How to Strengthen Your Self-Leadership and Become a Better Leader

“I’m unmotivated, struggling to remain positive, and can sometimes come off as a jerk both at home and at work. I know it’s impacting everything. My results at work are good but not great. My relationships at home are surviving but not thriving. I just can’t figure out what I need to do differently.”

These words were spoken to me by a client as we started a recent coaching session. The frustration and desperation in his voice were heartbreaking. Here was someone who desired to live and lead with intentionality and purpose but was struggling to get past the self-sabotage that was negatively impacting his leadership.

The words he used were words I’d heard many times before from other leaders, and to be honest, I’ve even said them about myself.

As my client and I continued to talk, we began to peel back the layers of the problem. We discussed his influence and results with his peers and throughout the organization. We examined how he was leading his team, the overall culture and the results they were achieving.

And finally, we peeled back the layer to what we both agreed was the heart of the problem: my client’s self-leadership.

The Cost of Poor Self-Leadership

When we looked at everything from results to decisions to relationships, it all seemed to come back to how he was leading himself. He was not leading himself with the same intentionality and focus that he was giving his team and the organization. His personal priorities, like his health, faith, and relationships, were all receiving leftovers of his time and other resources.

He was essentially beginning to run on empty because he was so focused on serving others that he was choosing not to focus on himself. It’s not that he was forgetting; he was consciously choosing to prioritize other people and things, and by doing so he was running out of “himself” to serve and give to others.

The “ah-ha” moment seemed to come when he realized that he couldn’t give away what he didn’t possess. He realized that he’d reached a point in his leadership where his influence and results were not limited by his business acumen or some external force, but rather by how he was leading himself.

If you can relate to my client, the logical next question going through your mind is “how do I improve my self-leadership?” Let’s start by clarifying what we mean when we say “self-leadership.”

How to Improve Self-Leadership

At Building Champions, we’ve been coaching leaders on how to improve their overall influence and effectiveness in both life and business for more than two decades. Having led thousands of coaching sessions (like the one described above), team workshops, and executive retreats, we’ve seen that great leaders are first and foremost excellent at leading themselves. And when self-leadership is ignored or de-prioritized, it results in burnout, unhealthy team dynamics and overall ineffectiveness throughout the organization.

We define self-leadership as a leader’s ability to know who they are, identify what is most important to them in life, create a plan to develop their priorities, and consistently execute on their plan with excellence.

With this definition for self-leadership, you can begin to see why we believe it precedes all other types of leadership. Whether your mission involves team leadership or organizational leadership, key stakeholders expect you to be at your best when you’re at work. Healthy people want to work on healthy teams, and healthy teams drive the organization toward its vision. When each person in the organization is focused on being a great self-leader, they have more to give to everyone — including their customers.

Let’s now examine each aspect of great self-leadership and I’ll share a few simple steps you can take to improve your self-leadership abilities.

1. Understand Who You Are

A person’s ability to know who they are begins with deep understanding of their purpose in life, their unique talents and their overall perspective. Your purpose is your reason for existing. It’s your understanding of the meaning of life. It’s the overall driving force behind everything you do in life. Your purpose will primarily be influenced by your worldview, faith, or philosophy of life.

Your talents represent your natural strengths and abilities. Great leaders know what they do extremely well, and they work to develop their talents and abilities so they can make the greatest contribution to those they love, lead, and serve.

Your perspective represents what you naturally think, feel, and believe about yourself, others, and your circumstances. Perspective has its roots in your nature and is also nurtured through your life experiences and relationships. Unfortunately, our perspective can easily become skewed without us realizing anything is wrong. This often leads to limited thinking, emotional decisions, and false beliefs that sabotage every area of our life and leadership.

Here are two steps you can take to help you get to identify your purpose and understand your perspective.

  1. Reflect on your purpose in life. Ask yourself, “Why do I exist?” “What is the meaning of life?” and “How can I make a unique difference in this life?”
  2. Take a StrengthsFinder and DISC assessment to learn about your talents and how you can make a unique contribution through your leadership.
  3. Take an Emotional Quotient (EQ) assessment and a Positive Intelligence (PQ) assessment to learn how your thinking, feeling and beliefs impact your perspective on yourself, others and your circumstances.

2. Identify Your Priorities

To excel in self-leadership a leader must also identify what is most important to them in life. These priorities are often the personal relationships you want to invest in, so they are healthy and thriving for many years to come. Your priorities also include the specific areas of your life that you need to be intentional in so that you’re learning, secure, thriving, and passionate about your life for years to come.

When we don’t have a firm grasp of our priorities, we are susceptible to drifting through life. And, when this happens, the consequences can be tragic for our relationships and key areas of our life. When we lose sight of what matters most it costs money, causes pain and suffering, and can lead to a disconnect from our purpose in life. We all go through seasons like this but if it becomes a way of life, we find ourselves exchanging joy and fulfillment for disappointment and regret.

You can start identifying your priorities by asking yourself, “who matters most to me?” “How do I want to be remembered?” and “What do I need to be able to love, lead and serve others well?”

3. Create an Intentional Plan

Once priorities have been identified, great self-leaders know they must create a plan to develop those priorities. At Building Champions, we believe the best framework to use for this type of written plan is the Life Plan. This Life Plan helps you to identify your priorities in life while having you articulate a purpose, vision, commitments to help you develop each priority.

When you create a Life Plan to help you develop your priorities you will have greater clarity to make better decisions, courage to set and protect your boundaries and confidence that what you do in life really does matter.

To help you identify what’s most important to you in life and create a plan to develop those priorities, I recommend you take the following steps:

  1. Read the book Living Forward by Daniel Harkavy and Michael Hyatt. It outlines the Life Planning process and offers practical stories and examples to help you get started.
  2. Download the Building Champions Life Plan Guide and set aside a full day to create your plan to help you live your life with greater purpose and intentionality.

4. Execute on Your Plan

Finally, and most importantly, great self-leaders consistently execute on their plan with excellence. I’ve spent over 5,000 hours coaching leaders at various levels in their organizations, and I’ve learned execution is the true difference-maker when it comes to self-leadership. Every other ability described above is meaningless if you do nothing with the information you gather and the plans you create.

The most successful self-leaders I coach adhere to a few best-practices that allow them to consistently execute with excellence. Consider doing the following to consistently execute on your plans with excellence.

  1. Practice self-monitoring your thinking, feelings, and beliefs and quickly adjust to ensure your decisions and actions are in alignment with your purpose.
  2. Schedule time each week to focus on the commitments you’ve made to your priorities and talents.
  3. Regularly review and adjust your plans to ensure they remain relevant and meaningful.
  4. Reflect on and celebrate successes in your self-leadership.
  5. Find an accountability partner or someone who can provide you with the perspective of the outsider. This is someone who will hold you accountable to your purpose and plans. Examples might include a spouse, friend, pastor, mentor or an Executive Coach.

It Starts with Self-Leadership

If organizations and teams are going to create great cultures and deliver exceptional results, then self-leadership must precede all other types of leadership.

Now that you understand self-leadership and why it’s critical to your overall success with those you love, lead and serve, how would you rate your self-leadership? If there’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be, you can begin closing that gap today.

Start by thinking critically about your purpose, talents and perspective; identify your what matters most to you in life; make a plan to invest in your priorities; and seek focus and accountability to follow-through on your plan.


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