With the World Business Executive Coach Summit underway I have been thinking a lot about the critical components that go into leadership, and how leaders can use those components to better both themselves and their business.
In the past few years leaders have been presented with a new set of challenges as businesses have been hit hard with a talent crunch, a generational shift, and an economic downturn, and that’s all on top of the usual 21st century challenges of globalization, innovation, and technology. Leaders must rise to the challenge. They must, and they will. But in order to do so successfully, they must learn to not only lead their organizations, but also lead themselves. They must learn to practice personal leadership.
Personal leadership is the leadership of the self. It is the ability to define a direction for your life and leadership, and to move in that direction with consistency and clarity over time. In a positive, unselfish way, personal leadership means putting yourself first. Literally speaking, personal means “about you;” leadership means “coming first.” When you practice personal leadership, you “lead from the ‘inside out.’” The process involves asking yourself, “How do I need to be and act and think in order to be my best?” – a kind of self-driven style well-suited to dedicated leaders who will carry business into the future.
To practice personal leadership, you apply the principles of leadership that make businesses a success…to yourself. So what are these principles, broken down into the critical components and made more digestable for leaders in the digital era who face daily information overload?
Here are five practices for leading from within, from my book The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:
Get clarity. What do you want? Getting clarity means being able to connect clearly and instantly to your long- and short-term ideas about success. In business, this practice often equates to setting a company vision. While a vision is a powerful thing, it’s not quite what you need as a leader. You may have a personal vision for yourself, but in addition, you need the skill of getting clarity on that vision again and again over time. Your vision will change as you change. Getting clarity ensures you don’t make changes in a direction you don’t want to go.
Find focus. Pay attention to where you’re putting your focus and energy. When you find focus, you fix your attention on top priorities even when the world around you is pulling you away. In business, focus shows up in the form of a strategic plan. The strategic plan makes it possible for everyone in an organization to see in a single document the vision, mission, goals, strategies and so on of an organization so they can all can stay on the same page. As a leader, you also need a one-pager to remind you of your priorities – maybe not down an exhaustive list of tactics, but at least the short list of areas that matter most to you. Having such focus is crucial especially in challenging times.
Take effective action. Have you ever spent a whole day busy at work, only to end it wondering if you actually got anything done? You can stop spinning your wheels and start driving with direction, quickly, easily, and with time to spare. Action items are the language of productivity in organizations, but as a leader you need more than a task list. You need to practice the mindsets and approaches to decision-making that help you take only the most effective actions and leave the rest behind. In his research for the book Good to Great, Jim Collins found this kind of results-oriented commitment to action to be one of the hallmarks of leadership in successful organizations. Having witnessed the “the quiet, dogged nature” of effective leaders, he concludes, “Disciplined action without disciplined thought is a recipe for disaster.”
Tap into your brilliance. Simply put, find out what’s unique about you, both positive and negative, and use your uniqueness to your advantage. In an effort to grow human capital, organizational leaders are constantly trying to attract and retain talent. When you tap into your brilliance, you make the most of the talents you already have. This practice captures the spirit of what author and former Gallup researcher Marcus Buckingham (Now, Discover Your Strengths and Go, Put Your Strengths to Work) calls “a strengths approach” to leadership. The philosophy is that we are at our best when we are aligned with our strengths.
Based on Gallup’s 40 year study of human strengths as described in Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0, “People who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.
Feel fulfillment. In order to be your most effective as a leader, you get to discover what drives you – your values, meaning and purpose – so that you feel fulfilled. “Fulfillment” may not sound like a critical business result, but it is an essential requirement for great leaders.
Stephen Covey writes, “Deep within each one of us there is an inner longing to live a life of greatness and contribution – to really matter, to really make a difference.” Bolman and Deal, authors of Leading with Soul, agree: “Each of us has a special contribution to make if we can shoulder the personal and spiritual work needed to discover and take responsibility for our own gifts.
You can find the remaining best practices and more tips in The Inner Edge.
I also invite you to join Howard Morgan and myself on Wednesday, June 25 at 4 p.m. EDT at the WBECS 2014 as we discuss what is critical to understand when you are coaching someone who is a different gender than you. You can find more information here. Feel free to Tweet me at @JoelleKJay!