There’s an adage, “If you want to lead others, first you have to lead yourself.”
Most of us have met a person who led by influence, a leader who lived their ideals, did what they promise they would, tried to achieve win/win outcomes, and acted with everyone’s greatest interests at heart. In a word, they had a powerful character. This is at the core of resilient and effective leadership.
You can have all the tactics and tools you like, but without a powerful character, a leader will ultimately fail to build an effective, strong, and loyal team that achieves its full potential. It’s difficult to be inspired by someone you can’t count on. To build trust, you have to genuinely be trustworthy.
Becoming a renowned leader is a process that begins with you.
Look at yourself
Leaders who constantly produce excellent results while inspiring and engaging others have something critical in common: character strength. Both in their public and personal lives, the decisions they make are guided by and congruent with universally sound and deeply held beliefs and values.
By focusing on your character, you realize the best framework to increase your own efficiency and then inspire and lead others. Often, honestly and critically reviewing our actions and motivations can be challenging – possibly that is why so many choose not to do so.
But examine the alternatives. You can work on your behaviors – trying harder and doubling your speed. But you may only succeed in getting to the wrong place quicker. You might focus on your attitude – thinking more positively. But if you were moving in the wrong direction, you would still be rather lost.
Take the parallel of a woodcutting operation in a large forest. The leader who focuses on refining their attitude and behaviors while ignoring their character continues to push production, often at the expense of their long-term success and team. They may produce good results in the short term, but something seems not right. The leader who has developed character and makes decisions based on sound principles reflects on the logging operation. Sensing something is wrong, the leader climbs the highest tree to inspect the scene and yells, “Stop your work; we’re in the wrong jungle!”
Of course, once you have adequately worked on the character, you need to develop essential leadership skills, but to do so before working on character is like making icing and then baking a carrot cake below. You might get your sugar fix, but the ultimate result will always be rather disappointing.
The beginning of outstanding leadership comes with individual change, with a shift away from the focus on superficial behaviors and skills to the basic principles that provide the basis for the strong character – the tree’s roots.
Our character, essentially, is a composite of our habits. Why? Because our habits are unconscious and consistent patterns that reflect our character while also producing our efficiency or inefficiency.
Habits have a large gravitational pull. One of my old habits was reading my WhatsApp texts while having one-on-one meetings. It wasn’t easy to shift – after all, I was working. But what it broadcast to my team was that I wasn’t listening, let alone impressed. And the truth is, I wasn’t listening, not at all.
Change yourself from within and channelize your thoughts.
It takes determination to become a leader from within, but the rewards that await the brave are long-lasting and overwhelming.