Leadership 101: Leading Yourself

By Mike Figliuolo

The first step in articulating your leadership philosophy is determining how you’ll lead yourself. Nobody is going to follow you if you don’t know where you’re going (except out of morbid curiosity).

This aspect of leadership is the first area I’ll ask you to examine as you define your own personal set of leadership maxims. Again, for some video footage on the subject, you can watch me cover the subject here. This concept is the first major section of my upcoming book “One Piece of Paper”.

This aspect of leadership is tricky. It requires introspection and a frank, honest conversation with yourself to understand where you’re headed and how you want to get there.

To start that discussion, there are four areas I encourage you to explore:

  • Finding your internal motivation;
  • Charting your path;
  • Stating how you’ll move down your path; and
  • Inspiring yourself.

Examining these areas each in turn can really help you crystallize what motivates you and what your personal rules of the road are.

As you go through the leadership maxims exercises, I encourage you to create a living document where you can capture pointed, clear statements that reflect your principles on the given point. To help you understand what I believe these principles might look like, I’ve offered up a few of my own personal examples. Remember, you can derive maxims from family sayings, books, songs, movies, leadership experiences you’ve had, etc. Heck, you can even steal some of mine if you like them and find them helpful.

All that said, let’s get down to the business of leading yourself.

Without an understanding of what you care about and what your personal ethics are, you’re lost. If you’re lost, your team is lost. ‘Nuff said.

Finding your internal motivation

Why do you get out of bed every morning (alarm clocks, crying kids, or an overfull bladder are not acceptable answers here)? Why are you excited to drive to the office? The answers to these two questions can help you articulate a leadership maxim.

My maxim on this point? “Light bulbs” (yes, a maxim can be that simple — a clear statement with deep meaning to ME). What does this one mean? I love to teach. I get excited on the podium. When I see light bulbs go off for people, I know they’ve had a new insight and learned something from me. That’s my maxim. What’s yours?

Charting your path

What are your professional goals? What will your epitaph say? Grim, I know. But at the end of it all when you become worm food, what will you want the summation of your career to be?

Allow me to assist you in developing your maxim on this one Mad Libs style. Simply fill in the blanks for this sentence: “(Your name) stood for (BLANK) and we’ll never forget (BLANK) about him/her.” Imagine someone is reading that statement as your eulogy. Once you’ve reflected on that and filled it in, you have a good start on a maxim for this point.

Mine? “Mike stood for personal and professional development. We’ll never forget the way he was always teaching and always learning.” Yes, it’s a lofty goal. Yes, sometimes I fail to live up to it — but at least I have something to shoot for.

Stating how you’ll move down your path

We’re human. We make mistakes. Having guardrails on the path of our lives helps keep us on track. Sure, we’ll run into those guardrails occasionally (and sometimes find ourselves crashing through them and ending up in the ravine on the side of the road). The important thing is to put those guardrails in place and adhere to them as much as we’re able.

A guardrail I’ve adopted as maxims: “What would Nana say?” For any action I’m not sure about, I can simply ask what my Nana would say about it. If she’d approve, I do it. If she’d disapprove, then I shouldn’t do it. It’s a very clarifying maxim for me to use in ethical decision-making situations. I’m sure you have a similar rule you can use as your own maxim for this point.

Inspiring yourself

Life will knock you down. It’ll kick you in the teeth. It’ll spit on you and call you names. The big question is, how will you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fight?

As a leader, your team is looking to you in these situations. There won’t always be someone there to lift you back up. You sometimes have to find that inspiration within. This maxim is all about creating an anchor phrase for yourself that you can use to reignite the fire in your belly.

My maxim on this comes from Ernest Hemingway: “Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Every time I’ve had the wind knocked out of my sails, I find myself referring to that quote to remind myself that I don’t stop fighting and I need to get back up. What phrase, quote, or image will you use as your anchor?

That summarizes the leading yourself aspect of leadership. Is it holistic? No. Is it a great way to start articulating your leadership philosophy? I think it’s at least a good start. Next up, we’ll discuss how you can lead the thinking.

Check out the other articles in Mike Figliuolo’s Leadership 101 Series:

Mike Figliuolo is the author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.” He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC — a leadership development firm. An honor graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog, read the full original post here.
Originally published: Sep 22, 2011

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