Three Key Elements of Self-Leadership

It was about three weeks ago when I realized the Covid-19 crisis was going to be different than anything I had experienced in my life. The predictions saying it would be over quickly turned out to be wrong and the phrase “new normal” became the way we all described this new way of life and work.

The new normal looks pretty much the same for all of us. We are all being asked to practice social distancing, wear face masks in public, stay at home, wash hands frequently, etc. The new normal has also disrupted the day-to-day operations at work. We are learning to use virtual meetings for collaboration and planning while also trying to navigate how to have healthy debate over email and private chats.

All of this is happening in every area of our life. Normally we can compartmentalize the change in our life but this new normal is impacting every routine both at home and at work. And, to make things more stressful there are serious concerns about not just our health but the health of everyone we come into contact with daily. This new normal is a recipe for high levels of anxiety and stress that leaders must address if they are going to be effective.

It is just a lot of change all at once. But there is something I believe has not changed through this crisis. I still want to lead with intentionality and purpose. I have people in my life who are counting on me to show up each day to lead, serve, and love them well. They are listening to the words I use. They are watching how I show up to meetings. And, of course, they are responding to me and my leadership.

This is the burden of leadership. There are times when this burden is heavy and times when it is light, but it never changes. It is this perpetual responsibility to regularly examine your self-leadership, to understand how your decisions influence those around you, and to choose to live and lead with intentionality and purpose each day as an example to others.

In my experience, the most effective leaders focus on three key areas of their self-leadership consistently, and especially during times of crisis and change. Those areas include their overall well-being, ability to execute with excellence, and their commitment to productivity. Let’s briefly examine each of these areas.


Your overall well-being is a way to reference how you are doing physically, socially, and emotionally in life. When our well-being in these areas is high, good things happen.

Physical well-being includes your diet, exercise, and sleep. There are countless studies on how each of these areas directly impacts our thinking, actions, and relationships. During times of crisis our rhythms and habits are disrupted. The number of hours we work typically increases and this can lead to staying up late, eating poorly, and skipping workouts. When this happens, our energy levels fluctuate throughout the day and directly impact how we engage others and the results we are able to achieve.

Social well-being includes your work-life boundaries, your relationships at work and home, and a feeling of connection and belonging both at home and work. The new normal has caused boundaries to be blurred, relationships to be strained, and a general loss of connection that just cannot be replaced by virtual meetings. We must be creative and intentional about how we engage socially at home and work so that we do not lose the connection we so desperately need as humans. 

Emotional well-being includes your mental and emotional health and is usually defined by how you are feeling and what you are believing about yourself, others, and your circumstances. With so much change and uncertainty, we are all at risk of being emotionally hijacked throughout the day as we engage those we love, lead, and serve. It is imperative to acknowledge our feelings are real, but also, we need to make sure they are based on truth. Too often in times of crisis we make quick decisions that can end up having a negative long-term impact. Your overall emotional and mental well-being must be maintained for you to continue leading others well.

Bottom-line: when we neglect our well-being, we cannot effectively lead others.

Executing with Excellence

In order for you to lead yourself well you must be absolutely clear on what you are trying to achieve. Execution is all about getting stuff done, and as leaders we want to ensure that we have plans in place to help us move the needle in the right direction for our organization and teams.

I think one of the unique challenges that no one foresaw with the Covid-19 crisis was our inability to read leading indicators and see the next 30-60-90 days out from our current reality. This is normally an essential part of planning and identifying priorities to focus on for a leader.

During Covid-19 every day feels like a week and every week feels like a month. The news shifts so fast. And, in some cases, government response is so extreme entire industries are being rocked over-night. All of this makes it very difficult for leaders to know where to focus their resources and attention to achieve their goals. In fact, during this recent crisis, goals had to be recast, quarterly projections were adjusted, and plans were adjusted to meet the new reality.

The Simple Crisis Plan

To help our clients during this season we modified our standard 90-Day Simple Business Plan into a 30-day Simple Crisis Plan. We created space for leaders to outline their plans for their personal and professional life. This was done intentionally because we know how important it is right now for us to be leading ourselves well in both of these areas. With the blurring of boundaries between home and work, we don’t get a commute home to decompress from work and get into the zone of leading our family. We have to be on all the time.

This plan allows leaders to stay focused on what is most important over a short period of time and ensure they have clarity on what success looks like for their leadership. The plan also works as a wonderful tool to coach direct reports and peers to help them find the clarity needed in uncertain times.

The key sections in this plan include the following:

  1. Theme: In this section, you will identify a theme or rallying cry for yourself over the next 30 days. What one thought provides an overview of your focus that can serve to remind and motivate you to accomplish the plan you’ve created?
  2. Outcomes: In this section you will identify what you will measure. It may be revenue, units, clients or any other numbers that quantify the outcomes you want to reach. Once you know what success looks like you can begin looking at the disciplines to reach them.
  3. Disciplines: In this section you will document the actions you will take on a regular basis to reach your goals. It is important to ensure your disciplines are clear, specific and actionable. For example, “talk to my loyal clients more” is not a discipline – “call 5 loyal clients each day” is a discipline.
  4. Improvements: In this section you will identify the projects you need to complete to reach your goals. These are not ongoing disciplines; instead they are one-time projects that when complete will enhance the way you do business.

When complete, this simple crisis plan becomes your guide over the next 30 days. It has the key information you need to stay focused on reaching your goals while giving the flexibility you need to make adjustments if change occurs. For it to work, however, you must commit to reviewing the plan weekly and using it to guide how you invest your time and make decisions.

Commitment Productivity

The third and final element of your self-leadership is your commitment to productivity. As mentioned above, the more productive we are as leaders ultimately influences how productive our teams and family are going to be during seasons of crisis and change. If you are bouncing around from email to email, project to project, with no intentionality or purpose it is going to directly impact the focus and productivity of those you love and lead.

The key to remaining productive during times of crisis and change is being realistic and intentional. There are so many competing priorities right now as our personal and professional lives start to overlap working from home. This overlap means that we may not be as productive as we normally are at work. Or, in some cases I’m hearing from clients that they actually have less distractions. Whatever the case may be all of us are having to adapt our normal routines to be productive.

Here are four key areas I’ve seen impact the productivity of leaders. These areas work in all circumstances but are especially important now when we have so many distractions and competing priorities.

  1. Develop a morning and evening routine which includes reflection and planning.
  2. Take regular breaks throughout the day to stretch.
  3. Focus on what you can control and influence, while accepting what you cannot.
  4. Use a decision-making filter to help you stay focused on the right things.

The Importance of Self-Leadership

I want to bring my best to those I love, lead, and serve. I believe that if you made it this far in the article, you do too. In order for us to do that, we must make our self-leadership a priority every day. We have a responsibility to those we lead to ensure that we are focused on our overall well-being, we are executing with excellence, and we are committed to productivity. Our self-leadership must precede all other forms of leadership if we are to bring our best to our best. I hope you will join me as I strive to lead myself with intentionality and purpose each and every day.


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