Selfishness is not a leadership trait. But some other “self” traits are very much necessary.
What do you think of when you hear the term “self-help?” I think of all the hours spent in brick and mortar bookstores through the years, browsing through that section called, “SELF-HELP.” Whatever you think of, there may be one thing many people get wrong. Self-help doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It just means it’s our choice, our decision and we have to do the heavy lifting. Nobody forces us to engage in self-help.
Narcissism isn’t a leadership trait. Or overpowering ego. Or vanity. Many people in positions of authority are all of these things, but they’re not leaders. They’re just in charge. Sadly.
Let’s think together about three area where we can help ourselves as leaders. I mentioned them already in that list above. The first 3 are really the sum of self-help: self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-control. Before we can serve others we have to be willing to serve ourselves. Not to indulge in self-centeredness but to pursue our own growth, improvement, and transformation.
Maybe there’s too fine a line for some between self-help and self-indulgence, but that’s why self-awareness is first on my list. The ancient Greek maxim says it best, “Know thyself.” It’s among the hardest work you’ll ever do though. First, you have to know, but then you have to accept.
The real game changer for all of us is knowing what we’re really good at. Your strength is in the thing you do really well (talent) that comes naturally to you (which means, it’s not difficult for you). Just because it comes easily to you, there’s the challenge to discount it though because culture tells us that everything is hard. Watch Keith Richards or Mark Knopfler play the guitar. They’re talented and it’s easy for them. Thankfully, they don’t discount it so they earn millions playing music. To be fair, they’re good at it, too – so people are willing to pay for it.
What do you know about yourself? What do you accept about yourself? Two very different questions. Which is why so many bosses are deluded. They don’t know themselves accurately. And if they do, they may not be willing to accept the truth. You’ve seen it before. The person who thinks they’re good at something that everybody knows isn’t a strong suit for them. The Emperor has no clothes syndrome.
Spend time learning more about yourself. You’ll never outgrow the benefits of self-awareness. Or the opportunities to learn more about yourself. You’re not static. You change. So you have to continue to study yourself. Your quest for improved, increased self-awareness should never stop.
I suspect more people struggle with the acceptance part of self-awareness. We’re tempted to want to be something more, something different. Driven by jealousy and envy we can quickly be dissatisfied with who we are. Sometimes we want to be somebody else, or at least have the strengths somebody else has. But we don’t. And here’s where we can get off track and end up in the ditch. It’ll really destroy our ideal opportunities to serve others and become the best leader possible.
Self-confidence is vital to acceptance. Know that your leadership has nothing to do with mine, or anybody else’s. Sure, some leadership traits are common. Things like honesty, integrity, candor, encouragement and a host of other positive qualities. But stylistically, we’re all different. Don’t waste your time wanting to be, or trying to be, somebody you aren’t. Instead, accept who and what you are – we’re talking about your strong points and your weak points, those areas where you have natural talent versus those areas where you don’t. Lean hard into what you’re great at and stop worrying about everything else.
Assessments can be terrific tools for the work. StrengthsFinder, Meyers-Briggs, DISC and a variety of others can be worthwhile to give you a better glimpse of who you are and what you’re best at.
Others can be terrific resources to help, too. Have you ever wondered why what you see in the mirror looks different than photographs you see of yourself? We all have this image in our head – and it can often fool our eyes. We perceive ourselves in certain ways. Others perceive us differently. Sometimes we see the same things. Sometimes we don’t. Spotting and understanding those differences can really help us. It’s brave work that the best leaders crave. A deeper understanding of ourselves and discovering ways we can improve. The problem is, we need others to help us. That’s just one reason why I’m launching the first mastermind or peer advisory groups of business owners – The Peer Advantage by Bula Network. You want a safe, confidential and secure space where this personal work can happen. And when you find it, and learn to take advantage of it…it brings about an awareness you’d never have otherwise. Life changing.
That depth of self-awareness and self-acceptance fosters increased self-confidence. You get more comfortable and confident in who you are, and what you are. You’re working to shore up the things you can, but mostly…you’re learning to really own the things that come easily and naturally for you. It’s that whole soar with your strengths kind of a thing.
You find greater success when you stop giving energy and time to fool yourself and others. No longer driven to be something you’re not – and likely never will be – you put all your energy into being the best version of yourself. The work is more profitable and fun. And success begets success. Confidence builds. It’s a natural outgrowth of the work you’re putting in on yourself.
Your work escalates into greater self-control. Being your ideal best – following your natural abilities and personality – provides you opportunities more personal growth than you’ve ever experienced before. Depending on your commitment, you can improve your behavior because your thinking grows. Beliefs, especially your beliefs about yourself, drive your actions, which provide the results you get. Self-control hinges on your commitment to yourself first and your devotion to others.
Think of the leaders in trouble and you’ll see leaders who didn’t do this work. Their failure to put in the work on themselves led to them neglecting self-control. Integrity, honesty and other virtues erode. Delusion fosters blind spots. It’s fully preventable if people would just devote themselves to the work on becoming the best people possible while pushing themselves to grow as leaders.
As a leader, you’ve got plenty of people relying on you to be your best. Lots of eyes and ears are on you all the time. So you have to be in great touch with reality. Mostly the realities about yourself. If you’re not able to see yourself as you really are, how do you suppose you’ll see your leadership, your organization or others accurately? And how will you possibly be able to properly see your place in all of it?
With that level of blindness, you can’t possibly serve others as well as you can! That’s the great thing about this work. Put self-improvement at the forefront of your work and everything and everybody else benefits. When you’re willing to grow, improve and transform (things that aren’t always fun or pleasant in the moment), then you benefit the world around you. All of it. It can’t be helped.
The best version of ourselves makes us better people. We become better husbands and wives. Better parents. Better bosses. Better able to help others grow, improve and transform. It has a compounding effect on the world. I want it for you. Your life has enough stress in it. Isn’t it time you made up your mind to give yourself to doing some work that is all upside?
Be well. Do good. Grow great!