Putting You First: Leading Yourself

Leading One's Self

One of the toughest lessons a leader must learn is this: You must learn to lead yourself before you lead others. And there is no way of getting around this.

The most successful leaders know who they are, what they want, and how they get there.

Flexible and Flowing

As most industry leaders know, leaders are always changing. They are constantly adapting to their given situation, they are flexible, and leaders are on the move. I was constantly amazed when these leaders were able to conduct themselves so well, and with such ease.

Their character and vision are set in stone, and they know exactly where they are going, and that is why it is easy for them to quickly adapt a new technique, because the ultimate goal doesn’t change.

These industry leaders are the ones out in front. And they are game changers.

Men and women rally around this person as their leader. Why them though? Are these leaders super heroes, with some kind of natural magnetic tendency to attract people? Not always. No, these leaders are not only leading the people around them, but they are leading themselves.

Leading yourself consists of being completely self-aware and making calculated changes on a daily basis to continually perfect your game.

Personal Leadership DNA

Bold and successful leaders know their strengths and weakness, and they know where they are going. The key to helping others and leadership is not about leading others first, but it is about leading yourself. The reason why we aren’t all super leaders though is because many of us have trouble leading ourselves, and that is why we can’t lead.

So what are the basics to leading yourself? When I was teaching a course to teenagers about leading yourself, we broiled it down into three, easy, basic questions:

  1. Where am I right now?
  2. Where do I want to be?
  3. How am I going to get close the gap between 1 and 2?

These are the first steps to figuring out yourself, and want you want to do. All successful companies, projects, and organizations start out with a goal, a purpose. It was clearly identified, and when it was identified, it was easy to start to outline the steps that were needed to be taken in order to succeed. That is the key part that most people miss, it’s the idea that you need to figure out what you want before you go out and get it!

The Personal Vision

Most modern companies and organizations have a mission statement, a statement that reflects the core values and beliefs, and the direction they want the company to go in.

Why shouldn’t regular people have this mission statement too?

This is called a personal vision. What is a vision? It is what success looks like. This provides the visual landscape and paints the picture of where you want to end up. A vision is that defining statement that says where you want to go, and what you believe in.

Lance Armstrong had his vision to win the Tour de France, Stephen Fossett wanted to circumnavigate the world. You have your own vision that can rival theirs. You just need to cast the vision in your own head.

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality ~Warren Bennis

Closing the Vision Gap

To lead ourselves, we need to quickly figure out where we want to go, and how to close the gap between our present state and our future state. Our personal vision defines where you want to go. When you define your vision, it is easy to set goals and plan to help obtain  that vision.

And remember that your vision can be large or small.

Personal visions help you close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Developing one can take time, but it is worth it in the end.

“Having a person vision helped me graduate with honors, it helped me land my first job, and it helped me grow as a leader.”

In order to be a successful leader, you must first know how to leader yourself before you lead others, and that is why knowing yourself is a crucial skill to help you lead others.

Do you have a personal vision? Has a personal vision helped you succeed? If so, what is your personal vision? I would love to hear your story, so please share!

Will Lutterman is a student and writer at St. Olaf College
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  1. Colin Millar (@colin_millar) on August 9, 2011 at 4:38 am

    A great blog. Another thing I notice about the best leaders – they are themselves ALL the time.

    I think people are programmed and highly attuned to those small nuances that tell us someone is being insincere and we then don’t trust them.

    I’ve known a few ‘leaders’ (who have formal authority) who don’t behave naturally and it seems to make ‘leading’ so much more difficult – from incongruence between their words and their actions; their decisions from one day to the next and how they deal with similar situations but with different “actors” involved.

    Great leaders need only be themselves and people recognise all the things that we love and trust.

  2. Lennart Thornros on August 9, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I agree the blog is right on the money. I agree with what you said but would like to add a distinction.
    To reach the vision is not how I see success. To reach the vision is more like happiness to me (I do not have a good description for the reach, so happiness is just the best that came to mind.) . I prefer to see success as a journey and will agree with a quote from Paul J. Meyer, ““Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined, personal goals.”
    However, to be worthwhile goals they have to be pointing toward the vision. “So what”, you might say; “You are spitting hairs”. My point is that success is easier to have than reaching your vision (s). As success leads to success it is important to realize success as often as we can. That will help us succeed and have more success:).

  3. DragonLeaders on August 10, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I agree that leaders need to lead themselves. When a new boss is appointed, the first question staff will ask is: what is he (she) like? Sun Tzu’s (500 BC) saying in Art of War: “know thyself know others” remains true to today’s leadership.

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