Everyone wants to be a leader. However, leadership doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just walk up to a group of random strangers and declare, “I am your leader. Follow me.”
Before you can lead others well, you must first be able to lead yourself. As the Latin proverb goes: “It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.” Even after you become a leader, you owe it to your followers to lead yourself well.
So how do you begin to rule yourself? Here are four habits of successful self-leaders:
The Four R’s of Self-Leadership
Self-leaders must be first and foremost self-aware. The self-leader recognizes when to take the responsibility, both for successes and for failures. This requires a great amount of humility and selflessness. In a hierarchical system, it is tempting to shift the blame on others above or below you while shifting the praise to yourself. As a leader, sometimes you will have to accept responsibility for the poor decisions of others under you; other times you will need to give credit where credit is due. Developing self-awareness through accepting responsibility will earn the respect and admiration of others, deepening their commitment to you as their leader.
Leaders who don’t grow don’t lead very long. If you want to lead yourself and others better, you must be willing to take risks. The risk doesn’t have to huge (though those tend to have higher rewards); it could be as simple as admitting you were wrong or asking someone else for help. Leaders who take risks should do so out of humility (“I am not perfect and need to grow”) as opposed to out of pride (“I have to do this to prove what a great leader I am”). Taking personal risks not only allows you to grow, but inspires others to seek opportunities for growth as well.
President Truman once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Since much of a leader’s work takes place in the mind first, it is essential to stay mentally sharp. Reading expands your thinking, keeps you up-to-date on the latest news and trends, and presents you with new information to guide your actions. In order to lead yourself well, you need to set aside time to read on a variety of topics. I recommend a reading breakdown somewhere in this ballpark: 60% related to your job/passions; 35% unrelated to your field; and 5% that you fundamentally disagree with. This balance will keep you well-rounded and informed while challenging you to better defend your views.
You’ve heard the expression “Work hard. Play hard.”, but do you actually put into practice? One of the hardest things for committed leaders to do is to periodically step back and unwind. Instead, many overwork themselves, often resulting in exhaustion or burnout. If you want to lead yourself well, you must recognize when it is time for some relaxation. There is much wisdom in the practice of taking a Sabbath, whether it is a few hours, a whole day, or an extended vacation. This rest allows you to stay focused, energized, and passionate about your leadership role. Despite what you may believe, your followers/company can survive for a little bit without you and the world most likely won’t come crashing down. Take some time to relax.
Taking these steps will allow you to “become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position” (Brian Tracy). In other words, leading yourself well allows you to lead from example and not from your position.
Whether you are currently leading five people or five hundred, remember that the most important person to lead well is yourself. Go recognize, risk, read, and relax so that you can be the best leader for those who have entrusted themselves to your care.
Guest post by Lawson Hembree. Lawson is an entrepreneur and ministry leader focused on glorifying God and serving others by building brands with integrity. You can check out his blog here or interact with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.