The most important ingredient of becoming an exceptional leader is the ability to lead oneself. This is the ability to make the right calls for your own life, not just for those that may consider you a leader.
It’s also one of the most difficult leadership characteristics to grow and one of the most difficult character trait to find in a growing leader. Why? Because it’s nearly 100% internal and there are only a few ways in which you’d ever see these things in action.
I believe self-leadership starts first and foremost with integrity. My definition of integrity in terms of leadership is quite simple:
Leadership integrity is about your ability to make the right decisions when no one else is watching and when no one else may ever know.
It’s one’s ability to make the critical and very difficult decisions when there will be no visible outcause and certainly no public recognition. It’s the ability to answer rightly the touch challenges when faced with them when you are by yourself, perhaps isolated and alone. It’s the ability to choose and follow through that which is difficult when no one will see it nor appreciate it.
I believe that our greatest leaders struggle with self-leadership in very large ways. I believe that although some of the leaders that we laud and look upon for guidance and wisdom struggle publicly they do so in much bigger ways privately.
Speaking personally I know that my greatest challenges are not the decisions that my startups make in terms of product or services or how we should spend or save our cashflow but rather the quiet moments sitting at home wrestling with my own personal demons as it relates to being human.
Issues of pride, anxiety, confidence, rest, recreation, and the personal management of time – these are the things that the world very rarely sees but which inform and dictate how public decisions are made.
We leaders need to spend just as much time (if not more time) in caring for our own growth as self-leaders as we do with leadership materials, conferences, programs, coaching, and the numerous organizational leadership books that are sitting on our shelf. We need to spend time wrestling with that which needs to be wrestled, time and time again, so that our teams, families, and organizations can be rewarded for our private wins.