Quite honestly: 5 years ago I did not have a clue what Personal Leadership was. As I simply did not give it a thought. The definition that is.
Instinctively though I realized that there is something wrong with the way of how we learn to lead.
When I had just passed my mid-twenties and I worked for a start-up in the IT business (not that we called it like that 25 years ago) it was the first time that I managed a team. I had 3 people in a sales team to lead. And I failed miserably.
None of my team was in the slightest inspired by me and I had simply no idea what I was doing. Even when I read up about what I could do how and tested things out, it did only marginally get better. The second time around leading a team in a different organisation went better, still not great though.
Well, I could have assumed that I was simply a lousy leader. I realized later though, that I had started at the wrong end.
What is the right end then?
Quite simple on one side, not quite so easy and trivial on the other. When it comes to the implementation
The right end to start leading is to start with ourselves. Or more to the point: IN us.
No worries, this is not a pledge for long and exhausting self-analysis or endless journeys through our personalities, psyche or past.
What I mean is that we better start leading ourselves first before we jump into leading others. And what seems so logical or natural is neither at all.
Leadership (in the shortest definition possible) for me is to have the courage to see, support and develop the full potential in other people. The same counts for Personal Leadership.
If we manage to give our life the desired direction, while accepting that we can’t control everything and at the same manage to follow our path with courage, confidence and clarity, when are connected with our real and deep thoughts and emotions, dare to be ourselves and are truthful with ourselves and others, we’re on the path to Personal Mastery.
And according to the late Peter Drucker, a well-known leader in the development of management education, "Personal leadership is “the only leadership that’s going to matter in the 21st century.”
Reason enough to look into what this really means and to double check where you stand and what you could look into.
I’ve been working on this topic for a long time now and found that it’s a never-ending journey. Not like a leadership training where I put some ticks in some boxes and I’m done, believing that from now on everything will be great.
It’s rather a fascinating growth process, which will lead to more insight, better relationships, less stress, more joy, clarity, better decisions, peace of mind and compassion and depth. And deep inside that is what we as humans are striving for. Even if we might not be ready to admit it (yet).
Want to find out where you are as the leader of yourself?
Here are some questions to ask yourself as a starting point.
Do I know where I’m headed?
In other words – do I have a vision for my life? If we don’t have a clue what’s important for us – for example values & principles or what is crucial for us in life in terms of who we want to be, what we do and have – we simply go through the motions, but not leading ourselves effectively.
This is more than just having a quick look at life and stating that our family is the most important in our life. This might even be true, it does not give us a good picture though where we’d like our journey to go.
And please don’t confuse it with a plan. The latter might derive from the first one and is normally something that tends to change anyway, as we cannot really plan our life. Having a vision though is a bit like the North star.
Details will change – the general direction won’t if we’ve really given it time and thought to develop it in the right way.
I'm not talking about “my house, my boat, my whatever-it-is” here, but about HOW we really choose to live our life. I did not know that for a long time. And wished that someone had told me earlier. As it goes beyond the question: What do you want to be when you’re grown up.
How good are my relationships?
Relationships are the key of our life. A Harvard study which lasted for decades found out that (good social) relationships on all levels are the main factor for our well-being and our happiness. This relates to romantic relationships, social contacts like friends and family and the people we work with.
And what we tend to forget very often: The relationship with ourselves.
So, what is the quality of your relationships in all those areas? Are you having the necessary conversations, can you be yourself and authentic in those interactions? Do you speak and live your truth? Do you have love, trust, respect and compassion in your relationships? Do you end relationships which are harmful for you? And do you treasure those who are nurturing?
That leads me right to the next point. Because often, when we don’t really know ourselves, we have no clue who and what is good for us.
How well do you really know yourself?
Hey, I spent my whole life with myself – so I guess I do, you might think. Interestingly enough I found that most people – including myself – only THINK they know themselves. I went through some major growth periods in my life – the last two years having been the ones with the steepest (un)learning curve and I realized that I did not. Know myself, that is.
With all the conditioning in our life, which starts very early, we develop thinking and behaviour patterns which make us believe that is our personality. Or we might even believe that we do/we are as we are because of our DNA (and as we know now this is not the case).
The good news: most of who we think we are, we can change. Hardly anything is written in stone. We just got to know how.
Looking inside on a regular basis, observing ourselves, developing awareness for what we’re doing and what’s happening in our life is a first step to REALLY getting to know ourselves. And it’s never too late to start.
Do you manage (and create) energy?
Energy is the foundation for getting anything done in our life. Without energy, we’re pretty much screwed. The good thing is: We don’t HAVE energy, we GENERATE energy.
How well are you generating your daily energy on an emotional, mental and physical level? Are you taking care of your body, your nutrition, do you move enough? And are you managing your fears, worries and your stress levels and do you make sure you have fun, show gratitude, set intentions and take breaks? (here are some energy tips in form of short videos, if you’re struggling in this area).
Are you aware of your mind- and heartset?
I personally don’t like the word mindset. Very overused. It’s important though to find out how and what we think and… why.
Particularly if we find ourselves facing the same difficult situations in our life again and again – be it professionally or privately – and to detect harmful patterns. You can also call them habits.
And I can tell you: We ALL have them. Some really helpful and some gigantically in our way of living a truly good life.
Good by the way, does not necessarily mean happy and positive all the time. Sometimes we will meet adversities or go through growth phases – often triggered by things going wrong – which can be extremely painful. And which can still turn out to be useful and beneficial for our life.
You might not have heard about heartset. Well, you might have gathered though that it has to do with our emotions. Yes, this one again. We cannot escape them. Every thought triggers an emotion. And being aware of what those emotions are and how they filter how we perceive the world, shape what we believe and influence how we act, is crucial.
