Human nature seems to endow us with the ability to size up everybody in the world except ourselves. But perhaps the first person we must examine is ourselves. If you do not look at yourself realistically, you will never understand where your personal challenges and difficulties are coming from.
Most people use two totally different sets of criteria for judging themselves and judging others. We tend to judge others according to their actions. However, we judge ourselves by our intentions. Even if we do the wrong thing, we let ourselves off the hook if we believe our intentions are good. That is part of the reason we allow ourselves to make the same mistakes over and over again before we are willing to make real changes.
How clearly do you see yourself? To get a more objective look at yourself, review your performance for this year. List all of your major goals and objectives, then mark each as either “achieved” or “not achieved.” Now show the list to someone you know and respect, and tell the person you are evaluating a candidate for a job. Ask them what they think based on the “candidate’s” achievements and failures. How does that person’s evaluation match with your own? This will tell you a lot about your self-perception. And yes, everyone lives in his/her own perceptual world !
Why is leading yourself well so important? Well, for starters that is one way to effectively lead others. Indeed, good practices are more caught than taught!
If that is your goal, there are some inter-personal skills one can focus on to improve your self-leadership. And indeed true strengths can be recognised through obstacles which you overcome to strive to achieve excellence in “all that lies beneath”.
KEEP FOLLOWING AND LEARNING
Good leadership requires an understanding of the world that followers live in; Only a leader who has followed well knows how to lead others well. Connecting with your superiors is a must. You know what it means to be under authority and thus have a better sense of how authority should be exercised.
In contrast, leaders who have never followed well or submitted to authority tend to be prideful, unrealistic, rigid and autocratic.
Continuous development is the minimum requirement for success in your field. With knowledge and information doubling every three or five years, your personal knowledge about your field must be doubling every three to five years as well just to stay even.
It’s said that one day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking ramrod-straight in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. Each of us is an “Emperor” over our own lives. We are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time 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. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Leaders are often impatient people. Effective 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. Taking shortcuts instead of respecting the leadership process. can be counter - productive.
The message is – be patient, bide your time. Few worthwhile things in life come quickly. There is no such thing as instant greatness or instant maturity - becoming a leader does not happen overnight. 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.
If you are moving too fast, you may need to deliberately slow your pace. Stay connected to your people, enlist them to help fulfil the vision and motivate them to persevere. You can’t do this if you’re running too far ahead of your people.
People who lead themselves well know a secret: sometimes they cannot 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. Demonstrating accountability is undoubtedly one of the marks of a effective leader. President Harry Truman’s famous statement, “the buck stops here” epitomizes both the apparent simplicity of accountability, as well as its overwhelming importance. Accountability is not just the willingness to explain your actions to others. It begins long before we act. It starts with seeking and accepting advice from others. Most wrong actions come about because people are not held accountable early enough. No matter what the organisation, leadership and accountability need to go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.
TOWARDS A HIGHER STANDARD
Leading yourself well means that you hold yourself to a higher standard of accountability than others do.
Why? Because you are responsible not only for your own actions, but also for those of the people you lead. Leadership is a trust, not a right. For that reason, you must “fix” yourself earlier than others may be required to.
Thomas J. Watson, the former chairman of IBM, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.”
Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone to reflect, to plan and to be productive. And they look at failures as opportunities to improve. It is a well known fact that the greatest entrepreneurs have had failures to overcome and successfully transformed these into learning opportunities.
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 do not do it for recognition; they do it for results. What leaders do day-to-day always pays off in the long run.
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 will earn the right to lead even bigger crowds. Success or failure isn’t an event, but a process.
Paul Gauci B.A. (Hons); M.Ed (Trg & Dvpt) Sheffield; MCIPD is Executive Head -Training at Bank of Valletta plc and Visiting Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta - Department of Management. He has a passion for people development and a keen interest in leadership skills.