- Leadership is a Thing
- Leadership is a Thing: The Art of Self Leadership
Leadership is a Thing: The Art of Self Leadership
In the world of leadership development, we often talk about “leading yourself” before you can lead a team or an organization. But, what does it really mean to lead yourself? Steven Covey enumerated it well in his renowned Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Fundamentally, leading yourself is about developing the habits of thoughts and action that enable you to contribute, add value, and create results that matter, regardless of your role. As you build capacity, you’re likely to be able to take on more responsibility and larger roles. Here is our version of what it takes to lead yourself.
1. Take Initiative
Taking initiative is fundamental to self-leadership. It’s the ability to see something that needs to be done and take action to get it done.
This means, rather than waiting to be asked to do something, look for opportunities to contribute and provide value. Be proactive and active. Whether it’s offering to take something off your boss’s plate, finding a better way to fulfill one of your responsibilities, or diving in to learn something that will enable you to contribute more, taking initiative is a cornerstone of self-leadership.
Leaders who take initiative also focus on solutions rather than problems. This mindset shift is key to opening up possibilities for leadership. When you’re focused on a problem, you’re focused on what you *don’t* want, and trying to make it go away. While there are legitimate reasons for discussing problems, don’t get stuck ruminating and churning there; research tells us that what you focus on becomes “larger”, crowding out other ways of thinking. The important shift comes as you consider what you *do* want. What is the desired state? What do you want to create? What do you see that could be made better? What is your vision for the future? This reframe opens your mind to creative thinking and possibility and helps you to reconnect with your purpose and vision.
2. Take Ownership
The cousin to taking initiative is taking ownership. Ownership can be subtle. How can you take – and – convey a sense of ownership?
Focus on results. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of a job; responding to email, going to meetings, creating documents, and Powerpoints. Rather than operating on autopilot, make sure that you are clear about what these activities are in service to. In other words, what are the actual results that you’re creating that matter to the organization? Begin with the end in mind. This framing will help you when you need to prioritize your work, share status with your boss or other stakeholders, and find ways to take initiative!
Don’t make excuses. As you communicate, make sure you leave others with the feeling that “you’ve got it”. If you mess up, acknowledge it, find a way to make things right, and reflect on how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Everyone makes mistakes. And, when you’re out there taking initiative and taking risks, you’re more likely to make mistakes. It’s the price that comes with ownership.
3. Keep Learning
Fundamental to taking initiative and taking ownership is the ability to learn. Every successful person I know has a great curiosity and desire to keep learning. Formal education is important, and so is “learning in the flow of work”. Look at each new thing you take on as an opportunity to keep learning and growing. What can help?
Look for the bigger picture of what you’re doing. If you’re asked to do something, make sure you understand the “Why” behind it. How does what you’re doing relate to and contribute to the organization’s goals? Who else cares about what you’re doing and why? What are the bigger forces at play in your department, your company, and your industry?
Understand the impact of your work and decisions. When I was a software tester early in my career, we categorized a problem by the likelihood that it would occur for an actual customer AND the severity of the impact in the event it did. Assessing the likelihood and severity of impact has continued to guide me throughout my career.
You’ll know you’re successful at learning when you become the go-to person for your expertise. It may be technical expertise or knowing the ins and outs of a customer dynamic, or your ability to keep a project on track. As you start a new role, take time to get clear on what you need to learn in order to be most effective in that role. Stay curious and dig deeper.
4. Know Yourself
Self-awareness can feel very “soft” but is in fact fundamental to leadership. It allows you to be more objective, that is, able to step outside of yourself to observe yourself in action, to reflect on what’s working and not, and to adjust real-time to circumstances. What can help you develop this all-important muscle of self-awareness?
Understand your strengths, your style, your preferences, and your values. This is a lifetime pursuit. And, just when you think you may have yourself figured out there’s probably another layer to delve into! Take advantage of opportunities to learn more about yourself through assessments and feedback from others. Find a trusted partner or coach who can help you see yourself more clearly.
Take time to notice. As we go through our busy day-to-day lives, we do most everything on auto-pilot. We rarely take a moment to stop and check-in with ourselves on what’s going on, how we’re feeling, and whether we’re even focused on the right things. Notice your preferences, what’s easy or hard, and what brings you energy or drains you. This can sometimes feel daunting and time-consuming, yet in reality, can happen in the flow of your work.
Leading self is a dynamic undertaking, requiring equal measures of action and reflection. Taking initiative and taking ownership demonstrate your active engagement in your environment and a commitment to being in service of your organization’s goals. Adopting a learning mindset and cultivating self-awareness are reflective exercises that build your inner capacities of judgment and resilience. Together, these habits set you up to lead with confidence and a strong sense of purpose.