How did you fill in the blank? If we were honest, most of us would agree that the toughest person to lead is always yourself. We may think about accomplished leaders and assume they have it all together. But if we really examine their lives we will find that they struggle to lead themselves well.
When I think of the times when I have struggled as a leader it is because I have failed to lead myself well. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” When I was a young Army officer leading a unit, several groups within the unit couldn’t get along with each other. I would sit down with each group and listen to their issues but I couldn’t seem to solve the problem as they presented it.
I look back now and realize that I was trying to please each group rather than bringing them together and getting everyone focused on the unit mission. They were all focused more on themselves and I wasn’t doing anything to help change that. I was acting more like a referee than a leader.
In “Leadership Gold,” John C. Maxwell lays out a couple of reasons that we are our own worst enemies. First, We don’t see ourselves as we see others. Human nature seems to endow us with the ability to size up everybody but ourselves. If we don’t understand our weaknesses we won’t be able to lead ourselves effectively. As leaders we can develop good vision and insight when we look at others but we need help in identifying our own blind spots.
Second, we are harder on others than we are on ourselves. We tend to judge others by their actions but tend to judge ourselves by our intentions. If we believe our motives were good even if we did the wrong thing, then it would be hard to ever change. Don’t miss this. We may judge ourselves bases on our intentions but you can bet that those following us are judging us by what we actually do.
Maxwell also lists things to do that will help you lead yourself better.
Learn Followership. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “Civilization is always in danger when those who have never learned to obey are given the right to command.” In other words, you need to know how to follow well before you can lead well. If you have learned to follow well, you understand the world that followers live in and have your pride under control.
Develop Self-Discipline. Learning to lead yourself includes developing and practicing self-control. A leader without self-discipline will find difficulty in consistently making good decisions and taking the right actions.
Practice Patience. I have to work on this one. Leaders have a bias for action and getting things done. However, the goal is to take everyone with you across the finish line. Sometimes to do this, a leader must slow down and be more deliberate. Lead, but don’t get too far ahead of your people.
Seek Accountability. Good leaders know that power can be seductive, and they understand their own fallibility. Accountability can help here and effective accountability begins way before we take action. A good indicator of accountability is the willingness to seek and accept advice. Early advice is better to keep you on track.
These are some practices that will help you lead yourself better. I am sure that you can think of a few more. The question for all of us is, what are we doing about it? Bill Hybels says that “everyone wins when a leader gets better.” What are you doing today to become a better leader for yourself and others?