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If Leadership is Influence, What is Self-Leadership?

Definitions of leadership abound! Put a search term in Google, like "What is leadership", and you will find over 3 billion results. That's a lot of content for a word we banter around daily. No doubt there are many valid definitions of leadership, however, one of my favorite definitions is one given by John C. Maxwell: Leadership is Influence. I love this definition because it captures the heart of leadership, that is, a person can be influential without being in a leadership position; the right kind of influence requires thoughtful choice and action; and, positive influence seeks the well-being of others.

How does this relate to self-leadership? I believe we all can positively influence ourselves. This is what is termed "self-management" or "self-control". Contrary to some opinions, we aren't just people sailing through life steered by our fears or desires. We are people who have the power of choice and that means we can make the right decisions. The trick is knowing what those "right decisions" are in the moment. And to be honest, we don't always get this right. Sometimes, the right decision only looks like it a long while after you've made it. Most times we are taking a big leap - and our decisions may cause us to crash and burn, or to celebrate.

I am sure we all want to limit our "crash-and-burn" attempts. We want to make solid decisions that feel good in the moment, and for years after. When we master the art of self-leadership, we can grow into people who make good decisions that stand the test of time. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Develop the skill of self-awareness. Are you the kind of person who thinks through your decisions, weighing pros and cons and searching for as much information as you can? Or do you prefer to go with how you feel in the moment or with your instincts? Do you just move straight into action before you've considered all the facts? Knowing how you are naturally wired will help you take notice of what is needed in the moment of decision-making, and indeed, in all areas of life.

  • Develop a vision for your life. What kind of person would you like to be, if you aren't already exhibiting characteristics you can be proud of? Sometimes when we experience something unpleasant, maybe a difficult conversation, a hard, unproductive day at work, tough relationships, and so on, we get tempted to quickly move past the discomfort. But a good skill to master is to sit with the situation for a moment and reflect on our experience. How did we react? How would we want to respond to a similar situation in the future? This helps us begin to craft our vision of who we would like to be.

  • Identify gaps. With self-awareness and a vision for your life, you can now start to identify gaps between who you are now and who you would like to be. This allows you to create a growth plan to develop yourself. Your growth plan may involve learning a new skill, practicing good habits, being more assertive in relationships....the list could go on and on. The point is that you do not leave those gaps unattended. You take steps to learn and grow and choose to take actions that move you closer to your vision. This is how you master the art of self-leadership.

I recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it's certainly worth the read. Taking action on some of the recommendations James makes in this book is a great start to a well-managed life. The reverse kind of life, one without self-leadership, is unappealing. The book of Proverbs states it well: A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out. (Proverbs 25:28, MSG)

Let's get started installing some doors and windows in our lives!



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