If we’re really excited about something, do we perceive risks in the same way as someone who is deeply fearful? If we were just immensely hurt emotionally by someone, how likely are we to trust that person, even if all the ‘objective data’ suggests we could? If someone showed us compassion and support at a time of great need, are we more likely help that person, even if it might mean falling behind on our assigned tasks?
You get my gist. And I also know that it’s scary. Probably even more so if you’re a man or have lots of masculine attributes (in your personality).
If we manage to boost our awareness for our thoughts/mindset AND align those with our heart, we’re setting ourselves up for some great times in life. If we don’t though, we’ll have a hard time to become a true personal leader of our life.
How well do I deal with all the shit hitting the fan in my life?
The happy ever after does not seem to exist. At least I have not spoken to a single person in my life who did not face any adversities in their lives.
So, we’re better prepared to deal with them in way that benefits us instead of falling into the familiar trap of fight or flight response or whatever pattern we've trained ourselves towards (going into the man cave, reacting with panic, shouting, anger, blaming...you name it).
The argument in the office, losing a job, losing a loved one, divorce, financial issues, being told that we’re not wanted somewhere, facing a disease that might be life-changing.
This requires resilience: the ability of recovering from heavy stuff happening in our life, the strength to face it and to get up again and brushing off the dust after having been kicked off of our feet. To learn and move on from there.
Not while putting on an armour for the next time, but with an open heart & mind. As this is the only way of developing real resilience.
How resilient are you?
How courageous am I?
Are you daring to speak up for yourself and others? Are you living and honouring your values? Are you standing up for what is right? Are you willing to be honest with yourself and others?
Idealistic viewpoint? Impossible?
Yes, we will face fears.
Yes, this might cause some uncomfortable situations in our life.
And yes, this will mean that we leave some people or jobs behind, or they us.
I’m not willing to sacrifice my values and truth to others, the society, an employer. Are you?
Mastering this will create a sense of peace of mind and confidence. Shooting over the line will make us inconsiderable pricks. Don't go there.
How well do I communicate?
Well, this is a topic I could write a whole book about and many were already written. There are a ton of tips and tricks and ways out there – some superb, some questionable.
Fact is, that we’re not only talking with each other, but also with ourselves. And the quality of our conversations will determine our relationships. All of them. With ourselves or others.
So, what is the “right” way then?
There are many. And still, all of them origin at the same place: Inside of us, where we determine who we are and how we treat ourselves and others.
Is there compassion, trust and respect or loathing, hate and dismissal? THIS in connection with our conditioning (what we’ve taken on board in the course of our lives – beliefs, thoughts, behaviour etc.) and our emotions create the foundation of how we communicate.
I’m still learning here. And often fail. Probably the most difficult part of human interaction. With an immense power. To create and to lift. And to destroy. Others and ourselves.
How productive am I?
Ah – this is a tricky one. The one or the other of you might have felt a pang of guilt when reading the question. Bugger, I procrastinate often. Damn, I know I could produce more output etc.
Please don’t. As this is not the point here.
Rather, that we develop ways and mechanisms which help us making our vision reality. That we think and have the intention AND also act to produce an outcome. That we get things done.
We can have the best intentions of the world to have another job. If we don’t go out, look and apply, it will most likely not happen. We might know what the important things in our life are – if we don’t put any action against them though, they are only wishful thinking.
ATTENTION: do NOT equal your productivity with value. YOUR value even, as a person. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is different when we talk in economic terms, never with human beings, though. You ARE enough. Regardless of what you produce. And if you’re tired and need a rest and are not productive for a while, this is fine. Be kind to yourself.
Admittedly these questions are rather broad – following those, there will be many more popping up when we start the journey of really becoming our own Personal Leader.
On the other hand, they build the basis for getting more conscious and grow.
Yes, I could have said “better” or “improved” now.
Other words though I dislike. I prefer growth.
I mean, come on - would you ask your favourite tree or plant in the garden or house to improve, instead of growing?
Of course, we can improve skills. We are not skills, we’re human beings.
Unfortunately, particularly in the area of self-development we can easily get the feeling that if we don’t do or master certain things, we’re just not good enough. That creates the opposite effect of what personal development can have.
It’s rather supposed to prepare the ground for growth, well-being and simply a life that we believe is worth living and we can enjoy whole-heartedly. It’s there to lift us up, to help us understanding more, un-learning some things (actually quite a lot, if you ask me) and to bring us on a different level of being.
So, in case you found out with the questions that there might be room to grow for you in some areas, join the club. I literally don’t know ANYBODY who could not grow in either of those areas. Or all of them. Including myself.
This is why I do exactly that. Growing. Learning. Or un-learning in some cases. When I come across a believe buried deep inside of me and I didn’t even know until a situation in life forces me to look or it bubbles up.
Why the heck would I constantly make the effort of growing?
Because I realized that my level of deep love for life and for (most) people including myself increases constantly, which leads to completely different relationships, conversations and quality of life. In which I find security, safety and peace of mind.
Most of the time.
Until life or the universe throws the next thing at me. Which I can then handle with more grace and strength than before. Even if it may still hurt like hell.
I just get up quicker. And bigger – not in my ego, but my soul.
And meanwhile I can lead others successfully. And even inspire them. As I think, speak and act whole-heartedly with all I’ve got: mind, heart and soul. In short: leading myself.
I can't repeat this often enough: this is not something you “learn” and then that’s it. It will be a life-long process. As long as I know trees don’t stop growing (and changing) either. They do in height, not in bulking up (for the smarties among you).
Do you decide to become the Personal Leader of your life?
©Claudia Hesse, 2019