Leading Yourself First

In leadership roles, the spotlight often falls on the big moments — the difficult decisions, the important projects, the high-stakes meetings. But great CEOs and leaders aren’t formed by grand gestures or performances, they’re created in the smaller, quieter moments that others don’t see. They’re formed by self-leadership and the habits they develop over time.   

What is Self-Leadership?

If you want to find success, you have to be willing to devote your time and energy to leading yourself before you can lead others. Self-leadership is the art of guiding yourself with intention, authenticity and purpose, which requires a deep understanding of your values, strengths, weaknesses and individual style. It requires you to take responsibility for your actions, decisions and personal growth, which is undoubtedly a difficult journey. But the reward is a strong foundation that will set you and your team up for success. 

Knowing Yourself

Self-leadership starts with knowing who you are. Not just whether you’re a black coffee or cream and sugar kind of person but really understanding yourself and what’s important to you. Working toward a profound understanding of your values, motivations and boundaries will help you navigate your role’s seemingly never-ending decision-making with authenticity and clarity. This self-awareness allows you to better align your personal values with organizational goals, creating space for you to be a more genuine and relatable leader.  

Understanding Your Leadership Style

Leadership styles come in all shapes and sizes — they’re as diverse as the people who embody them, each representing a unique approach to guiding and inspiring others. Most people develop their leadership style based on their experience and personality, as well as the needs and culture of their organization. Recognizing whether you lean toward a visionary, coaching, democratic or other style allows you to weave more of your values into your day-to-day responsibilities. 

Your leadership style isn’t just a label; it’s the blueprint that outlines how you naturally lead. Once you recognize and understand the direction you naturally want to go, you can start using it to your advantage. 

Understanding Your Strengths and Weaknesses

To really know yourself and who you want to be as a leader, you have to take a long look in the mirror and work to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Take this time to give yourself some credit and acknowledge what you do well, but also spend some time identifying your shortcomings (don’t worry, we all have them).  

It may be uncomfortable, but this honest evaluation will help you understand where you are and how that may differ from where you want to be. This allows you to keep what works and fix what doesn’t. But it’s not until you identify those areas for improvement that you can start putting in the work.  

Regulating Your Feelings

Let’s face it, leadership can be an emotional rollercoaster. No matter how much preparation and reflection you put in, there will always be a colleague, client or driver on your morning commute that tests your patience. I remind everyone I coach that you’ll be able to prevent being triggered, but you ALWAYS get to choose your next first move. 

Something is always bound to frustrate you, but self-leadership and emotional intelligence are all about understanding yourself well enough to know how to handle it. By maintaining composure and reframing challenges, you can better recognize how important an issue actually is to you. Because when it comes down to it, the things we were so worried about in the morning usually don’t seem quite as important to us at the end of the day.  

By taking a step back and thinking “How would the leader I want to respond to this situation?” You can regulate your feelings and respond thoughtfully rather than reacting impulsively. In time, this will create a culture of safety and trust in your team, allowing for more effective communication and conflict resolution.  

Daily Reflection

As you start implementing these self-leadership practices into your routine, it’s important to set aside time for daily reflection. This means taking a moment to assess where you currently stand, both personally and professionally, and envisioning where you want to be. Daily reflection will help you increase your self-awareness and recognize what is and isn’t working so you can adjust and keep growing.   

Building a Strong Foundation

Investing your time and energy into this foundation builds confidence and competence that can shield you from the potential pressures, stressors and harsh realities of leadership. By prioritizing a better understanding of yourself, embracing what you bring to the table and working on becoming the leader you want to be, you can navigate your responsibilities with clarity and purpose. 

Because great leaders aren’t made in the spotlight, they’re made when nobody is watching. 

To listen to more ideas about leading yourself first, check out my podcast, The Frustrated CEO.

If you prefer a video, check out our new YouTube channel.

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