Shakespeare famously wrote in Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” People often apply that quote to leadership, but only part of it applies. Leadership is something anyone can do (and leadership is something you do), but it must be learned and achieved. True leaders are not born (but I won’t argue against a genetic predisposition), nor can leadership be “thrust” or conferred upon them with titles, positions, or promotions.
Leadership isn’t always about greatness in the sense of power, fame, and fortune. It is always about greatness in words, actions and results, large and small, that improves our organizations and communities that make the lives and work of those around us a little better.
Leadership is an Inside Out Job
Doing leadership flows from our beliefs and the choices we make, not titles, status or position. Certainly who we are determines what we do, but ultimately leadership is proven by our actions.
So much of leadership is described in terms of traits or abilities. But from a practical standpoint, what do leaders actually do? And more importantly, what can you do if you aspire to lead or lead with greater impact? That is what this series is about.
To begin the leader’s journey, you first need to lead the only person you are truly in charge of: yourself. As I wrote in You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader, self-mastery, (leading the self), is the first principle in achieving leadership. Leonardo da Vinci said, “There is no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” Taking charge of your own life is the just the beginning, but it’s arguably the most important step towards becoming a leader.
Know these things:
To grow more, know more. Active learning fuels all leadership growth. Begin your leadership journey by focusing on these three areas:
Know yourself. Self-examination is harder than it seems. Focus on what you can control. Assess what’s important and what matters. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Follow through on your goals and priorities. Knowing and mastering yourself is the first step toward leadership. How you deal with yourself is fundamental to how you will deal with others.
Charlotte Beers, who was CEO of the ad agency Ogilvy and Mather, offers advice for would-be leaders: “Keep your own scorecard, and it has to include the good the bad and the ugly.” She continues, “What matters is what you’re made of and what you believe and how well you can express that …you need to draw on resources that are internal and your personal belief system.” Beers’ grounded approach led her from a position as a market researcher at Uncle Ben’s to being the first female CEO on Madison Avenue and eventually a stint as an under secretary in the State Department.
Know how others know you. How do you come across to others? Terri Ludwig heads Enterprise Community Partners after a successful career on Wall Street. She says her growth as a leader has stemmed from increased self-awareness, “I think I’m more self aware [now]… you become aware that you telegraph things that you may not intentionally telegraph. So you make sure that you’re really telegraphing the information that you want, and it’s important to make sure you’re keeping that energy really positive.”
Know what is important. Do you take the time to reflect on your priorities and goals? Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach for America says it’s essential. “The best time-management thing I do is reflect an hour a week on the overall strategic plan for myself — what do I need to do to move my priorities forward? And then there are the 10 minutes a day that I spend thinking about, ‘O.K., so based on the priorities for the week, how am I going to prioritize my day tomorrow?’ I don’t know how I could do what I do without spending that time.”
Do these things:
The examples of these successful leaders show how leadership originates within. True knowledge is the foundation of leadership, and that includes self-examination, self-awareness, and reflection. They create the kind of internal content you need to be a leader. By engaging in a few intentional activities you can begin to build the character and self-mastery that achieves leadership:
- Find your meaning –What’s really important to you? What are your values, interests, and passions? What opportunities do you have to pursue them everyday? How can you make meaning while making money? How can you make meaning and add value for others? Write down the answers to these questions and revisit and revise them as you grow as a person and leader.
- Get serious about thinking – Make time to reflect. Do it right now and everyday. Ask the big questions and the small ones. Remember, the subject is you, not everybody else. Review your life and objectives. Revise your priorities. Grade your performance. Set new goals. In addition to a few minutes of daily reflection, set aside some longer times periodically for more thorough examinations.
- Self-motivate – Motivation is why we do what we do. Remind yourself of why you do what you do. Keep your eyes on the prize. Stay focused on your goals. Keep yourself aware of the impact your actions and decisions have on those around you. Maintain the standard you have set for yourself. Keep the promises you’ve made to yourself.
- Enjoy the pursuit – We are happiest when we are in pursuit of our goals, even happier than when achieve them. Enjoy the pursuit of happiness. Find opportunity in obstacles. Practice gratitude, recognizing and appreciating the gifts you’ve been given. Gratitude and happiness are essential to self-mastery.
Be your own boss, in the truest sense of the words, not necessarily as self-employed but always as self-lead. Master the trajectory of your own life first, and your leadership will be authentic and true.
To truly lead and make a difference in the world, you must start by leading yourself.
(For more information about my book, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference, and free resources related to the book, click here.)