One simple word can elicit a dozen different interpretations, depending on who you ask to define it. This doesn’t mean anyone is wrong in how they define the word; rather, it implies that a person’s past and present experiences will guide the way they view things.
Last week we began a new leadership training group. It was the first of fifteen weeks together, and Mike kicked it off by asking each of the students to give their definition of the word leadership.
Before you keep reading, I would encourage you to pause and answer that for yourself as well. How would you define leadership?
Do you have an answer in your mind? I’m curious what memories or people came up as you crafted your definition. I want to share several of the different answers we received from students as they defined this word.
“Motivating a group to achieve a goal and inspire fresh new ideas to improve productivity.”
“Leading with humility. Helping others to be successful in their roles.” -Lee
“The ability to inspire others.” -Philip
“One who facilitates the growth of those they work with.” -Chris
“Influencing others to achieve a common goal.” -Ted
“Leading yourself, a group, or an organization to achieve a common goal.” -Michael D.
“Someone who can set an example for others.” -Michael B.
“Serving others and adding value to others by bringing out the best in them.” -Sherifah
I could go on, but one common thread I pulled from most of these definitions was the theme of influence. Every single person has the opportunity to lead, no matter what their position within a company or who they interact with, because it boils down to how you are leading yourself. So yes, leadership involves influence. It can also involve working with others to help better them and inspire them, but how can one lead others if they do not first lead themselves? Why would anyone follow if the person leading doesn’t even practice what they preach?
I believe leading yourself begins with self-discipline. It looks like following a path you set out for yourself and sticking by it even on the hard days when taking the next step is the last thing you want to do. It looks like saying “no” to good things and saying “yes” to better things. It looks like asking for help when you need it and not being too proud to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Leaders don’t have it all together, but they do have the discipline to get back up again and again, to keep pressing on. They know how to bring others together to work towards something that matters.
It can be easy to think that someone who is influential is in a position of power, outgoing by nature, and easily commands the attention of a room. This isn’t always true, though! Sometimes it can be the soft-spoken person in the back who walks with conviction who will make the most noise. Sometimes it’s the person who goes the extra mile repeatedly without demanding applause or affirmation. Leadership doesn’t have to be loud, but it does have to be steady. Who are the people you follow, or perhaps the people you want to follow? Think about the characteristics that define them and make them such attractive leaders.
These are just some of the qualities I can identify in those I want to follow. I see qualities in someone that I wish I had, and I’m drawn to them. I want to follow them so maybe I can learn how to adopt some of the qualities they have on display. A good leader knows where they are headed, and they share their excitement for the journey with you. Their passion and determination – the enthusiasm that invokes a following – it can be powerful.
So let me ask you this. As you lead yourself, do you act on conviction? Are you pursuing your passions? Are you dedicated to your commitments and the people in your life? What happens internally will eventually be seen by others externally. Are you following your own leadership? Is it something you can get excited about?
Two months ago, I became a first-time mama to the sweetest baby girl. It has been the hardest yet most precious eight weeks of my life so far, and there has been something I’ve been realizing as I go throughout my days in this brand-new role with new, weighty responsibilities: how I lead myself is going to have a direct impact on how I lead my daughter.The same is true for you. How you lead yourself has a direct impact on those closest to you. A spark has been lit within me to be the best version of myself so I can, in turn, be the best mom I can be. I’m more motivated now to practice self-discipline and to follow-through with mental commitments I’ve made. More is at stake now that I have others directly depending on me. But honestly, I wish it didn’t take me having a baby to realize just how important it is to lead myself. I am a wife, a daughter, a friend, an employee – the list goes on. Leading myself well doesn’t just benefit me, it benefits those around me. It’s not just an investment in myself, it’s an investment in my relationships with others.
So how do I lead myself well? How do I prioritize leadership in my life when there is already a million other things I need to do each day? Leadership isn’t another box to add to my checklist. Rather, it’s how I prioritize what to put on my checklist and how I check those boxes. Leading myself is a way of doing things, not another thing to do. It looks like deciding what my priorities are each day and then coming up with a plan to make sure I get those things done. It looks like me reaching out to others for help or wisdom when I have a question or am struggling, and it looks like finding the balance between pushing myself and showing myself grace. I can’t do it all, and I can’t be it all, but I can be the best version of myself. I can learn how to better utilize the gifts and skills that I have.
Whether you live alone, with roommates, or with family, leadership starts in the four walls of your home. Actually, it starts even closer than that. It starts in your head and your heart each morning when you open your eyes.
What is one thing you can do today to start leading yourself better? What would happen in your life, relationships, and place of work if you were the best version of yourself each day? I think it’s worth the work to find out.
So, here's to growth. Our growth.